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Shaquille O’Neal says LeBron James on path to become greatest ever

Lakers great Shaquille O'Neal waves to fans after the unveiling of his statue outside Staples Center.
Lakers great Shaquille O’Neal believes if LeBron James passes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for No. 1 on the all-time scoring list that he should be considered the greatest basketball player ever.
(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

Shaquille O’Neal eased down the steps from the TNT set outside L.A. Live and headed to the green room for dinner after the NBA pregame show on the Bucks and Nets game and Lakers and Warriors at Staples Center, gathering his thoughts about LeBron James’ place in NBA history.

As O’Neal walked and signed autographs Tuesday, he began his conversation by saying that if James passes Hall of Fame member and Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and becomes the all-time leading scorer in NBA history, there would be no doubt that “LeBron is the best player — ever.”

Yes, O’Neal thinks James would surpass the incomparable Michael Jordan, widely considered the best to ever play in the NBA and someone James holds in high regard.

“I know what he’s doing,” O’Neal said while eating some roast beef. “Championships are great, but he’s trying to pass Kareem up. That’s what he is doing. I know exactly what he’s doing. ‘Cause now if you pass Kareem up, it ain’t no talk about who the best player ever is. Think about that? I saw he needed to average [25] points or something like that the next few years, which he will do. He can do that in two more years.”

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James began the season Tuesday night against Golden State ranked third in league history in scoring at 35,367 points behind Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) and Karl Malone (36,928).

James averaged 25 points last season and has averaged 27 points through 18 years in the NBA.

Despite the efforts of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers’ shooting and defensive woes added up to a 121-114 loss to the Golden State Warriors.

If James were to average at least 25 points over the next two seasons, he would pass Abdul-Jabbar sometime during the 2022-23 season, taking about 120 games to do so.

If James keeps that same average this season, he would move past Malone around the 62nd game.

James, who turns 37 in December, has won four titles, one with the Lakers in 2020.

“He’s got four rings and he becomes the highest scorer in the NBA history. He’s the best ever,” O’Neal said. “Ain’t nothing you can say.

“‘Cause if I would have passed Wilt [Chamberlain] in scoring, you know me. I would have been, ‘I’m the most dominant ever.’ I don’t want to hear [Chamberlain’s] name no more.”

O’Neal, who is eighth all-time in scoring (28,596) behind seventh-place Chamberlain (31,419), laughed.

James is signed with the Lakers for two more seasons, making $41.1 million this season and $44.4 million next season.

“I mean, that’s what he is really trying to do,” O’Neal said. “Ring No. 5 would be cool, but if he gets that leading scorer, the highest scorer ever in the league … I’d take that.

Lakers star Russell Westbrook is known as the intense triple-double machine of the NBA, but he’s sick of his reputation and ready to open up.

“He’d be No. 1,” O’Neal continued. “He’d be the leading scorer. Me, I want to be the leading scorer in the league because now it ain’t no conversation about who is the best ever in the league. Who is going to break it? Nobody.”

In some ways, this reloaded Lakers team with James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook reminds O’Neal of when he and Kobe Bryant were joined by future Hall of Fame members Malone and Gary Payton for the 2003-04 season, which ended in the NBA Finals with a loss to the Detroit Pistons.

But O’Neal is not ready to crown the 2021-22 Lakers team champions yet.

“I saw when they made the trade for Russ, but it wasn’t like no, ‘OOOO!’” O’Neal said. “Who are the main two guys? Is everybody else going to play their roles?”

O’Neal was reminded that the Lakers are now the Big Three with the addition of Westbrook.

“They still need role players, right?” O’Neal said. “I see Russ as a role player, a damned good one, but he’s a role player. It’s LeBron first, AD second and then Russ. He can get his stuff on the break.”


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