LeBron James’ journey to a record 38,388 points cannot be put in proper context without understanding how it’s woven into the larger story of his NBA journey.
For years after leaving Cleveland and moving to Miami in 2010, James was a trailblazer in so-called “superteams,” choosing to team up with other future Hall of Famers instead of lifting the franchise. was criticized for choosing the easy path. himself.
But LeBron’s history as one of sports’ most sacred personal records should soon, and probably for a long time to come, settle into a different story. In fact, LeBron was a superteam. Superteams were what he chose to play on. It should be considered a by-product of a career.
James’ approach to his career wasn’t always right, nor was his assessment of the ideal teammate always right. He now finds out he is playing in Los Angeles. There, he was able to play out his final years well in frustration.
But if you were to rank why James is the most important basketball player in the post-Michael Jordan era, winning the all-time leading scorer is second at most. Years from now, the next genius may emerge. But being at the forefront of so-called player empowerment has changed not just the NBA, but the way fans consume sports.
LeBron James also changed the player’s game
Stars in any sport today make the most of the agency they need to secure the best positions to win championships, and teams make every move necessary to realize those desires. is taken for granted. It doesn’t always happen — Kevin Durant, for example, is still in the net in Brooklyn despite asking for a trade last summer — but modern basketball A widely accepted reality in is that there are very few constraints. Connect star players to the organization. It’s just a transaction.
We can debate whether this is a positive or a negative development in the larger narrative of how people consume sports, but it is arguably to a much greater extent than any statistic. is the legacy of
Fans may have been turned off by the “decision” when James went on TV and declared that he would be taking his talents to South Beach, but more than a dozen years later, they’re into this paradigm of the NBA. also agreed. This is due to the prominence of those who, like ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and others who compete with him, try to outrun each other in signings, trades and other roster moves. You can see it every day at It is a large cottage industry in itself.
James may not have intended all of that when he left the team that made him the #1 draft pick, a team very close to his hometown of Akron, and went to Miami. But what he did is change the currency of his career from money and points to championships. That’s what James counted for and that’s what we count for. And for his eight notable straight seasons, including his four in Miami and his four when he returned to Cleveland, James’ stats were largely irrelevant. How many basketball fans can tell you where he stands in the scoring race and what percentage of shots he shoots from the field? Then I knew he was in the NBA Finals.
By the time he won his second title with the Heat in 2013, James was arguably the best basketball player in the world and one of the all-time greats. It was a big step.
Ultimately, though, most of the narrative was critical of James and the way he managed his career in 2016, when the Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 deficit against the Golden State Warriors to win the title in Game 7. has disappeared. , could at least start a conversation about James as the greatest player of all time — and it wasn’t contingent on matching or surpassing Jordan’s six titles.
Because at some point back in Cleveland from Miami, James’ impact on the game went beyond the stats and the actual set of teammates he had. Yes, he was careful and discerning in teaming with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, as well as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. But the common denominator was him. I won because of him.
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By the time James left the Lakers again in 2018, there was no backlash like a big “decision,” perhaps not just because he brought the title to Cleveland, but because everything had changed. Changing teams at will and building the team the superstar wants to play for is a big deal after Kawhi Leonard and Paul George went to the Clippers and Durant joined Golden State to win two titles. It became more popular by bolting it to the nets with Irving and others. James Harden and Russell Westbrook coordinated exits from Houston. For better or worse, it was just the way the game played.
Remarkably, the 38-year-old James looks like he could continue playing high-level basketball for quite some time, with thousands of points between him and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Whether he will add more titles at this point is a much more uncertain proposition. A move to Los Angeles is a mix of personal and basketball considerations for the final chapter of his career. It could have been, but James is still pushing for the Lakers to ditch future assets and rework the poorly composed roster around him.
It’s unclear if his wish will come true this time, or even make a big difference. That’s where the conspiracy comes in.
For as long as he’s been a great player and has played, it felt inevitable for James to reach the scoring record for quite some time. We’re going to be asking, “What’s next?” . Until the moment you decide to stop.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken