Anybody with a pulse could see the tension following LeBron James’ record-breaking basket passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. The two men, who have scored more buckets than anyone in association history, came off as extremely awkward next to one another during the ceremony celebrating James’ achievement.
The relationship, or lack thereof, between James and Abdul-Jabbar, is well documented and was on full display Tuesday night. The King put on a brave face and then conjured up a few tears, but his energy and body language was screaming, “why is he even here.” Neither party looked thrilled, but nonetheless, everyone got what they wanted out of the moment.
James took his place on the mantle as the NBA’s most prolific scorer. The captain saved face (somewhat) by showing up and not coming off as a grumpy old man by skipping the event, although his face said otherwise at times. Then the NBA and the Lakers got their happy moment, video footage, and photo ops they can use for the next 75 years to commemorate and monetize.
There was also this:
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Over the years, Abdul-Jabbar has been critical of James, then praised him at other times. James isn’t the type to forget a jab, even if he forgives. Sometimes warranted, and other times it’s felt like Kareem is digging at LeBron because he can. But Abdul-Jabbar has always had a reputation for being a bit cantankerous.
“Some of the things that he’s done and said are really beneath him as far as I can see,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “Versus some of the great things that he’s done. He’s standing on both sides of the fence, almost. It makes it hard for me to accept that … when he’s committed himself to a different take on everything, it’s hard to figure out where he is standing. You got to check him out every time.”
There’s no animosity on James’ part, or at least that’s what he told ESPN’s Michael Wilbon in a recent interview.
“It’s all good. At the end of the day, we’re a part of a franchise that’s so historic in the game of basketball and means so much to so many people, not only here in Los Angeles but all over the world, that it just makes sense. It’s kind of weird how the stars align.”
For what it’s worth, Abdul-Jabbar also had beef with the player he eclipsed to become the all-time leading scorer in 1984, Wilt Chamberlain. He wasn’t even in the building when Kareem passed him, although Chamberlain was supposed to be there. The most significant difference is Kareem and Wilt actually had a close relationship at one time and competed against each other. James’ era is a couple of generations removed from Abdul-Jabbar’s, so some of his criticism has felt unwarranted. So, it’s easy to see why LeBron might feel a certain way about his interactions with “The Captain” during his career.
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