LeBron James made history on Tuesday night. His triple-double in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 112-107 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder not only pushed his team into sole ownership of the best record in the NBA, but it also meant he became the first person in league history to notch a triple-double against every team.
It’s quite the accomplishment, and after the game, it was evident that James was still processing everything.
“I really don’t know what to think about it.” James told reporters. “I’ve had some great teammates and great coaches who have put me in a position to facilitate. My teammates have made shots for me throughout my career. Coaches have put me in position to be successful scoring the ball. I’ve just tried to read and react the ball off the rim as far as getting rebounds, and hopefully throughout all those triple-doubles, I have a winning record in those games because that’s what’s most important. I really don’t know what to think about it, it’s a pretty cool stat to know. I’m glad it happened.”
(James will be happy to know that his teams boast a 64-22 record when he records a triple-double.)
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that James responded like this. When it comes to basketball, James has always been wired to look at everything from a perspective outside of himself. Once he had time to decompress, though, a text from his mom made him realize that it’s okay to slow down and reflect on the accomplishment.
“We’ll continue to watch it and see, hopefully for a long long time for Lakers fans,” Frank Vogel said when asked about how long LeBron can keep this up. “He’s just playing terrific basketball. There’s no other way to put it, for him to be doing what he’s doing in the 17th year is nothing short of remarkable. There’s no reason to believe he can’t sustain that for the rest of the season and help us make a real strong playoff push.”
With James constantly setting himself up for new achievements at every turn, we wanted to look at what other records are within grasp for him. At 34 years old with no apparent signs of slowing down, the possibility that his name sits atop a number of records by the time his career ends is becoming more and more possible with each passing game.
The all-time points leader is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 38,387. The legendary big man played 20 seasons of productive basketball and racked up a whole lot of records on the way. Most notably, he holds the record for the most points scored in a career. Depending on longevity, James should be the player who finally knocks off Kareem.
James has scored 32,893 regular season points in his career. To catch Abdul-Jabbar, he needs to score 5,494 more points before he calls it quits. That seems like a lot, and it is, but James is in an awfully good spot to get there eventually. He’s always been a productive scorer, and this season, he’s averaging 25 points a game, while his career-low is the 20.9 points a contest he averaged his rookie year, so we have a pretty concrete range we can use for that.
When it comes to the amount of games James plays in, 82 is difficult. James has only done it once in his entire career, but if you take out last season’s injury and the lockout season, James has only played fewer than 70 games once. The reality is that James will probably not play only 70 or 82 games, and he will probably average more than 20 points the rest of his career. Still, by using his career minimum and maxing out at his current average, we can give what I think is a fair estimate.
82 games, 20 PPG: Passes Kareem December of 2022 (4 seasons). Finishes the season with 39,173 points.
82 games, 25 PPG: Passes Kareem March of 2022 (3 seasons). Finishes the season with 38,693 points.
70 games, 20 PPG: Passes Kareem April of 2023 (4 seasons). Finishes the season with 38,493 points.
70 games, 25 PPG: Passes Kareem December of 2022 (4 seasons). Finishes the season with 39,543 points.
As long as James plays for at least four more years, then the goal of most points scored in the NBA is absolutely within his grasp. He already owns the record for most points scored in the playoffs. He might as well add the regular season record to that too, no?
If James were going to actually reach those scoring numbers, then he would need to shoulder a pretty heavy workload. His minutes will likely lower, but James is also built like a tank and has as good of a sense of how to take care of his body as any athlete we’ve seen. Currently, James plays 34.9 minutes per night for the Lakers, which is the lowest of his career thanks to the ability to rest a bit more with Anthony Davis on the roster and the Lakers having a few blowouts to give him extended fourth quarter breaks.
Eventually, one would think he’ll start requiring even further decreases in minutes per game, but even so, it’s a fairly safe bet that he can play on average 30-plus minutes per night the rest of the way for some time. If he does this, then James could finish his career with the most minutes played in NBA history. He’s currently 13th all time with 46,724, with Kareem being at the top with 57,446. James is still proving every night that he’s capable of playing at an elite level despite the heavy minutes. His surprisingly early exit last season, plus skipping the World Cup over the summer, has given him the most rest he’s had since his early-20s.
So let’s look at this the same way we looked at points, looking at an 82 and 70-game pace at both 30 and 35 minutes per game on average and when he’d be able to pass Kareem.
82 games, 30 MPG: Passes Kareem December of 2023 (5 seasons). Finishes the season with 58,944 minutes.
82 games, 35 MPG: Passes Kareem March of 2022 (4 seasons). Finishes the season with 57,714 minutes.
70 games, 30 MPG: Passes Kareem November of 2024 (6 seasons). Finishes the season with 59,184 minutes.
70 games, 35 MPG: Passes Kareem February of 2024 (5 seasons). Finishes the season with 57,884 minutes.
Catching Kareem in minutes will be difficult, but it’s worth remembering that the 30 minute estimate seems fairly conservative given how well and how much he’s played this season, with little sign of slowing down in the immediate future. Even so, showing how difficult it would be for James to do this before he turns 40 shows just how much of an iron man this accolade is. But if there’s anyone that has the longevity built in him to do it then it’s probably James.
Given that James has made it his stated goal to play until his son Bronny is in the league, one would expect at least five more years of LeBron playing basketball, including this season. That brings this record very much into play, with the caveat to all of these being that he remains healthy.
Also within reach for James is the all-time games played record. The title currently resides with Robert Parrish’s 1,611 games. James sits comfortably behind him in 37th with 1,212 games played, but the amount he needs to catch Parish isn’t as overwhelming as it might look. As long as James enters and plays in a game, then that will count towards the record.
Same rules as before. One set has an 82 game average the other has a 70 game average.
82 game average: Passes Parrish October 2024 (6 seasons)
70 game average: Passes Parrish March 2025 (6 seasons)
This may be more manageable than minutes, depending on how he wants to extend his career, because there’s no need for James to put a heavy workload on his legs if he doesn’t want to. When he hits his late-30’s, James could decide he’s ready to cool it down and play sub-30 minutes per night. That would help extend his career and also give him extra energy for more important games, like ones that occur in the postseason. And as it turns out, that’s another record that James very close to breaking.
Playoff Games Played
The current record keeper for most playoff games is held by Derek Fisher with 259 games played. James is only 20 behind him, which means he theoretically can break this in the upcoming postseason, depending on how the Lakers do and how many games it takes them each round. Since 2010, James has played 20 or more games in the playoffs every season except one. So we’ll use that as an average and 13 as the other because that’s his career minimum.
13 game average: Passes Fisher in the 2021 NBA Playoffs (2 seasons)
20 game average: Passes Fisher in either the 2020 NBA Finals or the 2021 NBA playoffs (this season/2 seasons)
Considering the averages, it’s more than likely that James breaks this record in the following season’s playoffs. He would either need every round of the playoffs to go seven games this year or to at least make the NBA Finals. This isn’t out of the realm of possibility considering James only recently missed the Finals for the first time since 2010, but he has a much tougher road than usual to get there. This is almost a lock to get broken, and the others are well within his reach as he continues to climb the NBA’s all-time lists in impressive fashion.
DIME’s Martin Rickman contributed to the reporting in this piece from Los Angeles