LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James has been thriving under formidable pressure for his entire adult life. An arena packed with celebrities, his entire family and thousands of raucous Lakers fans demanding to see a slice of NBA history was nothing the King couldn’t handle.
James broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s NBA career scoring record Tuesday night in an arena filled with stars and rocked by eager fans anticipating a crowning moment in his 20-year career.
“I thank you guys so much for allowing me to be a part of something I’ve always dreamed about,” James said.
The crowd roared with every point while he rolled toward the mark held since April 1984 by Abdul-Jabbar, who watched the game from a baseline seat near the Los Angeles bench. James’ mother, wife and three children also watched from courtside amid the thousands who rose in waves of anticipation nearly every time James touched the ball.
With a nimble stepback jumper late in the third quarter, James got the 36 points necessary to surpass Abdul-Jabbar’s record 38,387 points. And a crowd that had roared for his every basket went crazy yet again.
With four championship rings and nearly every other honor available to a basketball player, the 38-year-old James closed in on this next moment in history with the confidence of a player who has been even better than anyone could have expected two decades ago when the kid from Akron, Ohio, reached the NBA.
“The expectations were all the way out to Pluto, and he went ahead and created his own galaxy,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said before the game.
The crowd was in its seats far earlier than normal in Los Angeles, and James got numerous ovations before the Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder got rolling. The fans then stood when he touched the ball on the Lakers’ opening possession, and they groaned when he missed his first two shots and elected to pass.
Each Lakers possession seemed weighted with anticipation, and James has always thrived under such pressure: He hit a 3-pointer with 7:06 left in the first quarter for his first bucket, and he kept playing after getting hit in the face by an inadvertent elbow moments later.
The night was another incredible memory for the fans lucky enough to be in a building that has hosted a wealth of basketball history in less than a quarter-century. Lakers fans are no strangers to witnessing historic moments, and they turned out ferociously for the chance to see a once-in-a-generation achievement.
The moment was irresistible to fans like Aaron Sanchez, one of the hundreds of jersey-clad Lakers faithful patiently taking turns posing in front of the statue of Abdul-Jabbar that stands on the plaza in front of the Lakers’ downtown arena.
Sanchez shares a set of two season tickets with a few friends and family, and he already had the seats for Tuesday’s game months before anyone could predict the magic day. He turned down a friend’s offer of $200 to swap the Thunder seats, but he’s out of luck if James waits until Thursday to break the record, since those tickets belong to a different friend.
“It’s basketball history, and that’s what the Lakers are all about,” Sanchez said. “LeBron is already one of the greatest Lakers ever, and getting this record in a Lakers uniform just makes it more certain. He was our leader after Kobe (Bryant) died, and he’s our leader now.”
Indeed, James has already earned a special place in Lakers fans’ hearts over his five seasons in purple and gold. Several months before he won the franchise’s 17th championship in the Florida bubble, he became a part of Lakers lore with his inspirational words and steady leadership in the wake of Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash.
Inside the building, dozens of celebrities gathered to witness history: Denzel Washington, Jay-Z, Bad Bunny, LL Cool J, Usher, Andy Garcia and countless others. Dozens of basketball greats also turned out, including Lakers heroes James Worthy and Bob McAdoo along with Dwyane Wade.
The biggest star in the crowd was Abdul-Jabbar, who has verbally sparred with James in public over issues not directly related to basketball. The Lakers legend known to all as Cap wasn’t about to miss history.
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