WASHINGTON (AP) — LeBron James passed Karl Malone on the NBA’s career scoring list, leaving only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar still to catch.
Then the Los Angeles Lakers wasted another stellar performance by their star.
James came into the night needing 19 points to tie Malone. He ended up scoring double that, but the Washington Wizards rallied from a 16-point deficit to win 127-119 on Saturday night.
James said he couldn’t appreciate the milestone as much in a loss.
“Obviously at some point I’ll be able to look back at this moment, but right now the feeling I have — I can’t separate it,” James said. “We had a great opportunity to pick up some more momentum.”
Malone scored 36,928 points and held the No. 2 spot for 21 years. Abdul-Jabbar’s record of 38,387, which has stood since 1989, is within reach next season if James stays healthy.
NBA Store: Get your LeBron gear!
“I will not allow myself to think about it. I’ve always just played the game the way I’ve been playing it over the years, and these things have just happened organically by just going out and playing the game the right way,” James said. “Hope to accomplish that at some point in my career, but I won’t think about it too much.”
After a six-point first quarter, James went on a scoring binge in the second that included a dunk and three 3-pointers. The last of those 3s brought him even with Malone. Then he made a layup off a backdoor cut with 5:20 left in the quarter to move ahead.
Moments later, as Washington’s Tomas Satoransky prepared to shoot free throws, James’ accomplishment was put up on the video screen, and the crowd in Washington gave him a standing ovation. James acknowledged the cheers with a wave of his hand and exchanged a hug with Washington’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a former teammate.
It wasn’t clear if the 37-year-old James would play on the second night of this back-to-back until shortly before the game. If he’d sat out, he’d have had the chance to reach this milestone in Cleveland, where the Lakers play next.
“I felt good enough to go,” James said. “The question of not playing went out the door right then and there.”
In his 19th season, James is averaging 29.8 points, second in the league and tied for the third-highest average of his career. He is just behind Joel Embiid (30.0) and percentage points ahead Giannis Antetokounmpo (29.8) in the scoring race. At 37, James would be the oldest scoring champion in NBA history.