Being the NBA’s all-time leading scorer doesn’t necessarily make you the NBA’s greatest all-time player. But it certainly doesn’t hurt your argument.
On Tuesday night, one more massive achievement went into the LeBron James GOAT case file as he passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the career-scoring leader with 38 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder, two more than the 36 he needed coming in. James now has 38,890 career points.
In the immediate aftermath, Shaquille O’Neal asked James if he believes that becoming the NBA’s career leading scorer, in his mind, cements his status as the greatest player ever. LeBron tried to deflect.
“I’m going to let everybody else decide who that is, or just talk about it,” James said. “But it’s great barbershop talk.”
“I want to hear you say it, Bron Bron,” Shaq pressed.
LeBron relented. “Listen big fella, me personally, I’m going to take myself against anybody that’s ever played this game,” James said. “But everyone’s going to have their favorite. But I know what I’ve brought to the table … and what I can do out on this floor. I always feel like I’m the best to ever play this game, but there are so many other great ones, and I’m happy to just be a part of their journey.”
Surely this GOAT question would come up again in LeBron’s formal press conference. When it did, James, while remaining humble and recognizing the greats that have come before him, again didn’t shy away from his belief that he’s the best ever to play the game.
“For me, I think it’s great barber shop talk. It’s going to happen forever and ever,” James said of the GOAT conversation. “If I was the GM of a franchise that was starting up, and I had the number one pick, I would take me. But that’s just me, because I believe in myself. I know what I bring to the table. A guy that’s been able to transform his game over the course of 20 years to be able to play any position in this league, and excel at any position.
“I can play one through five,” LeBron continued. “I’ve led the league in assists. I’ve been able to do whatever this game has wanted me to do. And also transform my game as well. When I first got into the league it was very slow. I remember we’d play all game with Detroit (in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals), the game was [scoring] in the 70s. Finals games with San Antonio [scoring] in the 80s. To now, teams score 150 and you have to be able to keep up. And more threes, and things of that nature.
“So just being able to stay with the curve,” James concluded. “Changing my game if I needed to, or just improve my game. But that don’t take away from nobody else. So many great players have played this game, and [have] long legacies in this game. This NBA is a beautiful thing and there’s been some beautiful players to play it. But I can’t take nobody over me.”
This is just an absolutely perfect answer. LeBron was put on the spot by Shaq, and he told the truth with humility. He was asked again with more time to frame his thoughts, and he was spot on again.
James recognized that the GOAT argument is subjective, that everyone has their favorite, but that he believes in himself as well as he should. The guy is still scoring 38 points on command in his 20th season. And he is absolutely right about the unmatched versatility and constant evolution of his game. That is a hallmark of his GOAT case. He is way, way more than just the all-time leading scorer.