Lakers forward LeBron James puts up a shot defended by Knicks...

Lakers forward LeBron James puts up a shot defended by Knicks guard RJ Barrett in the first half of an NBA game at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

When the pregame introductions were voiced at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night it was simple to tell that this was a crowd gathered for a view of history. While no one may have entered, or paid a ridiculous price for the chance to enter, with a thought that LeBron James would get the 117 points he needed to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, there was still some sort of magical anticipation.

It was heard during the introductions as James drew a huge ovation from the sellout crowd, overwhelming the partisan portion of the crowd countering with boos. And it was visible with the James jerseys of all incarnations dotting the stands. Even the ever-present celebrity row seemed more crowded with stars of sports and film  and James conducted an on-court interview with Michael Strahan before the game for Good Morning America.

The march toward history moves on but James provided a reminder of what he has done in nearly every appearance, recording a triple-double with 28 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds and leading an undermanned Lakers' squad to a 129-123 overtime win over the Knicks. James needs 89 points to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's record point total.

"I mean, what he’s doing it’s just LeBron doing what LeBron does," Jalen Brunson said. "Obviously, he’s in his 20th year so people are saying that his longevity is pretty amazing, which it is. So nothing but respect for him. He deserves all the credit and all that. It’s amazing to see what he’s able to do in year 20."

While James is giving no indication of an end in sight to his career, still putting up prolific numbers and on the floor for 43 minutes on this night. He had not been at the Garden since January 2020 — injured two seasons ago and then suspended last season when the Lakers came to town. And at 38 years old there are no guarantees of future appearances, although James indicated that he will be back.

"It’s not getting heavier because I’m going to do it," he said of the scoring record. "It’s just a matter of time of when I’m going do it. It’s not getting heavy. I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to be in this league a few more years."

James may have been the star attraction but for much of the night the best player on the court was Brunson and he kept the Knicks close, with 37 points, but also with key plays on both ends. 

With 1:41 left in regulation, James calmly waited for Anthony Davis to make his way up court and then drained a three-pointer for a six-point LA lead. Brunson scored and then found Quentin Grimes for a layup. James missed from three and Brunson delivered one more time, swooping through the lane for a game-tying layup with 24 seconds left. James dribbled down the clock and then fed Davis cutting to the rim, but Brunson planted himself in the lane, drawing a charge with 4.5 seconds left. But the Knicks didn’t get a shot off as Julius Randle searched for an opening.

The Knicks struggled to get going in overtime and a Brunson drive that drew a goaltending call was overturned on review, leaving them five points down and Russell Westbrook scored to up the lead to seven.

While James remains in pursuit of the scoring record, he also inched up the all-time assist leader chart, passing Mark Jackson and Steve Nash for fourth place behind only John Stockton, Jason Kidd and Chris Paul. 

Perhaps the one person who wasn’t thrilled to see the traveling circus arrive at Madison Square Garden was the one tasked with trying to slow James march through the NBA record books — Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau.

If the all-time scoring record  was not in danger on this night — aided by load management and injury rehab keeping James out of games like the front end of a back-to-back set for the Lakers in Brooklyn Monday — Thibodeau was well aware that every star arriving at the Garden seeks out their own special moment in the self-proclaimed, “World’s Most Famous Arena.”

“The Garden’s always been that way,” Thibodeau said. “I’ve experienced it both ways. Obviously being an assistant here in the '90s and then coming back and coming in with opposing teams it’s the most unique building in the league. Players love playing here. There’s no other fan base that’s like it. There’s no other building that’s like it. So we understand it.

“That’s the way league is. If you love competition you love that aspect of it it should bring out the best in you. And everyone has to go through something. … I think every team, you have to go through certain teams. That’s what makes the game so good is when you have two good teams battling it out.”

Two good teams battling it out might be an exaggeration this season with the Knicks barely above .500 and the Lakers four games under .500. But James creates drama on any night and adding in his quest for history only added to the allure.

“I never thought I’d see anybody walk down Kareem’s record and here we are,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “I think it puts him right at the top of the list – just his durability, his longevity, what he's done, what he’s meant to the league on and off the court. He’s at the top of the list. I don’t mind calling him the greatest.

“I think he’s humbled by it. But I think his focus is to get us in the postseason. I think he’s really in the moment of what we have to do as a team to get ourselves together...The whole world, including you guys, won’t let him forget about it.” 


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months