As the NBA’s great G.O.A.T. debate rages on, LeBron James passed Michael Jordan in one regard.
With a long 3-pointer late in the third quarter of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers star passed Jordan as the NBA’s all-time leading playoff scorer. James entered Thursday needing 28 points to eclipse the Chicago Bulls legend’s 5,987 career playoff points. He finished with 35 in a 135-102 win over the Boston Celtics that sent him to a seventh straight NBA Finals.
With the Cavs already leading 100-71 in the final few minutes of the third, Kyrie Irving found LeBron on the left wing, and he casually delivered a 27-footer that pushed the lead to 32 and him into history.
“It was truly special to be a part of, and we knew it, too,” Cavs forward Kevin Love said of James’ record-breaking 3. “When we drew up the play in the timeout in the third quarter, he came out and — he was shooting the ball so well — it went in, and we’re celebrating it for him. It was big. Special.”
Earlier in the playoffs, LeBron passed Kobe Bryant (5,640 points) in Game 3 of a first-round series against the Indiana Pacers and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (5,762) in Game 3 of the East semifinals against the Toronto Raptors, leaving only Jordan in his sights with a whole lot of basketball left to play in 2017.
LeBron’s ascension atop the NBA’s playoff scoring list isn’t likely to settle any debate. Jordan required 179 games and 7,474 minutes over 15 seasons to score his 5,987 playoff points. Thursday marked James’ 212th playoff game, and he is closing in on 9,000 playoff minutes in his 14th season. (Remember, the NBA went from best-of-five to best-of-seven in the first round in 2003, James’ first year in the league.)
“First of all, I wear the number  because of Mike,” James said of Jordan. “I think I fell in love with the game because of Mike, just seeing what he was able to accomplish. When you’re growing up and you’re seeing Michael Jordan, it’s almost like a god. So, I didn’t ever believe I could be Mike. I started to focus on myself, on other players and other people around my neighborhood, because I never thought that you could get to a point where Mike was. So, I think that helped shape my game.
“I think the biggest thing for me sitting here today after breaking the all-time scoring record in playoff history is that I did it just being me,” he added. “I don’t have to score the ball to make an impact in the basketball game. That was my mindset when I started playing the game. I was like, if I’m not scoring the ball, how can I still make an impact on the game? It’s carried me all the way to this point now, and it’s going to carry me for the rest of my career because scoring is not No. 1 on my agenda.”
To which teammate J.R. Smith, sitting to LeBron’s left, quipped: “You can pass it to me.”
There is something to be said about LeBron’s longevity. He’s only 32 years old and shown no sign of slowing down, averaging 32.3 points per game during these playoffs entering Thursday’s Game 5. He already has almost 2,000 more career playoff points than the next-closest active player, Tony Parker (4,012), so it will be a long time before anyone thinks about knocking James off the top of that list