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How Kareem Abdul-Jabbar really feels about LeBron James breaking his NBA scoring record

Los Angeles Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar shared his thoughts Wednesday on LeBron James breaking his iconic NBA regular season scoring record, penning an honest and at times emotional essay on his Substack.

Abdul-Jabbar's article was published just hours after James became the new all-time regular reason scoring leader on Tuesday night, late in the third quarter of the Lakers' home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, when he surpassed Abdul-Jabbar's 38,387-point mark. Abdul-Jabbar's record had stood for more than 38 years. 

"It takes unbelievable drive, dedication, and talent to survive in the NBA long enough to rack up that number of points when the average NBA career lasts only 4.5 years," wrote the 75-year-old Abdul-Jabbar, praising James' grit, and saying he is "thrilled" for the new-record holder.

NBA Basketball: Lakers vs Thunder
LeBron James, right, hugs Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after becoming the all-time NBA regular season scoring leader during the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Arena on Feb. 7, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA. Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

"It's not just about putting the ball through the hoop, it's about staying healthy and skilled enough to climb the steep mountain in ever-thinning oxygen over many years when most other players have tapped out," Abdul-Jabbar added. 

After James sunk the record-breaking basket, the game was paused so that Abdul-Jabbar could ceremoniously hand James the basketball. The two then hugged before James addressed the crowd, saying, "To be able to be in the presence of such a legend as great as Kareem, it's very humbling,"

"Please give a standing ovation to the captain, please," he added.

In October, James told reporters that he had "no thoughts, and no relationship" when it came to Abdul-Jabbar. To that, Abdul-Jabbar responded in his piece, "Ouch."

"LeBron said we don't have a relationship. He's right—and for that I blame myself. Not for anything I did, but perhaps for not making more of an effort to reach out to him," wrote Abdul-Jabbar, adding that he has never been a "chummy, reaching-out kind of guy."

Abdul-Jabbar also noted their age difference as one reason for their lack of a bond, pointing out that the year he broke the NBA scoring record, 1984, was the same year the 38-year-old James was born.

"That disconnect is on me. I knew the pressures he was under and maybe I could have helped ease them a bit. But I saw that LeBron had a friend and mentor in Kobe Bryant and I was just an empty jersey in the rafters," Abdul-Jabbar added.

"I couldn't imagine why he'd want to hang with someone twice his age," he joked. 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ceremoniously hands the ball to LeBron James as the NBA's all-time leading scorer.  Harry Howe/Getty Images

During the pandemic, Abdul-Jabbar made headlines for criticizing comments James made about COVID-19, saying that James should be "embarrassed." He later apologized.

"While it's true that I have taken a couple minor jabs at him over vaccine protocols — which in my mind was the kind of nudging one teammate does with another," wrote Abdul-Jabbar, adding, "I know that LeBron is too accomplished, mature, and savvy to hold a grudge over something so petty. That's why I don't want my fans to in any way tarnish or equivocate his enormous achievement."

Ultimately, Abdul-Jabbar writes that he is "happy" James broke his record, saying that the "bottom line" is, "LeBron makes me love the game again. And he makes me proud to be part of an ever-widening group of athletes who actively care about their community."

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