Kareem Abdul-Jabbar seeks to develop bond with Lakers’ LeBron James

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speaks during a news conference prior to a game between the Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speaks during a news conference prior to a game between the Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday at Arena.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

He extended an orange basketball, but it might well have been an olive branch.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar passed the all-time scoring record to LeBron James on Tuesday, joining the current Lakers forward on the court, raising the game ball and handing it over in a symbolic in-game ceremony. It was a warm moment in a mostly icy relationship that Abdul-Jabbar hopes can thaw in years to come.

“To me, I feel like I did it the right way,” Abdul-Jabbar said in a news conference before Thursday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Arena. “And made sure that LeBron knew I supported what he was doing, and this is something very special and I’m happy to help him celebrate it.”

The six-time NBA champion said he first met James five or six years ago during a playoff game in Cleveland. James introduced the Lakers legend to his mother. They didn’t get to talk personally until a Halloween event the Lakers hosted this past year when Abdul-Jabbar attended with his grandchildren. Even then, it was brief.


“I didn’t get a chance to get into a conversation where we got to know each other, it was just moments, really,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “So that is something that has to happen. But looking forward to it.”

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Abdul-Jabbar, who lamented that Wilt Chamberlain wasn’t in attendance when he established the scoring record in 1984, wrote in an essay called “What I think about LeBron breaking my NBA scoring record” on Wednesday that he blamed himself for not establishing a relationship with James earlier. He noted their age difference; the year Abdul-Jabbar established the scoring record was the same year that James was born. By the time James began taking over the league, Abdul-Jabbar was mostly “watching games on my TV in my sweatpants while munching on too many unhealthy snacks,” he wrote.

“I knew the pressures he was under and maybe I could have helped ease them a bit,” the essay continued. “But I saw that LeBron had a friend and mentor in Kobe Bryant and I was just an empty jersey in the rafters. I couldn’t imagine why he’d want to hang with someone twice his age. How many do?”

Abdul-Jabbar added in the essay that his comments last year after James posted a meme comparing COVID-19 to the cold and the flu were “the kind of nudging one teammates does with another.”

Lakers forward LeBron James is introduced by former Laker James Worthy during a ceremony.
Lakers forward LeBron James, center, is introduced by former Laker James Worthy, right, during a ceremony honoring James as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer before a game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday at Arena. James passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to earn the record during Tuesday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Before taking his courtside seat for Thursday’s pregame ceremony honoring the new scoring champion, Abdul-Jabbar gave fist bumps to a group of young fans standing near the baseline. He sat down courtside and watched as James addressed the crowd, recalling the Little Tikes basketball hoop he received for Christmas in 1988 and how his mother’s $20 gift became the “biggest investment in the history of mankind.” He recalled dreaming of playing in the NBA and how he felt growing up in an underprivileged, single-parent household threatened to crush those dreams.


“I had dreams of being able one day to throw no-look passes like Magic Johnson, to be able to shoot fadeaways like Michael Jordan, to be able to have a crossover like Allen Iverson, to be able to have an Afro and jump in the dunk contest like Kobe Bryant,” James said to loud cheers from fans who dutifully took their seats 30 minutes before tipoff.

“I looked up to so many athletes and so many people along my journey and they gave me the inspiration and they allowed my dreams to not die.

“As I got older and older … I always felt it was my job and my responsibility to play the game at a high level and be as great as I can be because there is a kid in the inner city somewhere that’s looking for inspiration and that’s going to need it and maybe get it from me.”

Among the congratulatory messages played in the arena Tuesday after James eclipsed Abdul-Jabbar’s record were videos from students at James’ I Promise School in Akron, Ohio.

LeBron James has surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387 NBA points, a benchmark set when the legendary Lakers center retired 36 years ago.

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For Abdul-Jabbar, whose post-basketball career as a humanitarian and writer has rivaled his on-court accomplishments, James’ commitment to community service bonds them almost as much as their scoring numbers.

“He’s sending an entire school district to college to pay their tuition. This is awesome,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “I wish I had the means to do it myself, you know. His thinking on this is right in tune with what Dr. King was talking about. A rising tide lifts all boats. LeBron has done that in his own way.”