Puttin' The Rock In The Hoop

Today's Hoop du Jour is presented by Peter Vecsey (brain drizzle), Frank Drucker (author) and Jason Javaherian (researcher).

Later this month (April 22, 1989) marks the 32nd anniversary of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s final regular-season game.

The Lord of the Rims went 5-6 from the Fabulous Forum floor for an efficient ten points.

Thus ended his ‘regular season’ stats, the point total a nearly-symmetrical 38,387.

That hasn’t been surpassed since. Though, it says here, one or more prolific pursuer might’ve purloined the perch had an influx of impairments not arisen.

Hell, even ‘Cap’ wasn’t immune.

Let’s go there first.

Coin-flipped from Westwood to Wisconsin, then-Lew Alcindor made his NBA regular-season debut October 18, 1969 at the age of 22…barely 48 hours after the Mets won the World Series.

He went for 29 (and 19 rebounds) in a coming-out party at the expense of the Pistons, a decent start to an ‘irrelevant’, two-decade (six Milwaukee, 14 LA) career.

A deacon of durability, the Centrifugal Force only went AWOL twice of note, missing 17 games (1974-75) largely from unsanctioned bout with a basket stanchion during preseason and 20 (‘77-‘78) after his fist organized a meet-and-greet with Kent Benson’s face in the season opener. 

 At the time, a Lakers’ source informed me Kareem Did Not break his right hand when he coldcocked Benson in retaliation for elbowing him in the solar plexus. I was told it happened in his Milwaukee hotel, the Pfister.

According to the source, Kareem busted up the room, including a television set and table. His injury was sustained during that outburst, which was covered up by team officials and hotel employees. 

Take those 37 games and multiply them by Abdul-Jabbar’s averages during the two seasons (30 and 25-ish, respectively) and we’re at about 1,010 points.

Add those to the aforementioned 38,387 and we’re at a hypothetical 39,487.

...and lest we forget Kareem did not have any season short-sheeted by a strike, lockout, rule changes, pandemic, dog ate his homework, etc.

Playing until 42 wasn’t bad, either.

Cap’s curse takes control from here on in.

Karl Malone (36,928) sits at No. 2 on the hit parade. The Mailman, another who rarely recoiled from his appointed rounds, as in at least 80 games in 17 of his 18 full (the operative word) seasons.

Speed-bumps...a 50-game lockout season (‘98-‘99, he played in 49) and his fairly-forgettable finale--42 ring-chasing games for ‘03-‘04 Lakers, ‘lowlighted’ by a MCL tear and subsequent misdiagnosis just as Malone was bearing down on Kareem

Give Malone his nearly 24 points per game for 32 games during the abbreviated assemblage and that’s an additional 768 (37,696)

I adamantly refuse to remember his Lakers loitering, so there.

Feel free to speculate the stats had common-law court mate John Stockton hung around for another year, perhaps enticing Malone to stay put.

Then again, we could argue that Malone’s penchant to use varying opponents as elbow macaroni should’ve sent him to deserved detention for far longer than one game at a time, seven total. 

Think about it, Malone was suspended a single game and fined 10G for fracturing the face (40 stitches, Dec. 14, 1991, shelving him for three games) of Isiah Thomas with an errant (no such thing) elbow. Today’s sentence would be ten or more games. 

LeBron resides at No. 3 (35,283) though has hit pause at the moment due to a right ankle sprain he probably would’ve shook off overnight a few years ago. His current age is 36 years, 103 days. 

James’ journey began with the chronological straight-outta-high-school advantage. He needs 3,105 points to abdicate Abdul-Jabbar, or about 1½ seasons’ work at a shade over 25 points per game.

...or longer.

...or not at all.

This already-truncated (72 games) season has seen LeBron miss 13 and counting. Reports have him out another three weeks or so. Only two seasons removed from taking his talents to Tinsel Town, and missing gaggles of games with a groin malfunction (I hate when that happens), duress and desire are about to intersect.

No disrespect, but Father Time and AARP have placed courtesy calls.

Still, LBJ may very well overtake Kareem even without full health, as long as it’s nothing crippling. But he must produce a high scoring standard in the next three seasons. The 3,105 can be had even if he averages a mere 41 games a season at 25 ppg. A fourth year, one in which he will turn 40, with the same number of games he has played (41) this year would put him at 39,383, roughly a thousand more than Kareem.

At the same time, nothing is guaranteed at 40, unless you’re Kareem.

Sitting at No. 4 (33,643) is the late, great Kobe Bean Bryant.

As with James, Bryant arrived having taking no college prep courses, leapfrogging from Lower Merion into the unwanting arms...

...of the Charlotte Hornets. Briefly. 

Stymied at the start of his career (seven starts his first two seasons), Kobe’s career began with a DNP against Phoenix. Next, at home versus Minnesota...six minutes, no points.

It wasn’t until the bright lights of New York City when Kobe was able to score. He converted a free throw at the World’s Most Famous Arena, every kid’s dream. 

There were four times in a six-season stretch (‘99-00 to ‘04-‘05) that he maxed out at 68 games played.

Of course, the Lakers were three-peating during that time, but that’s not the issue here.

Bryant’s bandwagon was derailed in mid-April of 2013, tearing an Achilles against Golden State.

Subsequently, he played in just 25 percent (41 of 164) of LA’s games the next two seasons.

If you want to buy the premise of a healthy Bryant playing 70 games in each of those seasons and averaging 27.3 point (his previous full-season number), that’s 3,822 points.

Then subtract his actual 865 points and you get 2,957. Add that to his above total and the ‘new’ figure is 36,600.

Kobe flaunts the greatest disparity in league history—59 points—between his free throw at the Garden and the 60 he manufactured in his go-away game, and it’s guaranteed to be his to forever have and hold. 

Other Non-bandage blockades...A pair of work stoppages (‘98-99, ‘11-12) caused the league to forego 48 (32 & 16) games. Of the 116 games during those seasons, Bryant appeared in 108.

Sitting at 32,292 points, some guy named Jordan resides at Number Five.

As the leader of the six-ring circus, his career has been thoroughly analyzed by those of us in desperate need of thorough analysis.

What if his minutes hadn’t been massaged upon returning (after missing 64 games) from a broken foot three games into his sophomore season?

What if he hadn’t bolted to the Birmingham Barons, thus missing 1¾ after the Bulls’ third title?

What if Chicago management hadn’t made 1997-98 so uncomfortable for Phil Jackson he was compelled to leave?

What if Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause had not dismembered The Jordanaires after that second three-peat?

What if His Airness hadn’t hibernated a second time, missing a trio of years before taking a Wiz for two?

Hitting .202 for the Barons in 1994 cost Michael 4,763 points We arrive here using his ‘92-93 season average (32.6) and the average games played (81) in his eight healthy seasons.

The lump sum would have given M. J. close to Kobe’s projection of just about 37,000.

That’s still 1,300 or so points shy of Kareem, but with Jordan, there’s always more to the missive.

Jordan’s second retirement came after he played back-to-back-to-back 82-game seasons, averaging 28.7 points in the Last Dance. 

Had he come back the following season(s)—Chicago clothing or not—an 82-game season at 28.7 would’ve meant 2,357 points, leaving him at the top spot with a thousand-point cushion. 

Wait, there’s an Air Jordan asterisk afloat. The ‘98 lockout would’ve reduced (for this purpose) him to 1,435 points (50 games). 

But to truly do Jordan right, let’s take away the 3,015 points he earned with the Wizards and proceed as if he hadn't stepped away a second time. 

Remember, he put up those numbers after three full seasons absent from action. If we give M. J. the 1,435 in the lockout-shortened year and give him the full year of 82 games (1999-2000), that’s another 2,357 points. 

Jordan then would have hit 37,832 at the end of ‘99-‘00, 555 points shy of the record. 

He then would have needed to play a third season (2000-2001), as opposed to the two closeouts in the District. 

If you’re scoring at home (get help), going off the 28.7 a game, a 37-year-old GOAT would have broken the streak in the twentieth game of the 2000-2001 NBA season. You can look up who “they” played. 

Had Jordan played every game that season (as he did as a 40-year-old his actual last), he would have padded the record by 1,779 points and become the first ever to 40,000. 40,166 to be not-quite-exact.

Speed bumps...Did you not just read this?

Whew, my abacus and I are tired.

As a bonus, current contenders/pretenders...

Kevin Durant (23,530). He’s 32, going through an injury-plagued 13th season after missing all of the last one.

He’d need seven 2,000-point seasons to come close to Kareem. To give you an idea of what that takes, two seasons ago, a healthy Durant played in 78 Golden State games (age 30), averaging 27 points. His point total was 2,027. 

Durant thus would have to play supreme ball over complete seasons, averaging 2,000 a year post-Achilles. A freshly-turned 39-year-old Durant needs to play into that 20th season, score 2,000 (77 games 27 ppg), to sit at 37,530. 

That’s still 800 shy of the Sky Hook.

James Harden (22,022). At 31, he’s 11 months younger than Durant, 1,500 fewer points in one less season. 

In 12 years, Harden has put up beaucoup numbers, making a run at another 2,000-point season now, though may come up short with ten fewer games on the schedule. 

This would be his seventh in a row. He dropped 2,818 points in 2018-2019, winning the MVP the prior season with 627 fewer points. If Harden averaged 2,200 a year the next five (11,000), he’d enter the season turning 38 at 33,000 or so points, needing an additional 5,500 to pass Kareem. 

His current streak of 2,000-plus points certainly gives him a boost, but he will most probably, like many before him, need a miracle in the stretch run.

Did you know?

Most of us view the greatest assist and steals man the league has ever seen to be just that, but John Stockton ranks 52nd on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 19,711 points. 

In 53rd place, with 19,655, Bernard King.