When his short jumper swished through the net at the 2:45 mark of the second quarter, Miami’s LeBron James became the youngest NBA player to reach the 20,000 career points mark. The milestone was reached in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors, a game James’ Heat won easily, 92-75. James finished with 25 points, 7 rebounds, 10 assists and a steal, typical numbers for the versatile Heat swingman.
At 28 years and 17 days old, James’ record-setting bucket eclipsed the previous mark set by Kobe Bryant (29 years, 122 days) by more than a year. James joins an elite group of 38 current and former NBA stars who have attained the 20,000 point mark, led by NBA career points leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387). Besides James and Bryant, other currently active players to have reached the plateau are Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Tim Duncan and Vince Carter.
Now in his ninth season, James has already earned nearly every possible award that the game of basketball has to offer, and barring injury will no doubt eclipse several more milestones before he hangs up his sneakers. A native of Akron, Ohio, James has been in the national spotlight since his high school days, first garnering attention during his sophomore year when he was named Ohio’s Mr. Basketball along with making USA Today’s first-team All-USA squad, the first sophomore to do so.
Following his senior season, James decided to forego college and entered his name in the 2003 NBA Draft. The Cleveland Cavaliers selected him with the first overall pick, and he immediately became the team’s star, setting a record in his very first professional game by scoring 25 points, the most ever by a player drafted directly out of high school in his debut. Later in the season, he scored 41 points in a game, making him the youngest to reach that mark, and for the season he averaged 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game, easily earning Rookie of the Year honors. His impact helped the Cavaliers improve their win total by 18 games.
James added both to his accomplishments and legend over the next few seasons, including the youngest to attain a triple-double, earning selection to the All-Star team, setting a Cavalier’s single-game scoring mark with 56 points, and becoming the youngest-ever player named to the All-NBA team. As his reputation grew, the Cavaliers overall became a viable force in the league after decades of mediocrity. In the 2005-2006 season, James was named All-Star game MVP, averaged 30.6 points, 7 rebounds and six assists on the season, finished second to Steve Nash in league MVP voting, and led Cleveland into the postseason for the first time in seven seasons. In his playoff debut, James recorded a triple-double and averaged 30 points, 8 rebounds and almost 6 assists in two playoff series.
Despite being as physically talented as any player in the league’s history, James has improved some aspect of his game each season. He was named to the All-Defensive team for the 2008-2009 season, improved his free throw percentage dramatically, all the while continuing to post almost “video-game” numbers.
Following the 2009-2010 season, James shocked Cavalier fans by becoming an unrestricted free agent. Pursued by several teams, James eventually signed with the Miami Heat on July 8 on a live ESPN telecast. The decision drew widespread criticism (the exception being in Miami), but James was adamant about his dream to win an NBA Championship and felt the Heat offered him the best opportunity to attain that goal.
With new teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, big things were expected from the Heat. Despite a period of adjustment, James and Miami soon proved that the expectations weren’t unreasonable, and wound up as the East’s No. 2 seed for the playoffs. After relatively easy series wins over Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago, the Heat advanced to the NBA Finals versus the Dallas Mavericks. It’s there where the Heat (and James) proved to be not-quite-ready, falling in six games after holding a 2-1 advantage.
True to form, James spent the offseason attempting to even further improve his game, and when the postseason rolled around, the Heat once again entered with the No. 2 seed. After surviving a grueling battle through the East, the Heat once again reached the Finals, this time going against an upstart Oklahoma City team led by young Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Despite blowing a big lead and losing Game One, the Heat, led by James, rebounded to sweep the next four games to give him his lifelong dream, a championship ring. Not surprisingly, James was unanimously selected as NBA Finals MVP.
Other than Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson, LeBron James combines an unbeatable mixture of size (6’8 250 lbs.), athleticism and basketball smarts that’s never been seen by any NBA player. And his unique combination of ball-handling, passing, shooting and competitiveness dwarf those two legendary Hall of Famers skill sets. Able to score against players of all sizes, James also has the ability to defend players at every position. Watching him powerfully snatch a rebound on the defensive end then skillfully weave his way through the opposition to finish the play with a highlight-reel slam dunk is “business-as-usual” for the 28-year old superstar. Along with his immense physical skills, James also possesses a winning personality that makes him a favorite of the media. No other current player approaches his talents, with perhaps the closest contender being either Kevin Durant or Blake Griffin. Durant however, isn’t nearly as strong physically, and while Griffin’s athleticism is at least the equal of James’, he is nowhere near LeBron when it comes to ball-handling, passing or perimeter shooting.
When all is said and done, LeBron James undoubtedly belongs in that rarefied air occupied only by Michael Jordan and Julius Erving as “The Greatest Ever.”