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Lebron James reaches 40,000 points, and doesn't look like he'll stop anytime soon

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James has hit another milestone - 40,000 career points. When a 38-year-old LeBron broke the all-time scoring record last February, there was a feeling that he would slow down, but that never really happened. A year later, he is the oldest player in the NBA, and he is still averaging more than 25 points per game. Ben Glover of The Washington Post is here to break down just how unprecedented a career LeBron James is having and whether this record will ever be broken. Hello.

BEN GOLLIVER: Hi. Great to be with you.

CHANG: Great to have you. So, you know, I get that LeBron James is just this incredibly special player. But talk about, how rare is it in basketball for someone to be this good at his age in particular?

GOLLIVER: Well, it's very unusual. I'm sure everyone's heard of the phrase career arc, which sort of implies some bending, right? - the idea that when you start off playing professional sports, there's probably going to be a little bit of a slow ramp up as you get your feet wet. And then as you mentioned, typically, we expect players, especially when they hit, you know, their mid-30s in basketball, to kind of tail off and to slow down. And for LeBron, his career has essentially been a straight line, especially when it comes to scoring. You look at his very first game, when he was an 18-year-old rookie, he scored 25 points. When you look at his most recent game, when he just crossed that 40,000-point threshold, he scored 26 points.

CHANG: (Laughter).

GOLLIVER: And along the way, in nearly 1,500 games in between, he's averaged 27 points. So I think you get the point here, right?

CHANG: Yeah.

GOLLIVER: I mean, this guy just every single night, kind of like a metronome, is out there scoring. So to be able to maintain that consistency and never really, you know, enduring a serious injury that cost him, like, a full season, for example - it's just been, you know, kind of the perfect storm to set a record like this.

CHANG: I mean, it is just awe-inspiring. Can you just talk about the number 40,000? Like, just how incredible alone is that number that he has reached?

GOLLIVER: Well, it's a number I never thought would be reached. I started tracking LeBron's scoring - and would he be able to become the NBA's all-time leading scorer? - in 2012, so more than a decade ago. And back then, the conventional wisdom was that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's record was untouchable. LeBron will be turning 40, you know, in December, and he's showing no sign of slowing down. In fact, he has talked about maybe wanting, potentially, another contract this summer that would carry his career even longer.

CHANG: Wow.

GOLLIVER: So we don't know how high this record could go. That's the exciting part.

CHANG: Yeah.

GOLLIVER: This could easily get to 42,000...

CHANG: Oh, my God.

GOLLIVER: ...Forty-three thousand, 44,000. At this point, It just boils down to, how long does he want to play?

CHANG: What about also the fact that, you know, there's kind of this overall scoring boom in the NBA right now? How do you think that is going to further affect LeBron's numbers. Like, how high could this record theoretically go even as he remains consistent?

GOLLIVER: Well, the scoring boom has actually already helped LeBron James. And some of the key factors of what's going on in the NBA - the game has become faster, and it's become more reliant on three point shots. And earlier in his career, LeBron was not really known as a shooter. But over these last couple of years, he's really evolved into a strong three-point shooter. So in that way, he's actually following the trend and benefiting from the trend. And it's really helped him prop up his scoring average, even though he's gotten into his late 30s, which is typically when NBA players would really tail off hard as scorers. So it's become a less physically punishing league, as well, which, you know, potentially helps him avoid injuries. And there's one other key factor, and I think a lot of people enjoy this. LeBron's teenage son is a freshman at USC.

CHANG: I know.

GOLLIVER: And, you know, Bronny - and he is a prospect who was pretty well-regarded coming out of high school and had some health difficulties last summer. But there's still a chance that Bronny James, LeBron's son, would be a first round or second round draft pick in this summer's draft. And if that's the case, LeBron would be able to fulfill his goal of playing with his son in the NBA, sort of like Ken Griffey Jr. and Ken Griffey Sr. played baseball together years ago.

CHANG: Yeah.

GOLLIVER: And so that's one more reason for LeBron to stick around and make this record even higher.

CHANG: Ben Golliver of The Washington Post, thank you so much for being here.

GOLLIVER: Oh, my pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDERSON .PAAK SONG, "COME DOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ailsa Chang
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Vincent Acovino
Kathryn Fox