On my 10th birthday, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. I don’t remember hearing about it that week, or being impressed by the historic accomplishment in the days or weeks afterward, either.
Shame on me!
After all, I was already a huge sports fan in those days, following Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League pretty closely. I also had a rooting interest in the NBA, especially because I wanted to see all of Julius “Dr. J” Erving’s game highlights. Dr. J was my favorite basketball player at the time.
The Lakers center accomplished the feat on April 5, 1984, in Las Vegas. Los Angeles shot .659 percent from the floor en route to its 51st victory of the season, on a Sunday night, in game No. 76. The Lakers topped the Utah Jazz 129-115, getting 22 points from Kareem and 23 from Magic Johnson, who dished out 12 assists and made 10 of 11 shots in a virtuoso performance. Byron Scott paced L.A. with 24 points and James Worthy poured in 20.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s numbers
As for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he converted 10 of 14 field-goal attempts on his record-setting night.
Fittingly, the Lakers center surpassed Wilt Chamberlain on the all-time scoring list with a 12-foot sky hook from the right baseline over Utah’s Mark Eaton. With 8:53 remaining, that bucket gave Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 31,421 points in his illustrious career.
Pat Riley reflects on the game
In a short video posted on @NBACobwebs’ Twitter page, Lakers coach Pat Riley discussed the strategy that led to Kareem’s record-shattering hoop.
Riley admitted, of course, that there wasn’t anything unique about the play.
Simply put, the Lakers were playing to their strengths.
Indeed, the Lakers had run the play countless times over the years, with somebody passing the ball to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in open space, giving him time and room to set up shop.
In other words, room to unleash his patented sky hook.
Chasing the record
Writing for The New York Times, Roy S. Johnson, chronicled Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record-breaking feat.
His well-crafted game report included these details:
“Abdul-Jabbar entered the final period needing only 4 points for the record. By then, the game was a rout and his teammates were looking for him at every opportunity.
“James Worthy drove the lane and could have had an easy score, but he dished off instead. Abdul-Jabbar responded with a dunk that tied Chamberlain’s mark.
“After missing a 14-footer two minutes later, he gained the record- breaking shot. Amid the ensuing swarm of photographers and well- wishers on the floor, the National Basketball Association commissioner, David Stern, told the crowd: ‘N.B.A. players are the greatest in the world. And Kareem, you are the greatest.’
“Cradling the game ball, Abdul-Jabbar took the microphone and said: ‘It’s hard to say anything after all is said and done.’ “
The next day’s Battle Creek (Michigan) Enquirer ran a top-of-the-page headline that summed it up perfectly: “Sky hook carries Kareem to record.”
Witnessing a historic moment
Thirty-five years later, then-Jazz rookie Thurl Bailey talked about the experience of seeing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar move to the top of the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
“I was actually on the court and that was a great moment,” Bailey told the Deseret News. “That was a great moment in history to be a part of for one of the greatest players to play the game and to be a part of that history is awesome.
“We had a really good team in that time, and we were kind of in the transition, trying to figure out where we were going to be, but I remember the moment clearly of him sweeping that sky hook across the lane over Mark Eaton. Matter of fact, whenever I see the video or the pictures, it’s kind of cool. They beat us that night but even with that, it’s good to be a part of history in some way.”
Still No. 1
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar remains the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points.