Each time LeBron James touched the ball, fans raised their arms and rose to their feet. The Lakers faithful wasn’t here to just cheer for a victory.
Hoping to attend a historic game, fans calculated James’ points for months, tracked plane schedules and shelled out thousands of dollars all for a chance to witness the Lakers forward break the NBA’s all-time scoring record. He delivered on their investments Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena, eclipsing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s mark with a fadeaway jumper with 10.9 seconds left in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
James finished with 38 points — and 38,390 in his career — in the Lakers’ 133-130 loss.
Needing 36 points to pass Abdul-Jabbar’s mark of 38,387 points, James knocked down the record-setting basket and held his arms wide as he jogged down the court. He extended his arms to the rafters, then doubled over, putting his hands on his knees and bowing his head. As he walked toward center court, James pointed to the baseline next to the Lakers bench where Abdul-Jabbar was sitting.
Abdul-Jabbar joined James and NBA commissioner Adam Silver on the court for an in-game presentation. The two Lakers stars posed for a photo, with Abdul-Jabbar wrapping an arm around James’ waist and holding up one finger. He then pointed toward James.
“Please give a standing ovation to the Captain, please,” James said with tears welling in his eyes during an impromptu speech in which he thanked his family and the fans.
Todd Rastegar of Thousand Oaks was seated just two rows behind Adbul-Jabbar. The longtime Lakers fan cheered the team during the Showtime Era and through the Kobe Bryant years. He watched on TV when Abdul-Jabbar broke Wilt Chamberlain’s record and never thought the legend’s reign at the top of the charts would end. Until his son Adrian, a 14-year-old, rabid Lakers fan who was wearing a gold No. 6 James jersey, told him last year that James was on pace to break the record this season.
“It’s almost inconceivable almost,” said the elder Rastegar, who bought two tickets for Tuesday’s game for $1,100 two months ago. “I can’t believe this is happening. I think it cements his place in history as one of the all-time greatest, if not the best.”
To 20-year-old Robert Hulbert, there’s no question who is the King. The New Jersey native who flew to L.A. from Miami, where he’s studying accounting, pointed to the fact that James not only would claim the scoring record, but he also ranks fourth in career assists. James is the only player in NBA history in the top five of both categories.
A James fan since he was 10 years old when he watched him lead the Miami Heat to a Game 7 Eastern Conference finals win over the Boston Celtics in 2012, Hulbert asked his mother, Lisa, for a special gift for his 21st birthday. The only thing he wanted was to be in attendance to watch James break the record.
So Lisa kept track of James’ scoring beginning in December and projected last month that Feb. 7 against the Oklahoma City Thunder would be the best bet. They bought tickets four rows behind the bench. Coincidentally, it was just three days before Robert’s 21st birthday.
Last-minute ticket prices soared for Tuesday’s game as James approached the record. Celebrities came to Crypto.com Arena in droves. Bad Bunny, Shannon Sharpe, Denzel Washington, LL Cool J and Dwyane Wade lined the court.
Had James come up short, Hulbert wouldn’t have stayed for Thursday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks. He arrived Tuesday morning and had a red-eye out that night. His mother planned to return to New Jersey on Wednesday morning.
The desperation of fans who invested thousands of dollars for a chance to watch the most hallowed NBA record fall was evident every time James approached the scoring table or brought the ball up the court. When fans sitting near the top of the arena saw James’ first shot graze the outside of the net thinking that it was good, they cheered, but sheepishly retreated into their seats when they realized Anthony Davis scored on a put-back. When referees wiped off another would-be James basket, ruling that he was fouled before the shot, fans booed.
Davon Hill put his faith in James to break the record Tuesday, flying from his hometown of Atlanta to L.A. the morning of the game with a return ticket leaving at about 1 a.m. A Lakers fan since watching Bryant, Hill bristled at the early comparisons with James. He was staunchly a Bryant fan.
But James slowly won him over, especially when he came to the Lakers and helped the franchise win its 17th title.
“The same thing he did coming into the league is the same thing he’s still doing in Year 20,” Hill said. “So I just think a lot of people can resonate with how he carried himself. He’s the epitome of what winning looks like. … He’s won in all areas: fatherhood, family, other businesses and basketball.”