LOS ANGELES — LeBron James says his first encounter with Michael Jordan was like meeting God. Now, he is a spot above him in the scoring heavens. James passed Jordan on Wednesday night to move into fourth place on the NBA’s all-time points list.
Entering the Lakers‘ game against the Denver Nuggets trailing Jordan by 12 points, James tied Jordan at 32,292 career points with a fadeaway 19-footer midway through the second quarter, then passed him with an and-1 layup at the 5:38 mark.
James sank the free throw to complete the three-point play and went on to finish the game with 31 points, putting him at 32,311 for his career. The Lakers lost 115-99.
“Of all the stuff I’ve done in my career, this ranks right up there at the top with winning a championship,” James said. “For a kid from Akron, Ohio, that needed inspiration and needed some type of positive influence, MJ was that guy for me. I watched him from afar, wanted to be like MJ, wanted to shoot fadeaways like MJ, wanted to stick my tongue out on dunks like MJ, wanted to wear my sneakers like MJ. I wanted kids to look up to me at some point like MJ and it’s just crazy, to be honest. It’s beyond crazy.”
In anticipation of the scoring feat, James tweeted before Wednesday’s game that moving past Jordan would be “unreal.” He also wore a pair of Nike LeBron 16s designed in the style of the Air Jordan III “white cement” model. He wrote “Thank you M.J. 23” on the side of one of the sneakers.
“I kind of take all accomplishments as they come, and anytime I’m in the breath of any of the greats and, obviously, MJ being the guy I looked up to my whole life, a guy I aspired to be when I was a kid and just, I think it’s going to be pretty cool,” James said at shootaround Wednesday morning.
“I don’t know how I’ll react in the moment, obviously, but I think at some point I’ll be able to appreciate it, just knowing where I come from and knowing that it’s so much bigger than just me.”
He reacted to the moment by hiding his face under a towel on the bench as he was swept up in emotion while the video board at Staples Center played a tribute highlighting the notable buckets of his storied career, such as his 10,000th point and 20,000th point.
“It was very emotional,” he said. “Very emotional. A lot of things that was going on inside of me at that point in time. I wanted to look up at the scoreboard to kind of see what was going on up there, but at the same time I didn’t want to show what was going on behind that towel, so it’s just crazy.
“Me and my best friends this is all we talked about was MJ. All we talked about was MJ. Outdoor courts, we used to play outdoor ball and you know in the snow in the rain in northeast Ohio and we all wanted to be MJ. We all wanted to be MJ, every last one of us. It’s crazy. My high school best friends, they text me and they just can’t believe it, I can’t believe it, because we just remember walking up and down the Akron streets with a basketball, singing, ‘I wanna be, I wanna be like Mike.'”
James, 34, who was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the No. 1 pick in 2003 a couple of months after Jordan retired from the Washington Wizards at age 40, needed 118 more regular-season games than Jordan to reach the same scoring plateau. Yet, while Jordan has James beat in career scoring average (30.1 points per game to 27.1), James is ahead of Jordan in both rebounds (7.4 to 6.2) and assists (7.2 to 5.3). James, it should be noted, also reached the scoring mark on 1,240 fewer field goal attempts than Jordan.