LeBron and Kareem: The tepid relationship between history’s two greatest scorers

After 39 years of holding a record that once seemed unbeatable, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was at Crypto.com Arena to watch LeBron James pick up his legacy. The legend had courtside seats and, as soon as he saw the ball from the 36th point kiss the net, he raised his already slightly hunched 218 centimetres to commemorate the moment as it deserved.

Kareem took extreme care with the liturgy of the scene, awarding the symbolic ball to James in the same way Wilt Chamberlain did in 1984. Afterwards, sensing that James was discomposed by the magnitude of the feat he had just sealed, he saw to it that it was the ‘King’ who took centre stage in the photo between the two of them and NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

LeBron also did his part by taking the microphone, asking for “a big hand for ‘Cap’ Kareem” from a stadium that was never his home, but whose statue of him performing his famous ‘SkyHook’ adorns the concourse alongside Shaq, Magic, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Chick Hern.

The pavilion erupted in cheers and the moment was as symbolic as it should be. But in the cordial greetings between the two legends, there was a glimpse of the history of a relationship that never was and has heated up in recent times.

Frankly, James and Abdul-Jabbar have had little contact during the former’s career. LeBron himself made that clear last October in a statement about his then-record chase. “I have no opinion or relationship [with Kareem],” he said.

Jabbar said similar in his personal blog, a column in which he writes weekly about basketball, but also about society, culture and politics: “He’s right, and it’s my fault,” he writes about their null relationship before referring the causes to his social austerity, shyness and the generation gap that separates him from James.

The misanthropic Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem was always an atypical superstar. Far removed from the usual profile of the NBA player and, in fact, of any young man with the exposure and facilities he enjoyed during his career. A teenager who took refuge in books, jazz and his socio-political tribulations (he stopped calling himself Lew Alcindor to shed a slave-owning surname and embrace Islam), he soon became a young man who enjoyed the solitude of his home.

In those years, he took little part in the group dynamics that used to occupy the members of any NBA locker room. Even more so in Los Angeles. He would only throw himself into the night to enjoy the dark corners of the jazz clubs he frequented, where the scarcity of light allowed him to enjoy one of his great passions without attracting attention.

LeBron has chosen to keep his distance and not get into the fray, although the tone and manner in which he talks about Kareem, always with courtesy and respect, show that not only does he not have a relationship with him, but also that he is not too happy to receive the dose of carrot and stick that the legend has been used to in recent years with him.

Abdul-Jabbar is one of the most fascinating personalities in NBA history, which has already cost him clashes with the player he himself surpassed in 1984, Wilt Chamberlain, whose relationship had much more acrimonious ups and downs than those explained with James. Kareem always chose to be firm in his stances over being liked, and it’s good that he is, even if the packaging loses its charm.