WASHINGTON, D.C. -- It was only fitting that Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James passed Karl Malone as the NBA's second all-time leading scorer doing what "The Mailman" did thousands of times -- cutting to the basket, receiving a pass and scoring on an uncontested driving layup.
James moved past Malone, the Hall of Famer and former Utah Jazz great who scored 36,928 points, at the 5:20 mark in the second quarter against the Washington Wizards on Saturday. He entered the game needing 20 points to pass Malone, who scored so many of his baskets off assists from John Stockton.
James finished with 38 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, but the Wizards spoiled the Lakers' night by overcoming a 16-point deficit to win 127-119.
With 36,947 points, James trails only former Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the career scoring list. Abdul-Jabbar's record stands at 38,387 points.
"Just to be part of this league the many years I've been a part of it and being linked to some of the greatest who've ever played this game and guys I've ever watched or studied or read about or aspired to be like ... I'm just always lost for words for it," James said. "It's an honor for myself, for my hometown, for my family and friends to be able to live these moments throughout this journey. And that's exactly who I do it for."
James scored the historic basket off an assist from Stanley Johnson. It wasn't until the next play, when James was called for a foul 14 seconds later, that the sellout crowd of 20,476 at the Capital One Arena was able to shower him with a standing ovation for his historic milestone.
James, 37, lifted his arm in recognition and gratitude.
"I'm still in awe to be alongside him while he's still doing what he's doing at a high level," said teammate Carmelo Anthony, who came into the league with James in the same draft class and is ninth all time in scoring. "Especially coming from somebody who was not, you know, 'known' for, as they say, scoring. Now to have the chance to be the No. 1 all-time scorer in the history of the NBA, somebody who been doing it for 19 seasons at an all-time high, and somebody who just embraced the moment. He's been doing that his whole career."
Anthony added: "When I was younger, I used to think, 'Ain't nobody catching Karl Malone. Nobody catching Kareem.'"
James, though, said he will not think about chasing Abdul-Jabbar until the record is upon him.
"I will not allow myself to think about it," James said. "I've always just played the game the way I've been playing it over the years, and these things have just happened organically by just going out and just playing the game the right way. Trying to win every game, playing the right way, playing for your teammates and things of that nature."
He added: "So I hope to accomplish that at some point in my career, but I won't think about it too much pretty much until we get there hopefully."
There was some uncertainty about whether James would play Saturday night after he logged 45 minutes in an overtime win in Toronto on Friday night. But James tested his knee before the game and was announced in the starting lineup not long before tipoff.
James was asked Friday night if he sees any similarities between himself and Malone, who like James was known for his longevity and fitness.
"Absolutely," James said. "Guys that just took care of their bodies for the majority of their career and always wanted to be available to their teammates. The most important leadership [trait] for you is to try to be available as much as possible on the floor. I think myself and him, we always just tried to be in uniform and make plays and stay in condition and try to stay healthy, stay injury-free as much as you can and also be productive on the floor. So yeah, absolutely."