While a lot is being made of LeBron James getting very close to 20,000 career points and being the youngest ever to reach that mark, the more important thing is to reach it faster than anyone else.
In that field, James has some players that will always be ahead of him, like Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and others, although he is leaving behind both Shaquille O’Neal (who needed 727 games) and Kobe Bryant (who needed 811 games), while everything points towards January 16, an away game against Golden State, James’ 726th career game, as the one he’ll reach the milestone in, needing “only” 18 points.
George Gervin, 747 games
Gervin needed 10 seasons and 747 games to reach the 20,000 mark in his NBA career, although he was already way past it if you include his ABA days. The funny thing was that Gervin, the star of the San Antonio Spurs during their early NBA days, actually set the milestone playing for the Chicago Bulls, scoring 17 points in a win over the Los Angeles Clippers on January 11, 1986. Gervin finished his NBA career with 20,708 points, good enough for 35th all-time.
Shaquille O’Neal, 727 games – Shaq reached the 20,000 mark during his 11th season in the NBA, playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. On March 20, 2003, the season in which the Lakers’ three-peat dynasty ended, O’Neal scored 28 points in a loss to the Sacramento Kings, surpassing the 20,000 mark. He played 8 more seasons in the NBA, finishing with 28,596 points, putting him at 6th on the all-time list.
Jerry West, 720 games – West played his entire NBA career (1960-1974) for the Los Angeles Lakers. He reached the 20,000 mark on December 19, 1970, on his 11th season with the team. He finished his career with 25,192 points, 15th on the all-time list.
Allen Iverson, 713 games
Allen Iverson played for 10 and some seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers before getting traded to the Denver Nuggets. On January 23, 2007, a month after moving West on that trade, Iverson reached the 20,000 mark, scoring 21 points in a win against the Seattle Supersonics, giving an even greatest nostalgic feel to the whole even when you look at it six years later. Iverson has 24,368 career points, 18th all-time.
Elgin Baylor, 711 games – One of the greatest NBA players without an NBA title, Baylor is another Laker-for-life on this list, reaching the 20,000 mark during his 11th season in the NBA, the 1968-1969 season. Baylor finished his career with 23,149 points, 26th on the all-time list.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 684 games – The NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points over 20 seasons and 1560 regular season games was already a Los Angeles Lakers players when he reached 20,000 points during the 1976-1977 season, his 9th in the NBA.
Oscar Robertson, 671 games
The original triple-double machine and the only player in NBA history with a triple double season (1961-1962, 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, 11.4 assists) reached the 20,000 milestone during his 9th NBA season, still playing with the Cincinnati Royals and before he teamed up with Kareem to win his only NBA title. Robertson finished his career with 26,710 points, 10th all-time.
Michael Jordan, 620 games – Another player to reach the mark during his 9th NBA season, Jordan, the popular pick for best player of all-time and a popular choice for one of the worst owners, reached the mark on January 8, 1993. In typical Jordan fashion, it was quite a special game, finishing with 35 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals. Jordan scored 32,292 points in his career, third on the all-time list.
Wilt Chamberlain, 499 games – The only player to do it in less than nine season, Wilt reached the 20,000 mark during the 1965-1966 season, playing for the Philadelphia 76ers. It was the last season in which he led the NBA in scoring, averaging 33.5 points per game, before beginning a decline that went on for seven more seasons but finally earned him two NBA titles while remaining “king” of the rebounds most of the time. He finished his relatively short career (14 seasons) with 31,419 points, 4th best all-time.