Magic Johnson Was Wrong About Kareem Abdul Jabbar Being Mad When LeBron Broke His Record

Basketball legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson appeared on the Club Shay Shay podcast a few months ago and ended up talking about two more legendary players — LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson's longtime friend. For a couple of years now, it's looked like James could break Abdul-Jabbar's career scoring record — 38,388 points, the most in NBA history since 1989. That finally happened Tuesday night, Feb. 7, when James' Los Angeles Lakers played the Oklahoma City Thunder.

On the podcast, Johnson said he didn't think Abdul-Jabbar would react well when it happened. "I think it'll be a hard pill to swallow," he said. "I think [Abdul-Jabbar] thought he was going to have [the record] forever." In a post on his Substack on Feb. 8, Abdul-Jabbar expressed surprise that his old friend got it so wrong. Especially since Abdul-Jabbar had said he'd be happy for James before the record-breaking ever happened, including in a 2022 ESPN interview (via CBS News).

Immediately after Tuesday night's game, TNT's NBA commentators — including Shaquille O'Neal — interviewed Abdul-Jabbar about James' new record. Abdul-Jabbar was complimentary. James has come so far, according to Abdul-Jabbar, partially because of his leadership skills, which Abdul-Jabbar calls an "indefinable essence" that "guys want to get behind." When O'Neal said he'd never thought the record would be broken, Abdul-Jabbar said he personally wasn't surprised: "I thought it had every chance of being broken."

Abdul-Jabbar's thoughts on James' record

Abdul-Jabbar further explained his feelings about James breaking the record on his Substack post. He attributes James' success to "unbelievable drive, dedication, and talent," but also to staying healthy to keep himself in the game and not putting his own success above being a good teammate and helping his team succeed. He said focusing on winning games and championships is always more important than your personal scoring achievements: "Otherwise you're Gollum and the record is your Precious."

In regards to Johnson's assumptions, Abdul-Jabbar admits he would've been more upset about his record being broken had it happened 30 years ago, saying he might've even returned to the game to reset the record. Now though, he's got other priorities and doesn't think of his record often, he says. "Social activism, my writing career, and my family — especially my three grandchildren" are far more important to him than basketball now.

He also says a sports record being broken is a good thing for humanity, because "someone has pushed the boundaries of what we thought was possible ... Then we all somehow share in that achievement." It inspires others to try to do more and better, and "that same kind of drive is behind many of humankind's greatest achievements" (via Substack).

Abdul-Jabbar's relationship with James

Back in October, James bluntly told reporters he had "no thoughts" on Abdul-Jabbar and "no relationship" with him (via CBS Sports). In his Substack post, Abdul-Jabbar responded. He said he should've reached out to James to offer support as James climbed to NBA super-stardom, but his personality makes him more reticent. He also feels their age difference prevented them from becoming friends — after all, he notes, he set his scoring record the year James was born.

He's a fan of James' social justice and community service work. In his TNT interview, he mentioned James "sending kids to school" — a reference to the I PROMISE School in James' hometown of Akron, Ohio. James funds the public school, which is "dedicated to those students who are already falling behind and in danger of falling through the cracks," per their website. On the other hand, Abdul-Jabbar sharply criticized James' casual attitude toward the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines (via CBS Sports). Nonetheless, he wrote on Substack, "LeBron makes me love the game again."

Despite James' somewhat insulting answer in October, he's been complimentary of Abdul-Jabbar otherwise, noting that though they've had their differences, the idea of being compared to him is "super humbling" and "super-duper dope" (via CBS Sports). On Feb. 7, Abdul-Jabbar attended the Lakers-Thunder game and gave James a standing ovation after the fadeaway jump shot that broke his record, per CBS News. Clearly there's little, if any, bad blood there.