Speculation has been rampant over whether James is capable of finishing as the top-scoring player in N.B.A. history — Abdul-Jabbar, with 38,387 points, has been the career scoring leader since he passed Chamberlain on April 5, 1984 — but James has made a point of telling anyone who will listen that he still does not view himself as a scorer, regardless of his career average of 27.1 points a game.
“When you categorize who I am as a basketball player, it won’t say ‘scorer,’” he told reporters after scoring 16 points in a win over the Orlando Magic last week. “There’s too much more attributes to my game, and then you can talk about scoring as well.”
James, as he often is, was being too modest. He has 5,846 more points than Abdul-Jabbar had at the same age and he has not averaged fewer than 25.3 points a game in a season since his rookie year.
Making up the gap between him and Abdul-Jabbar, though, will be a challenge. Excluding Nowitzki, who is still active, the five players ahead of James on the scoring list averaged 7,395 points from the season in which they were 34 years old — Basketball-Reference uses a player’s age on Feb. 1 as their official age for that season — until their retirement. Chamberlain, who retired at 36, scored the fewest points from his age-34 season forward, with 3,993, while Abdul-Jabbar scored the most with 12,117.
Nowitzki, whose 30,837 career points put him one spot ahead of James on the career list, acknowledged James’s achievement on Twitter, as did Bryant.
But before James, or Nowitzki for that matter, starts projecting their career too far forward, they would be wise to remember that Bryant proved the end of a career can come far faster than anyone expects. Bryant was still near the top of his game during his age-34 season, averaging 27.3 points a game in a whopping 3,013 minutes. A series of injuries would limit him to 107 combined games over his final three seasons, with his scoring average dropping to 18.9 points a game.
Barring a catastrophic injury, James, who has endured a postseason and international workload during his career that only Tim Duncan would understand, does not see the end as being near.
“Right now, I feel great,” he told reporters earlier this month. “I don’t feel 33.”
He also showed he has not lost his sense of humor, even amid a great deal of turmoil for the Cavaliers this season, pointing out that he has another reason to stick around.
“I’ve got too many sneakers to sell, still,” he said.