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LeBron James' 40,000-point club won't see anyone joining for a long time. Maybe never. Here's why

Never say never. There’s a slim chance that one day someone will join LeBron James in the NBA’s 40,000-point club.

James crossed the 40,000-point mark on Saturday night, extending the NBA all-time scoring record that he claimed from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar last season.

James already has added about 1,700 points of distance between himself and Abdul-Jabbar's total of 38,387. It might be time to add James' NBA scoring record to the list of “records that never will be broken,” like Cal Ripken’s 2,632 consecutive games played in baseball, Wayne Gretzky’s 2,857 points in the NHL or the UConn women’s basketball team winning 111 consecutive games.

Wilt Chamberlain once averaged 50.4 points in a season in the NBA. Nobody else ever has come close to that. The highest any other player averaged in a full season was Elgin Baylor’s 38.3 per game; if someone averaged that much for an entire career, they would have had to play all 82 games for almost 13 seasons just to get to get to 40,000 points.

“Nobody will ever, ever touch it,” Miami forward Kevin Love, one of James' former Cleveland teammates, said last year when James broke Abdul-Jabbar’s record.

And remember, James might play another season. Or two. Or more. He easily could reach 43,000 or 44,000 by the time he’s finished. That will only make the record more out of reach.

Some reasons why it's such a long shot that someone else will reach the milestone:

WHO’S NEXT?

Other than James, there are only seven active players with more than 20,000 points — meaning there are only seven players who are halfway to 40,000.

Kevin Durant is closest to James, about 12,000 points behind the all-time scoring leader. Durant’s career average of 27.3 points per game is actually 0.2 points better than James’ career scoring rate. But Durant — if he keeps that average — would have to play basically every game until the end of the 2028-29 season to reach the 40,000 mark.

He’d be 40 at that time. Durant playing at that age isn’t completely unrealistic. The playing every game for five-plus years part probably is unrealistic; Durant hasn’t appeared in all 82 games of a season since 2009-10, when he was 21.

There are three active players with higher career per-game scoring averages than James. Durant is one, Luka Doncic (28.5) and Joel Embiid (27.8) are the others.

Doncic just turned 25. A reporter asked him last week if he considered turning 25 to be a milestone birthday. “I feel like I’m 40,” Doncic replied. It sure doesn’t seem like Doncic is considering playing 15 more years, based on that answer.

And Embiid is roughly 28,000 points behind James. He’d need to play 1,000 more games, give or take, to reach 40,000. Given his health history and age — Embiid turns 30 later this month — 1,000 more games seems improbable at best.

WHAT WILL IT TAKE?

James got to 40,000 through the combination of excellence and longevity. Only Vince Carter played more NBA seasons than James has, and if James — as expected — comes back for Year 22 next season he’ll tie that record.

Playing seemingly forever, that is what turns a tough task into darn near impossible.

There have been greater scorers, at least in terms of average. Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain both averaged 30.1 points, but James already has appeared in 400-plus more games than either of those icons. Elgin Baylor averaged 27.4 points in his 14 seasons; he appeared in 846 games and would have had to play in 616 more (at that scoring average) to reach 40,000.

Jerry West averaged roughly the same in his career as James. Again, the longevity is what separates them; West played 932 games.

WHAT ABOUT WEMBY?

All talk about things that could happen in the future should include Victor Wembanyama.

He is averaging 20.7 points per game as a rookie. James averaged 20.9 points in his rookie season. Only 20 more years and the same trajectory to go, and Wemby will be right there in the 40,000 club.

At All-Star weekend, Milwaukee guard Damian Lillard said that if he was in charge he’d add a 4-point line to the NBA floor. That would certainly help someone make a run at 40,000.

It’s unlikely that such a move will happen; in fact, given how scoring has risen in recent years, it’s reasonable to think that the NBA will make moves to help out defenses before it gives shooters another way to put up video-game numbers.

LAST WORD

“Records are always meant to be broken. You can never say never, of any record. ... For years, people said Kareem's record would never be broken." — James, after scoring 40,000.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA'

Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press