Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, April 14, 2024

Sports and Society: 56 or 38,387?


“Records are meant to be broken.” 

What? No, they’re not.

When LeBron James scored his 38,388th point — shattering the nearly 40-year-old ceiling held by league icon Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — it was super weird. James hitting a nice and respectable mid-range turnaround over Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kenrich Williams is possibly the least notable basketball play I can think of. The Thunder were up by 7 and after the shot up by 5. Williams is an undrafted wing out of Texas Christian University and has carved out a nice role for himself as a situational rotation player. But James has been taking the Kenrich Williams of the world to church since 2003, so what was one more turnaround fade? 

When the shot went down, the game was stopped for what felt like a comical amount of time. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver congratulated James, and he shared a moment with Abdul-Jabbar at midcourt before giving a short speech. It was a cute moment for everyone, and the Thunder ended up winning the game by 3. 

But what made this moment worthy of stopping a regular season basketball game? There is nothing special about the circumstance — it was a regular season game between two teams struggling to compete for a play-in spot — nor was there anything particularly special about the shot. Had James instead broken the record by dunking so ferociously on Kenrich Williams that he would have to consider retiring from the sport of basketball altogether, I may have needed a minute or two. 

The only obviously special thing about the moment was a number: 38,387. That was the bar Abdul-Jabbar left when he retired, theoretically “intended” to be jumped. But the number is meaningless. It is a random five-digit amount. If 38,388 is the prophesied number to signify the coming of the basketball lord, I must have missed that verse.

Nobody cares that James has now pushed the record to 38,450 and counting. All that matters is that he did. And it is precisely because nobody did for almost four decades that it mattered.

Abdul-Jabbar’s record would have been tastier had it not been broken, and to me, the all-time scoring record is one of the more flavorless ones out there. It is the achievement constructed over an incomprehensibly long period of time and was inevitable before the season began. Lame. 

The coolest records in sports are a combination of longevity and elusiveness. It had been clear for a few years that, barring a catastrophic injury, James would break the record eventually. There is no zest, no dramatic intrigue and no real possibility of failure. 

Contrasted with Joe DiMaggio’s unfathomable 56-game hitting streak — something that theoretically could be broken by any player at any point in any season before the 106th game — the NBA scoring record seems pretty flat. DiMaggio’s streak is the perfect record because it is neither impossible nor inevitable, nor could it ever become inevitable. If Mike Trout was nursing a 56-game hitting streak, the entire world would sit on a knife’s edge for every at-bat in the 57th. 

Maybe records like Abdul-Jabbar’s are meant to be broken because they will almost certainly lose their allure sometime before the death of the universe. But the best records, like DiMaggio’s hitting streak, should never be broken. Its coolness is a direct function of time and will eventually approach infinity. If Trout — or anyone else, preferably someone not on the Yankees — ever stares down that 57th game, I might be the only person in the world rooting for the pitcher.