- Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com
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OAKLAND, Calif. -- LeBron James was both shocked and pleased to learn he was on the verge of a statistical milestone heading into the Miami Heat’s visit to the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday (ESPN, 10:30 ET).
Less than three weeks off his 28th birthday and midway through his 10th season, James needs 18 points to become the youngest player ever to score 20,000.
But that isn’t the number that captured James’ attention this week when he was advised of his career totals. After all, he has been the youngest to score 1,000 points, 10,000 points, 19,000 points and all those in between.
Carrying more currency to James is that he’s two assists shy of reaching 5,000 for his career. James is very likely to get both achievements against the Warriors, creating a unique moment that puts his career into some perspective.
“Getting the 5,000 assists seems like more of an accomplishment to me than the scoring,” James said. “Chris Paul just got his 5,000th assist [last month] and it’s cool to have the chance to join him. I never have seen myself as a scorer.”
James, who is close friends with Paul, immediately started pondering who he has given the most assists to in his career. He came up with the answer rather quickly: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, whom he played with for eight seasons in Cleveland and Miami, with 785 of his total. Current teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are both in the top five in receiving James’ assists despite having played with him for just two and a half seasons.
Once he gets the needed points and assists, James also will become only the 12th player in history to have 20,000 points, 5,000 rebounds and 5,000 assists. He got his 5,000th rebound back in November. The only other active players on that prestigious list are Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, both of whom didn’t hit those marks until they were well into their 30s. Also on it: Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Larry Bird, to name a few.
All of this is great fodder for examining where James is historically now that he has been playing for a decade. But when reflecting this week, he took a different viewpoint.
“It means I’ve been able to stay healthy,” said James.
That’s quite true. Since entering the NBA in 2003-04, James has missed only 33 games. He has missed fewer than 25 with actual injury, the remaining coming when sitting out games at the end of the past four seasons to rest up before playoff series. The most games he has missed for a single injury was five, when he injured his hand during a game early in the 2007-08 season. He has never missed a playoff game, playing in 115 in a row.
Only the Denver Nuggets’ Andre Miller and Boston Celtics’ Jason Terry have played more regular season games than James over the past 10 seasons. That volume has allowed him to add up to these round numbers so quickly.
“I’ve been able to play at a high level and I’ve had teammates that have allowed me to do it,” James said. “I don’t force scoring, it is not a main part of my game. When people are having conversations about the best scorers in the game, my name never comes up in that case.”
Though James did win one scoring title, when he averaged 30 points in the 2007-08 season, chasing more scoring marks is not high on his priority list. He’s more than halfway to Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time record of 38,387 points and, if he could average 20 points a game in 75 games a year, he could get there in another 10 seasons.
If he reaches both marks Wednesday, the historic game ball he’s sure to put in his trophy case will have more meaning for the assist threshold.
“He’s more than just a scorer,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s been criticized in his career for being a facilitator, trying to get other guys involved and for making the right basketball play at the end of games. He does everything across the board that you want from the best player in the league, scoring is just one of them.”