Nearly two weeks ago, LeBron James became the youngest player in NBA history to reach the 20,000-point mark. Going into the game, he was 18 points shy of the plateau, but a 25-point performance handed the reigning MVP the achievement just before halftime.
With 2:45 remaining in the second quarter, James got a pass on the left side of the court, drove to his right and took a hanging 12-foot jumper that was nothing but net. He hit the 20,000-point mark at 28 years and 17 days old, over a year younger than Kobe Bryant, who was the previous fastest to hit it at 29 years and 122 days.
The impressive accomplishment brings up a couple of key points. The first is the incredible offensive ability of James. On his career, the forward averages 27.6 points per game and he’s currently shooting a career-high 55.1 percent from the field.
Despite hitting the 20,000-point mark a year before Bryant did, it’s interesting to think about how long it would’ve taken him to reach it if he had remained in Cleveland. My bet? He would’ve reached it a long time ago.
Ever since coming to Miami, James has had much more of a distributor’s mentality, passing to the numerous targets he has on the floor, such as Dwayne Wade, Mario Chalmers, Chris Bosh or Ray Allen. In fact, reaching 20,000 points was not James’ first milestone of the night. With 6:42 remaining in the first quarter, James hit the 5,000-assist mark. And it seems only fitting that the pass was to his partner in crime, Wade, for a dunk.
James averages 7.1 assists this year and 6.9 on his career. He is currently the highest-ranking player in assists who is not a guard. We often talk about guards as great passers or even great passing big men, but rarely do you hear talk about the great passing forwards in the NBA. James may go down as the best passer at his position, although there is stiff competition from players such as Michael Jordan or Larry Bird.
The other interesting point is how many seasons it took James to get to the 20,000-point mark. He may be the youngest, but he took 10 seasons; Bryant took 12. They might be the quickest, but they also entered the league sooner because they skipped college.
Wilt Chamberlain and Jordan both accomplished the feat at age 29 and in seven and nine seasons, respectively. Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hit the 20,000-point mark at age 30, their ninth seasons.
Sometimes today, I think we forget about the all-time greats in the past; we get caught up in how great players like James and Bryant are and forget that just because they’re fantastic players and might be breaking records, that doesn’t mean they’re the best. As Santa Barbara is only about two hours north of L.A., I commonly hear people say that Bryant will easily go down as one of the best five players of all time. To those people, I say to look at some of these great players before him, because they might go down in the top five; it’s not guaranteed. It can be hard to compare between different times as the game is so different, but there have been some spectacular players in NBA history.
What about Chamberlain, who scored 100 points in a game and was part of the team that set the longest winning streak in NBA history at 33 games? Or, MJ, who won six championships and was known for his clutch shots? Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and “The Big O” is the only player in league history to average a triple-double for a season. And these are just the players after Kobe and LeBron to hit the 20,000-point mark the quickest. Bill Russell, Jerry West and Bird, just to name a few, could easily be on that list.
When looking at how many seasons it took to hit the 20,000-point mark, James and Bryant were the slowest of these six players to do it. Chamberlain was above and beyond the fastest, accomplishing 20,000 points in seven seasons. Jordan, Robertson and Abdul-Jabbar all hit it a season faster than James, too.
I know there’s an argument that the NBA is more competitive now and I’m not trying to take away anything from the incredible careers of James or Bryant. After all, they are two incredibly talented and entertaining players, as well as great examples of the talent the NBA has offered over the years.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of January 29th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.