Kareem Sets Scoring Record
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The most famous basket in Thomas & Mack Center history wasn’t made by a Runnin’ Rebel but a Laker. On April 5, 1984, one of the greatest moments in NBA history occurred in one of the unlikeliest settings, Las Vegas, Nevada, the show biz capital of the world, the former part-time home of the Utah Jazz and the site of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time NBA scoring mark of 31,419.

The Jazz, Kareem, the NBA in Las Vegas?

“The Jazz were in dire straits financially that year and prior to that,” said Mark Eaton, the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, who played 11 seasons with the Jazz. “Attendance was not good in Salt Lake and it gave us an opportunity where UNLV had such a huge following in Las Vegas, and when they built the Thomas and Mack Center, the feeling was that this might be an opportunity to give them a taste of NBA basketball and create a base of fans there.”

The Jazz played 11 “home” games in Las Vegas during the 1983-84 season and the fan base on that particular night was all Lakers as 18,389 packed the year-in-a half old facility as Abdul-Jabbar stood a mere 23 points shy of breaking the career points record. It was the largest crowd to see the Jazz play since the team left New Orleans after the 1978-79 season.

“It was our home game and the arena was filled with 14,000 Laker fans,” said Eaton. Abdul-Jabbar was greeted with a standing ovation when he and the Lakers took the court for warm ups. Three quarters and 19 points later, Abdul-Jabbar entered the fourth quarter on the cusp of the record, needing only four more points. As the Lakers were cruising to an easy victory, the goal remained the same from opening tip, get Kareem the ball.

“The game was not about winning,” said Eaton. “The game was about feeding Kareem the ball and getting the scoring record.”

The historic moment unfolded at the 8 minute and 53 second mark. Like countless times throughout his storied career, the process was rather straight forward: Throw the ball into Kareem in the low post and let him go to work. The 7-2 center marked his territory, measuring Eaton’s steps as he inched his way closer to the basket. With the 7-4, 290-pound Eaton using his brute force in trying to deny him, Kareem remained unfazed, faking right and going left toward the baseline in releasing a feathery soft 10-foot sky hook that hit nothing but net. A new scoring king was born --31,420 career points.

“To me it was kind of amazing because I never thought that I would get close to breaking Wilt’s record,” said Abdul-Jabbar upon reflection recently. “I had seen Wilt play when I was in grade school and high school. I saw him play a lot during the times that he was averaging 50 points per game. I never thought I would approach his record.”

The record didn’t come without a price. Leading up to that historic game in Vegas, the media scrutiny was so intense that Kareem couldn't even escape the pressure when he was sleeping.

“I dreamt about it; just competing with Wilt,” said Abdul-Jabbar. “It was weird. The way I saw it in my dream, it was like a foot race. In my dream it was like he kept getting closer as I pulled up behind him. I remember dreaming that one night. I was running behind him and catching up to him.”

While Wilt accomplished the record in one less season than Abdul-Jabbar --15 to 14 – the six-time NBA MVP actually needed less career minutes to best the mark --- 45,625 to 47,859. Abdul-Jabbar is quick to point out that his efficiency from the free throw line in comparison to Wilt’s along with Goliath’s lack of emphasis on scoring later in his career ultimately contributed to this milestone.

“Wilt had a period in his career where he scored a lot of points and then he stopped looking to score,” said Abdul-Jabbar.

It’s been nearly 23 years since that historic basket and only one player – Karl Malone has seriously challenged the record, ultimately falling 1,459 points short. Will anyone top 38,387 career points?

“It can be broken,” said Abdul-Jabbar. “If I can do it, someone else can do it. I don’t think there are a whole lot of people left that are going to be playing long enough to break it because of the incredible wealth that they make.”

Ironically, the frontrunner also happens to be another Laker great who isn't quite halfway there. Kobe Bryant recently became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 18,000 points and like Kareem will make his first ever Las Vegas appearance as a player at the Thomas and Mack Center on Sunday. Until the record is broken, Las Vegas will hold an indelible mark in NBA history.