Assessing LeBron James' chances of ending career as NBA's all-time top-scorer

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Earlier this week, LeBron James surpassed Boston Celtics legend John Havlicek to move up to 13th place on the NBA's all-time scoring chart.

After adding 25 points in the Cavaliers' win over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night, the four-time MVP now has 26,431 points to his name in a career that has spanned 972 games to this point.

But just how high up the table can LeBron climb before he steps off the hardwood for the final time? Could he one day claim the honour of the greatest scorer in NBA history? Here, we take a look at the possibility and what, if anything, could stand in James' way.

One step at a time

The summit may look some way off for James but there is a real chance that he can make up ground on the list before the current season is even complete.

The Cavs star needs only 515 points in the remainder of the regular season to move past the Hall of Fame trio of Dominique Wilkins, Oscar Robertson and Hakeem Olajuwon.

Currently averaging 25 points per game, that is well within his reach with Cleveland still having 19 games to play. Maintain that average while throwing in a couple of high-scoring efforts on route, and James could be sitting in the top 10 before his 32nd birthday.

The summit

The holy grail, however, will remain Kareem Abdul-Jabaar's 38,387 points. After a 20-year career in which he averaged 24.1 points, the six-time champion sits over 1,400 points ahead of his nearest rival, Karl Malone.

At present, LeBron is averaging 27.2 points a night in his own 13-year career so you might think he has a step on Kareem. Extend that average out for another seven seasons (or 575 games) and it would put him on a monster 42,071 points.

The problem, though, is that in today's NBA it is incredibly hard to maintain that free-flowing form for two decades. Look at any great player and there is inevitably a tale off at the tale end of their career.


The question is, then, can LeBron still outscore Kareem when factoring in that late-career slump. By the calculations above, he could still give up around 2,200 points and do it.

Of course, getting the jump on some of his scoring chart rivals by entering the league straight from high school could allow the two-time champion to play longer at his peak than your average elite player, and thus boost his chances of racking up points.

Kobe Bryant, for instance, will retire third on the all-time list after a 20-year career which began aged just 18 - the same age James was when drafted in 2003. However, as we saw with Kobe, injuries and father time catch up towards the end.

James is already having to sit out certain games during the regular season to preserve himself for key games and playoff basketball.

Back in 2015, ESPN calculated that James would pass Abdul-Jabbar by the 2023-24 season - factoring in decline in older age. Whether he will choose to put his body through the NBA ringer as long as Kobe or Kareem, however, remains to be seen.

If he is able to add to his title haul in the next few seasons - he has that opportunity with the Cavs - there is a realistic chance that LeBron opts to call time on his NBA career sooner than the mid-2020s.

From health, longevity and luck there are a number of factors that will come into play in LeBron's rise up the all-time scoring list. Watching his quest to pass the 12 bonafide legends ahead of him will certainly be interesting.

Eastern Conference
Cleveland Cavaliers
Central Division
Kobe Bryant
L.A. Lakers
Pacific Division
Western Conference
LeBron James

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