Fans raised their arms and rose to their feet every time LeBron James touched the ball. The Lakers fans weren’t just there to celebrate a win.
Fans calculated James’ points for months, tracked plane schedules, and spent thousands of dollars all in the hopes of witnessing the Lakers forward break the NBA’s all-time scoring record. He surpassed Kareem Abdul-record Jabbar’s with a fadeaway jumper with 10.9 seconds left in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena.
In the Lakers’ 133-130 loss, James finished with 38 points, giving him 38,390 for his career.
James needed 36 points to break Abdul-record Jabbar’s of 38,387 points, so he made the record-breaking basket and jogged down the court with his arms wide. He extended his arms to the rafters, then doubled over, hands on his knees and head bowed. James pointed to the baseline next to the Lakers bench, where Abdul-Jabbar was sitting, as he walked towards centre court.
On the court, Abdul-Jabbar joined James and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for an in-game presentation. Abdul-Jabbar wrapped his arm around James’ waist and held up one finger as the two Lakers stars posed for a photo. He then directed his finger at James.
“Please give the Captain a standing ovation, please,” James said, tears welling up in his eyes, during an impromptu speech in which he thanked his family and the fans.
Todd Rastegar, of Thousand Oaks, was only two rows behind Adbul-Jabbar. The Lakers’ longtime fan supported the team during the Showtime era and the Kobe Bryant era. He was watching TV when Abdul-Jabbar broke Wilt Chamberlain’s record, and he never imagined the legend’s reign at the top of the charts would come to an end.
Until last year, when his son Adrian, a 14-year-old rabid Lakers fan wearing a gold No. 6 James jersey, told him that James was on pace to break the record this season.
“It’s almost inconceivable,” said the elder Rastegar, who paid $1,100 for two tickets to Tuesday’s game two months ago. “I can’t believe this is real. I believe it solidifies his place in history as one of the greatest, if not the best.”
To 20-year-old Robert Hulbert, there’s no question who is the King. The New Jersey native who flew to L.A. from Miami, where he’s studying accounting, pointed to the fact that James not only would claim the scoring record, but he also ranks fourth in career assists. James is the only player in NBA history in the top five of both categories.
Hulbert has been a James fan since he was 10 years old, when he watched him lead the Miami Heat to a Game 7 Eastern Conference finals win over the Boston Celtics in 2012. For his 21st birthday, he asked his mother, Lisa, for a special gift. The only thing he wanted was to be present when James broke the record.
So Lisa began tracking James’ scoring in December and predicted last month that the best bet would be Feb. 7 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. They purchased seats four rows behind the bench. It happened to be three days before Robert’s 21st birthday.
As James approached the record, last-minute ticket prices for Tuesday’s game skyrocketed. Celebrities descended in droves on Crypto.com Arena. The court was lined with Bad Bunny, Shannon Sharpe, Denzel Washington, LL Cool J, and Dwyane Wade.
Hulbert would not have stayed for Thursday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks if James had fallen short. He arrived on Tuesday and had a red-eye flight out that night. His mother intended to return to New Jersey on Wednesday.
Every time James approached the scoring table or brought the ball up the court, the desperation of fans who paid thousands of dollars to see the most hallowed NBA record fall was palpable.
When fans near the top of the arena saw James’ first shot graze the outside of the net, they cheered, but quickly returned to their seats when they realised Anthony Davis had scored on a put-back. Fans booed when referees ruled that another James basket was invalid because he was fouled before the shot.
Davon Hill put his faith in James to break the record Tuesday, flying from Atlanta to Los Angeles the morning of the game and returning around 1 a.m. Hill, a Lakers fan since watching Bryant, reacted angrily to early comparisons to James. He was a die-hard Bryant supporter.
But James gradually won him over, especially when he joined the Lakers and helped them win their 17th championship.
“What he did coming into the league is what he’s still doing in Year 20,” Hill said. “I just think a lot of people can relate to how he carried himself. He embodies what it means to be a winner. He has triumphed in all areas: fatherhood,family, other businesses and basketball.”