Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has nothing but praise for LeBron James — but the retired NBA legend blames himself for not having a relationship with the L.A. Lakers star.
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In a Substack letter addressing James’ history-making play — he broke Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record on Tuesday, February 7 — the six-time MVP admitted that the two “don’t have a relationship.”
“And for that I blame myself,” Abdul-Jabbar, 75, continued in the Wednesday, February 8, essay. “Not for anything I did, but perhaps for not making more of an effort to reach out to him. By nature I have never been a chummy, reaching-out kind of guy,” he explained, adding that he’s “quiet, shy, and am such a devoted homebody that you’d think I have agoraphobia.”
Abdul-Jabbar — who scored 38,387 points throughout his career in the NBA — acknowledged that the “main reason” he “never formed a bond with LeBron (again, entirely my fault) is simply our age difference.”
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Emphasizing their age gap, the former Milwaukee Bucks star noted, “I established my scoring record in 1984 — the year LeBron was born. When he started to make a name for himself, I was already pretty removed from the NBA world.”
Still, Abdul-Jabbar acknowledged, “That disconnect is on me. I knew the pressures he was under and maybe I could have helped ease them a bit. But I saw that LeBron had a friend and mentor in Kobe Bryant and I was just an empty jersey in the rafters. I couldn’t imagine why he’d want to hang with someone twice his age. How many do?”
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Though he and James, 38, may not have been close, Abdul-Jabbar was quick to give credit where credit was due, championing his successor for all of his accomplishments and pointing out their similarities.
“It takes unbelievable drive, dedication, and talent to survive in the NBA long enough to rack up that number of points when the average NBA career lasts only 4.5 years,” the 19-time NBA All-Star wrote in the newsletter. “It’s not just about putting the ball through the hoop, it’s about staying healthy and skilled enough to climb the steep mountain in ever-thinning oxygen over many years when most other players have tapped out.” (Both Abdul-Jabbar and James played in the NBA for 20 seasons.)
He further noted that the teammate mentality — “a record is nothing if you used other players’ careers as stepping stones just for self-aggrandizement,” Abdul-Jabbar penned — is crucial to becoming a legendary basketball star. “For me, I strove to play at the highest level I could in order to be a good teammate. The points — and the record—were simply a by-product of that philosophy. I think LeBron has the same philosophy.”
Ultimately, the New York native, who played center for the L.A. Lakers from 1975 to 1989, is happy that James succeeded his record.
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“It’s as if I won a billion dollars in a lottery and 39 years later someone won two billion dollars. How would I feel?” Abdul-Jabbar asked rhetorically. “Grateful that I won and happy that the next person also won. His winning in no way affects my winning.”
King James broke Abdul-Jabbar’s record during Tuesday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, reaching an all-time score of 38,387 points throughout his career, which began in 2003.
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Though Abdul-Jabbar acknowledged that the two did not have a close friendship, that didn’t stop him from embracing the Ohio native on the court on Tuesday. The NBA stopped the game for the ceremonious occasion, which also featured the retired athlete passing on a basketball to James. In addition to his hug with Abdul-Jabbar, the power forward also shared the proud moment with his wife, Savannah James, and their three children: Bronny, 18, Bryce, 15, and daughter Zhuri, 8. LeBron’s mom, Gloria James, also posed for pictures with the family.
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