Now in his 20th NBA season, Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James is one of the most accomplished players in NBA history with four Kia MVPs, four Finals MVPs, four NBA titles, 18 All-Star appearances and 18 All-NBA nods.
An all-around talent who can gather triple-doubles with ease, James in recent years passed his idol, Michael Jordan, and his friend, Kobe Bryant, to move into third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Then, in the 2021-22 season, he surpassed Hall of Famer Karl Malone to take over No. 2 on the list. He enters the 2022-23 season trailing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by 1,325 points for the all-time No. 1 spot.
As James continues to climb the NBA record books, here’s a look back at some milestone regular-season scoring moments from his career.
Oct. 29, 2003: LeBron debuts, scores first career points
> LeBron’s stats: 25 points, six rebounds, nine assists, four steals | Box score
The hype surrounding LeBron James, the No. 1 pick of the 2003 Draft, was immense before he ever stepped on an NBA court. In his first game, though, James showed he was more than ready for every expectation of him.
In the first game of his NBA career, James made a 16-foot jumper off an assist from Ricky Davis for his first career points. An 18-year-old rookie, James finished with 25 points, six rebounds and nine assists in a 106-92 loss to the Sacramento Kings.
James’ point total was by far the most by any prep-to-pro rookie since Kobe Bryant made the jump in 1996, eclipsing the 10 points scored by both Jonathan Bender of Indiana in his 1999 debut and Amar’e Stoudemire of Phoenix in 2002-03.
In fact, James’ 25 eclipsed the combined totals of Bryant (no points), Jermaine O’Neal (two), Kwame Brown (two), Eddy Curry (two), Tyson Chandler (one), Kevin Garnett (eight) and Tracy McGrady (none) in their professional debuts.
“They’ve had great careers already,” James said after his debut game. “I’m just going to try to do the best I can.”
Jan. 21, 2006: Youngest ever to 5,000 career points
> LeBron’s stats: 51 points, five rebounds, eight assists, two steals | Box score
Pick your favorite NBA legend and know this: none of them ever accomplished one scoring feat earlier than LeBron did.
In torching the Utah Jazz for 51 points in the 2005-06 season, he became the youngest-ever NBA player to reach 5,000 career points.
A 21-year-old, James needed 45 points to pass Bryant as the youngest to ever reach 5,000. Bryant was 22 when he scored his 5,000th point. Overall, James was 19-for-35 from the floor and made nine of 11 free throws to seal a win vs. the Jazz.
There was some doubt James would even play in this game as he was hampered by a sore knee. However, he was unstoppable against Utah and roasted one of the league’s best defenders, Andrei Kirilenko, all night long.
“I got up this morning, my knee was hurting really bad, I barely could walk. I did some treatment all day, and my knee felt a lot better,” James said after the game. “I didn’t want to be in the position where I wasn’t there for my teammates tonight, and I was going to give as much as I could.”
Feb. 27, 2008: LeBron reaches 10,000 career points
> LeBron’s stats: 26 points, eight rebounds, four assists | Box score
A familiar storyline reared its head for James in accomplishing this milestone in the 2007-08 season. Yes, the Cavs’ star got to the individual accolade. But as was often the case in his first run with Cleveland, the Boston Celtics had the last word in the win column.
James returned from a first-half ankle injury to score 26 and become the youngest player in NBA history to reach 10,000 points, but Boston got 22 points from Ray Allen to beat the Cavaliers 92-87.
James reached the 10,000-point milestone at 23 years and 59 days, more than a year younger than Bryant was when he hit the milestone in 2003 (24 years, 193 days). It took James 368 games to do it — the ninth-fastest in league history.
“It doesn’t make me happy to do it in a losing effort,” James said after the defeat. “To be in the record books is a tribute to my teammates, myself and my family.”
March 21, 2008: Becoming Cavs’ all-time leading scorer
> LeBron’s stats: 29 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, one steal | Box score
For 14 years, Brad Daugherty stood as the all-time best scorer in the history of the Cleveland Cavaliers. With a tough, first-quarter layup in the lane against the Toronto Raptors, James put an end to that reign.
It took Daugherty 548 games to amass 10,389 points. James, the NBA’s leading scorer in 2007-08, was at 10,414 points after 380 career games.
James passed Daugherty as Cleveland’s career scoring leader in the first quarter and finished with 29 points. James came in needing just five points to overtake Daugherty, and he pushed past the former All-Star center in fitting fashion.
Powering through traffic in the lane, James went strong to the basket and muscled in one of his patented, scooping layups in the first quarter to reach the milestone.
The sellout crowd at Quicken Loans Arena immediately rose to give James a thundering ovation and when then-coach Mike Brown called a timeout, the All-Star forward first walked to the bench to receive high-fives and hugs from his teammates.
March 19, 2010: LeBron reaches 15,000 career points
> LeBron’s stats: 29 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, two steals, two blocks | Box score
Continuing his trend from the season before, James once again got the better of Bryant in the NBA record books.
While it didn’t come in the most exciting fashion — he got points No. 15,000 and 15,001 on free throws with 6:39 to go in the first quarter — James nonetheless climbed up a few more notches in NBA lore.
“I was born with a God-given gift,” he said after the game. “I take full advantage of it by being able to do what I do on the basketball court. Hopefully, I can continue to stay healthy, and hopefully, I’ll continue to break records.”
Overall, James scored 13 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bulls, giving him 15,026 in his career at the game’s end. He reached the milestone at 25 years, 79 days, and he did it in his 540th game. Bryant was 27 years, 136 days and playing his 657th game when he did it for the Los Angeles Lakers.
James’ reaching of that mark highlighted several other scoring plateaus in the 2009-10 season, including the 13,000-point mark (on Oct. 27, 2009 vs. the Celtics) and the 14,000-point mark (on Jan. 2, 2010 vs. the Nets).
Jan. 16, 2013: LeBron reaches 20,000 career points
> LeBron’s stats: 25 points, seven rebounds, 10 assists, one steal | Box score
In the years to come after this game, the Golden State Warriors would often get the better of James on the NBA’s championship stage. But back in the 2012-13 season, the Warriors could only watch as they played victim to one of James’ milestones.
In sinking a short jumper with 2:45 to go in the second quarter, James raised his career scoring total to 20,001, becoming the 38th player in NBA history to join that club. And, in doing so, he became the youngest player ever to reach that plateau. Bryant, the previous record-holder, got there when he was 29 years, 122 days old. James was 28 years, 17 days old when he accomplished the feat.
At the time, James already was the youngest player in league history to win Rookie of the Year, record a triple-double, score 1,000 points, score 10,000 points and win MVP honors at an All-Star Game. Only Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain (29 years, 134 days) and Michael Jordan (29 years, 326 days) reached the latest milestone before turning 30.
“It means everything,” James said after the game of his 20,000-point marker. “It means a lot. First of all, like I continue to say, it means I’ve been able to be healthy. To be out on the floor and do what I love to do, I love the game of basketball and I try to give everything to the game. And hopefully it continues to give back to me.”
March 3, 2014: Career-high 61 points vs. Bobcats
> LeBron’s stats: 61 points, seven rebounds, four assists | Box score
As one of the top scorers in NBA history, one might think 60-point games for James were a regular occurrence. However, James had only one such game in his career (although he has 11 games of 50-59 points in his career, in case you were wondering).
In the 2013-14 season, James put on the best scoring show of his NBA career, pouring in 61 points to set a Miami Heat record in a 124-107 win against the Charlotte Bobcats. James made 22 of 33 shots from the field, including his first eight 3-point attempts.
James’ career-best had been 56 points, set on March 20, 2005, for Cleveland against Toronto. Glen Rice scored 56 to set the Heat record on April 15, 1995, against Orlando.
James had 24 points at halftime, then added 25 in the third quarter. The record-breaker came with 5:46 left, when James spun through three defenders for a layup that fell as he tumbled to the court.
“The man above has given me some unbelievable abilities to play the game of basketball,” James said then. “I just try to take advantage of it every night. I got the trust of my teammates and my coaching staff to go in there and let it go.”
Nov. 2, 2015: LeBron youngest to reach 25,000 points
> LeBron’s stats: 22 points, nine rebounds, 11 assists, four steals, two blocks | Box score
In his first season back with the Cavaliers, LeBron gave Cleveland fans one of many new memories with their superstar.
James notched his 25,000th and 25,001st points on an alley-oop from Matthew Dellavedova with 8:07 left in the fourth quarter. He had a near triple-double in the win (22 points, 11 assists, nine rebounds) and, at the time, became the sixth active player with 25,000 points and the 20th player overall.
In doing so, he joined Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki, San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett, Los Angeles’ Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce of the Clippers in that 25,000-point, active-player club.
James reached 25,000 career points — the dunk gave him 25,001 — at 30 years, 307 days. Bryant held the mark at 31 years, 351 days. After accomplishing the feat, the packed house in Philadelphia rose to give James a standing ovation.
Jan. 23, 2018: LeBron enters 30,000-point club
> LeBron’s stats: 28 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, one block | Box score
Throughout his career, LeBron has been known for some dramatic moments and baskets. Fittingly, those two notions converged in San Antonio in the 2017-18 season to lift him into elite company.
James became the seventh player with 30,000 career points when he hit a jumper with one second left in the first quarter of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 114-102 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. He missed his first two midrange jumpers against San Antonio before making two driving layups and a 20-footer. He hit the milestone jumper over Danny Green from 19 feet out.
The 33-year-old James joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387 points), Karl Malone (36,928), Kobe Bryant (33,643), Michael Jordan (32,292), Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) and Dirk Nowitzki (30,808 at the time) on the list of 30,000-point scorers.
At 33 years and 24 days, James became the youngest to reach the mark. Bryant was 34 years and 104 days when he got there.
March 30, 2018: LeBron’s double-digit scoring record
> LeBron’s stats: 27 points, nine rebounds, 11 assists, one steal | Box score
James surpassed Jordan in one measure of scoring consistency in a 107-102 Cleveland Cavaliers win against the New Orleans Pelicans in 2018.
With a two-handed dunk over Solomon Hill in the first quarter, James reached double figures in scoring for the 867th consecutive game, breaking the all-time record set by Jordan. The last time James failed to score at least 10 points was on Jan. 5, 2007, when he scored eight points on 3-of-13 shooting against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Entering the 2022-23 season, James’ double-figure scoring streak stands at 1,096 regular season games and counting. Jordan’s streak lasted from March 25, 1986 through Dec. 26, 2001, while playing for the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards.
To put the streak in context, Abdul-Jabbar is third at 787 games, followed by Karl Malone at 575. Moreover, no active player is within striking range of James’ streak.
Nov. 14, 2018: LeBron passes Chamberlain
> LeBron’s stats: 44 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists, one steal, three blocks | Box score
En route to taking aim at Jordan on the all-time scoring list, other legends stood in his way. It didn’t take long for James to pass Nowitzki on the list, which came early in the 2018-19 season.
Less than a month later, Chamberlain, one of the all-time giants of the game, was next to fall.
James reached 31,420 career points with an and-one free throw in the fourth quarter to pass Chamberlain. Fittingly, James did so as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — the team with whom Chamberlain amassed 5,985 points over the final five seasons of his career.
James finished the game with a season-high 44 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in the Lakers’ 126-117 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. His 44 points were the most a Laker has scored in a game since the late Kobe Bryant’s 60-point performance in the final game of his career.
March 6, 2019: LeBron passes Jordan for No. 4
> LeBron’s stats: 31 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, one steal, one block | Box score
Five minutes 38 seconds into the second quarter, LeBron James scored his 32,293rd career point on a driving layup against the Denver Nuggets, getting fouled in the act. In doing so, he surpassed Jordan for the No. 4 spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring charts.
This achievement was particularly special to James, who grew up in Ohio idolizing Jordan. While the Lakers aired a tribute video during the ensuing timeout, James covered his face with a towel, apparently crying under it. Just eight days before this, James moved into 10th place on the assists list, becoming the first player in league history to make the top 10 in points and assists.
“A lot of stuff that I’ve done in my career, this ranks right up 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, M.J. was that guy for me.”
At the time, James only trailed Abdul-Jabbar (38,387 points), Karl Malone (36,928) and Kobe Bryant (33,643).
Jan. 25, 2020: LeBron passes Kobe for No. 3 all-time
> LeBron’s stats: 29 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, one steal | Box score
With a driving right-handed layup in Philadelphia, James no longer chased Bryant. In fact, he zoomed past him for third place on the NBA’s career scoring list.
Bryant congratulated James via Twitter not long after his historic basket. That tweet would prove to be the final social media posting by the Hall of Famer Bryant, who died along with eight other people in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif.
With a tribute to Bryant written on his Nikes, James scored 29 points in front of a roaring 76ers crowd, but the Lakers fell short in a 108-91 loss to Philadelphia on Saturday night.
James scribbled “Mamba 4 Life” as he chased Bryant, the five-time champion, in Philly. Fans stood with phones pointed toward the court, waiting to capture a slice of history that came when James scored the milestone basket with 7:23 left in the third quarter. James entered 18 points shy of passing Bryant, and the layup gave him 33,644 points. Bryant finished his career with 33,643, all with the Lakers.
Dec. 30, 2020: LeBron scores 10+ points in 1,000th straight game
> LeBron’s stats: 26 points, five rebounds, eight assists, one steal, one block | Box score
LeBron celebrated his 36th birthday by becoming the first player in NBA history to have 1,000 straight games with at least 10 points.
James’ baby hook shot with 6:15 left in the second quarter in San Antonio gave him 11 points for the game, marking the 1,000th straight game scoring in double-digits, a milestone that will be difficult to match.
The last time LeBron failed to score 10 points in a game was on Jan. 5, 2007, when he had eight points, nine assists and five rebounds as the Cavs beat the Bucks.
March 19, 2022: LeBron passes Malone for No. 2
> LeBron’s stats: 38 points, 10 rebounds, six assists | Box score
James entered the Lakers’ road game against the Washington Wizards needing a mere 19 points to surpass Hall of Famer and Utah Jazz legend Karl Malone for No. 2 on the all-time scoring list.
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.
At the time of the feat, James was more concerned with the Lakers blowing a 16-point lead than his accomplishment.
“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.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.