LeBron James has accomplished a milestone that many basketball historians believed would never be broken.
Entering Tuesday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the four-time NBA champion needed 36 points to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabaar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
Nearly every person inside Crypto.com Arena pulled their phones out and rose to their feet to watch James take three dribbles before executing his signature fadeaway jumper over Kenrich Williams with 10.9 seconds left in the third quarter. Once the ball went through the net, history was made and the league had a new scoring king.
The game came to an abrupt halt and chants of “MVP” rang out, recognizing James’ ascension past 38,387 career points. He was embraced by his family, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Abdul-Jabaar, who raised the game ball into the air before handing it to James. The moment culminated one of the most electric nights in NBA history.
“I write ‘The Man in the Arena’ on my shoe every single night from Theodore Roosevelt, and tonight, I actually felt like I was sitting on top of the arena when that shot went in,” James said after the Lakers’ 133-130 loss to the Thunder.
At age 38, James is still playing at an elite level with the Los Angeles Lakers, averaging 30.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists, in his 20th season.
Abdul-Jabaar, who sat courtside for Tuesday’s game, began his 20-year Hall of Fame career with the Bucks — where he won the first of his six NBA championships, in 1971 before retiring with the Lakers in 1989.
The Pistons have been one of James’ most notable adversaries, especially during his first stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s seen his fair share of battles with the Pistons, against whom he’s played 61 career games. That mark is tied with the Bucks for third-most of any opponent James has faced, behind the Indiana Pacers (64) and Atlanta Hawks (62).
So, how many of his 38,390 career points — and counting — were scored against the Pistons?
The numbers are a little surprising.
James has scored 1,471 points against Detroit, which stands as the 13th most against any franchise the future Hall of Famer has faced. It’s 3.83% of his scoring total.
The Pistons played an integral part in the early stages of James’ career, serving as an archrival and one of the gold standards in the Eastern Conference. The “Goin’ to Work” group, headlined by Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace, defeated James’ Cavs in the 2005-06 Eastern Conference semifinals.
That Pistons team’s identity began on the defensive end, which laid the foundation of James’ success against the rest of the Eastern Conference.
James has been limited to just 24.1 points per game against the Pistons, which stands as his lowest mark against the 30 NBA teams. His 6.8 rebounds per outing against Detroit marks the second-lowest compared to any other team. He shoots just 47.4% from the field (second-lowest, to L.A. Clippers) and 31.3% from beyond the 3-point line (fifth-lowest).
Of the Lakers’ two meetings against the Pistons this season, James only played in one game, in Detroit on Dec. 11. He finished with 35 points, five rebounds and five assists. That scoring mark is his sixth-highest total against Detroit.
Pistons coach Dwane Casey has been on both ends of some of James’ highest and lowest career moments. He was an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, when they defeated the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. James avenged that loss in multiple playoff series when Casey coached the Toronto Raptors, who fell to the Cleveland Cavaliers in back-to-back playoff runs in 2017 and ’18.
“LeBron’s the reason why I’m here,” Casey joked before the Pistons’ loss to the Lakers on Dec. 11. “We couldn’t get him in Toronto. We ran into him every year in the playoffs, it seems like. But, he’s such a great player. He’s smart. He’s a computer on the floor. That’s why he’s going to be able to play as long as he wants to play, because of how smart he is as a player. He knows angles.”
When asked how to defend James, Casey said his knowledge and IQ for the game make him a difficult matchup for any team.
“He’s playing center coverage right now in pick-and-roll coverage, where probably 15 years ago, he’s switching and guarding point guards. But, he’s so smart. He can do a lot of different things on the court and that’s why his longevity is not surprising to me, as was Jordan and some of the great players like that.”
Here is a list of James’ top five scoring performances against the Pistons, including the playoffs:
▶ May 31, 2007: 48 points
It still stands as one of the greatest performances in NBA history. James, still looking to get over the hump against the Pistons, scored 25 consecutive points — and 29 of the last 30 — to lead the Cavaliers to a 109-107 double-overtime victory at the Palace of Auburn Hills. The game was a spectacle, as each shot James took down the stretch appeared more difficult than the previous one. There were tomahawk dunks, off-balance fadeaways over multiple defenders and the game-clinching layup, which cemented an instant classic.
▶ Nov. 24, 2004: 43 points
James scored 43 points on 15-of-22 shooting from the field, helping the Cavaliers to defeat the defending-champion Pistons, 92-76. This version of James was just in his second season, so his athleticism was off the charts. The game was just a regular-season matchup, so it may not be remembered by many, especially Pistons fans, but James’ notable highlight occurred when he rose for a Statue of Liberty dunk in which his head was eye-level at the rim. Throughout the game, James was often guarded by Saginaw native and current Lakers coach Darvin Ham.
▶ March 7, 2007: 41 points
James scored 41 points to lead the Cavaliers to a 101-97 win in overtime on March 7, 2007. He added seven rebounds and eight assists on 17-of-31 shooting from the field. Richard Hamilton had 29 points to lead the Pistons, while Chris Webber tallied a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds. The close margin marked the Cavaliers’ first win over Detroit in three seasons.
▶ March 5, 2010: 40 points
In the final season of his first stint with the Cavaliers, James tallied 40 points, 13 rebounds and six assists to lead Cleveland to a 99-92 win over the Pistons. Tayshaun Prince had 23 points to lead Detroit and Hamilton scored 20. The loss dropped Detroit to 21-41 and the team eventually finished 27-55. Cleveland improved to 49-14, en route to the best record in the league at 61-21 before advancing to the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals. James and the Cavaliers were defeated by the Boston Celtics, which propelled James’ move to Miami.
▶ Jan. 28, 2011: 39 points
In his first season as a member of the Heat, James played th villain role, as many disagreed with his decision to leave Cleveland. He and the rest of the “Big 3” heard boos in nearly every arena they appeared. This particular game was played in Miami, though, as James scored 39 points, along with nine rebounds and eight assists to lead the Heat to an 88-87 win over Detroit. On a team made up of Tayshaun Prince, Tracy McGrady, Greg Monroe and Austin Daye, it was Ben Gordon who led the Pistons with 21 points.