They have never been close. As recently as last October, LeBron James had been asked if he had any thoughts about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or if he’d care to comment on the relationship James enjoyed with the man who, for almost 34 years, had scored more points than any other player in NBA history.

“No thoughts,” James had said then. “And no relationship.”

They are men of different generations, who have espoused different public stances on any number of social issues, and that has caused conflict in the past. But in recent weeks whatever chill existed between them had clearly thawed. On James’ birthday on Dec. 31, Kareem tweeted: “Happy birthday, LeBron. 38 is the new 38,388.” Then on Wednesday morning, Abdul-Jabbar wrote a long post on his Substack accepting much of the blame for their non-existent relationship.

Though Kareem’s ex-running mate Magic Johnson had believed Abdul-Jabbar wouldn’t be pleased at seeing his total of 38,387 points surpassed, Kareem was there, courtside, late Tuesday night, watching the Lakers play the Oklahoma City Thunder.

And when James splashed a 14-foot fadeaway jumper over an Oklahoma City forward named Kenrich Williams late in the third quarter, Kareem was immediately on his feet, joining the other 18,996 spectators at Arena in a burst of joy. He may have been one of the few whose hands weren’t attached to their phones, intent on capturing history with a click.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gives the record-setting ball to LeBron James on Feb. 7, 2023.

Understandable, though. Abdul-Jabbar had lived so much of that history. Because if there is one person who could understand, as thoroughly as possible, LeBron James’ journey from prodigy to immortal, it is Kareem. He paved the way, after all.

Abdul-Jabbar — then known by his birth name, Lew Alcindor — had been the original basketball Mozart, better known as a high school player at Manhattan’s Power Memorial than most college players and almost all of the Knicks of the early ‘60s. The only post-prep route in those days was college, and more than 250 schools fought for his signature because they knew the winner — which turned out to be UCLA — would win championships. And the Bruins were 3-for-3 with him.

Years later there was LeBron, and by then the NBA allowed high schoolers to jump straight to the pros, and the same noise and the same expectations surrounded him. Back in 1969 it took a coin flip to land Kareem in Milwaukee; by 2003 it was James’ hometown Cavaliers who would win a lottery. Neither man has ever been on a basketball court on which he could hide since they were 16 years old.

LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar celebrating James’ points record.
LeBron James makes the shot that will put him in the NBA record books.
NBAE via Getty Images
LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar celebrating James’ points record.

In January, proof that James’ frostiness toward Abdul-Jabbar had lessened emerged when he told ESPN: “I think of the correlation of being high school phenoms, doing the things that we did off the floor for the betterment of our people, to wearing a Lakers jersey … and being a part of this conversation with the scoring record. That’s the relationship. That’s the conversation. We will kind of always be linked.”

And so all of that was in the room Tuesday night when the game was stopped and James’ family joined him on a basketball court in downtown Los Angeles, and so did Kareem and so did Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner.

“Kareem,” Silver said of the record, “many people thought [it] would never be broken. LeBron, you are the NBA’s all-time scoring leader.”

And with that, Abdul-Jabbar raised the ball with which James had scored his 38,388th point with his right hand, high above his head, turned and regally handed it to James. It was a passing of the torch, one basketball icon to another.

A look at the top scorers in NBA history after LeBron James broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record.
NY Post illustration
Wilt Chamberlain hands the ball to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after Abdul-Jabbar set the NBA points record in 1984.
NBAE via Getty Images

Almost 34 years earlier — April 23, 1989 at the old Fabulous Forum 10 miles southeast in Inglewood — Kareem had taken a feed from Magic and dunked with 2 minutes and 14 seconds left in the Lakers’ regular-season finale against the Seattle Supersonics, the last of those 38,387 points. He had broken the record himself five years earlier and nobody had really come close to sniffing it — for the longest time, Karl Malone was second, some 1,459 points behind.

It felt unbreakable.

Then, 12,343 days later — symmetrically against the Thunder, who used to be the Sonics — James took a fadeaway and there was new name atop that list. It is a record that isn’t held in the same numerical context as some others … but as we were reminded last summer, with Aaron Judge, sometimes those sacred records come with complicated backstories.

No complications here. The list of men who have scored more points than any pro before them is finite. Kareem had it since 1984. Wilt Chamberlain had it from 1966-84, Bob Petit from 1964-66, Dolph Schayes from 1958-64, George Mikan from 1952-58 and Joe Fulks from 1946-52. That’s seven names, with LeBron.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar congratulated by David Stern after breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s points record.
NBAE via Getty Images

Will there ever be an eighth? By the time James is done, we might really be able to call that record “unreachable.” Though they said that plenty on April 23, 1989 when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — LeBron before LeBron — did that, too. If it happens, here’s hoping LeBron James is sitting courtside with a smile on his face. As wide as Kareem’s was Tuesday night.