Basketball was one of my first loves and, coming from a troubled childhood, it brought me the gift of boundaries. I can’t recall eating a meal with Mom and Dad, let alone a scheduled one. No bedtimes. I had enough sense to be able to crawl out of bed and make it to school. There were times when I didn’t know where I’d be sleeping that night and that was at 7. And then came basketball, with those beautiful, gorgeous lines.
“This” was in. “That” was out. Period. It was such beautiful sanity in a crazy world. The ball went through the hoop. Or it didn’t. I’m guessing when I started out as a knock-kneed little kid, the ball fell through in single-digit percentages. After hundreds of hours bouncing that ball, most of it alone, an on-purpose swish was a yearly event. A basket? Anywhere in the world, Brooklyn to Nairobi? It was worth two points, exactly 50% of that if you’re converting a free throw.
I have more than mixed feelings about LeBron Raymone James Sr. recently becoming — without asterisk — the all-time leading NBA career scoring leader. On Feb. 7, LeBron hit his 38,388th point in his 20th pro season, passing up fellow Laker, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who also took 20 years to set the mark. In 2018, LeBron passed up the deity Wilt Chamberlain for third on the all-time scoring list with a career of 31,419 points and a career average of 30.1. Michael Jordan’s career average nudged “The Big Dipper” out by a fraction. Again, no asterisk.
And this bothers me.
I spent a little time web surfing this week, trying to find some note or commentary about my asterisk. I found zero. Zip. Nada. Air ball. Here’s the problem. Chamberlain not only owns most of the NBA record book, he IS the NBA record book. Wilt scored 100 points. In one game. He averaged — averaged — 50.1 points for a season, with 26 rebounds. Those are STUPID numbers. So if Wilt poured in 48, crapazoid, he was having an off evening. No. 13 is profoundly alone on the top shelf of basketball accomplishments, yet Wilt is curiously forgotten by basketball pundits when it comes to discussions about the GOAT — Greatest Of All Time.
Wilt Chamberlain never scored a 3-point shot. It didn’t exist in the NBA until 1979. Jabbar? In his two-decade career, Kareem attempted only eighteen 3-pointers. That’s less than one per season.
Part of LeBron James’ alleged record-breaking effort including sinking, get this, 2,237 career three-pointers (that number, by press time, has increased). LeBron’s career is nothing short of superhuman. He went from high school to first pick in the NBA draft and in his 20 years, he has been a basketball god, a threat inside, outside, and possibly in other dimensions. But of all the things to worry about, I am terribly bothered not at all by Mr. James, but by our insane tendency to turn a blind eye to fact.
In 1979, the NBA decided to call a dime a quarter. Which is fine. The introduction of the 3-point shot widened the excitement and athleticism of the game. But you can’t decide to move all Major League Baseball walls closer to home plate by 100 feet and gush when players start dinging 200 homers a year. It’s wrong. Worse? It ain’t math.
LeBron James was sculpted by the sports gods. Wilt Chamberlain was the sports god. He only played 15 seasons — five less than LeBron and Kareem. Plus, for much of his career, Wilt concentrated on defense and team-passing. One year? Chamberlain? A center? He led the league in assists. He also played EVERY MINUTE of the season several years and never fouled out of a game. Had Chamberlain concentrated on just scoring his entire NBA life, that record would probably be closer to 50,000 points. Maybe 60,000-plus because he could have played into his 50s.
Another guy ripped off by the 3-pointer was “Pistol” Pete Maravich, the LSU/NBA phenom. Pete was a sorcerer. He was arguably the best ball-handling guard in the history of the game, college or pro. But, ol’ Pistol played in the 1969-70 season for Louisiana State. His senior year, Pete — AVV-VER-RGGGED — a mind-boggling 44.5 points a game. And that’s with many teams trying to stall and keep the ball out of Pete’s devil hands.
Mind you, this was BEFORE there was the 3-point line in college. B-ball experts predict that Pete Maravich’s record will never be broken, ever, 3-point line, 4-point line or 27.6-point line. I rifled through some old sports stats and experts figured out that had Maravich been scoring with a 3-point shot, he could have averaged at least 50 points a game and possibly as high as 60.
Funny though. In barroom conversations over the years, I’m not sure Pete (nor LeBron) would have made my all-time starting five. Which would be: Wilt at center; Boston Celtics’ forward Larry Bird; Michael Jordan at point guard; Bill Walton at power forward and me at shooting guard. I know the last pick is arguable, but I love the thought of playing with those four guys while offering a Look At Me Grin and waving at all the superstars who are choking on $35 hot dogs watching me wiggle my butt and there’s nothing they can do about it because it’s MY all-time starting five.
I realize absolutely nothing is going to be done about this lack of asterisks by good Sir LeBron’s name. And others. But it’s just plain wrong.
It’s like turning on the lights at a pro hockey rink and someone has hammered into the ice two goals the size of box cars and tall as a 12-story building with a jet-engine giant vacuum cleaner.
Hey. Big surprise on the sports page next morning.
Goons are scoring more goals for some strange reason…
For a completely unreasonable celebrity appearance fee, and, a cold glass of zesty ginger ale, John Boston is available for H.O.R.S.E. games. Visit his bookstore at johnbostonbooks.com. Buy stuff.