There was no Instagram post celebrating the achievement in advance this time. There was relatively little buildup from the news media. It was an event that might have dominated the news cycle in years’ past, but when LeBron James passed Michael Jordan on the N.B.A.’s career scoring list on Wednesday night, it was a triumph that somehow had been reduced to a footnote.
James came into the Los Angeles Lakers’ game against the Denver Nuggets needing 13 points to surpass Jordan for fourth place on the career list. With 5 minutes 38 seconds remaining in the second quarter, he managed to force his way to the basket for a layup, giving him 14 points for the game and 32,294 for his career. For good measure, he was fouled on the play.
After a short stoppage to acknowledge the moment, play resumed as the Lakers, clinging to the last shreds of their playoff hopes, tried their best to overcome a huge early deficit at home against a heavily favored opponent.
The Lakers, led by an unlikely group of bench players, did make a run at Denver, reducing a 17-point deficit at halftime to 2 points with 8:37 left in the fourth quarter. But the Nuggets regained their footing and ran away with a 115-99 victory, spoiling a night in which James contributed 31 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists, looking far more energized on both ends of the court than he had in recent weeks, and finishing the night with his career point total up to 32,311.
James, who has taken the brunt of the criticism for the Lakers’ failings in a difficult first year in Los Angeles, had acknowledged the pending accomplishment in a tweet shortly before the game, but was measured when discussing it with reporters earlier in the day.
“I take all accomplishments as they come,” he said. “Any time I’m in the breath with any other greats — and obviously M.J. being the guy that I looked up to my whole life, the guy I admired as a kid — I think it’s going to be pretty cool.”
Jordan, who owns the Charlotte Hornets, issued a brief statement on Thursday, saying, “I want to congratulate LeBron on achieving another great milestone during his amazing career.” The statement was notable mostly for being far more succinct than the one he issued when Kobe Bryant passed him on the career scoring list in 2014.