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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar reflects on his strained relationship with LeBron James

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (left) hands LeBron James a basketball celebrating James' all-time NBA scoring record Tuesday night in Los Angeles.
Ronald Martinez
Getty Images
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (left) hands LeBron James a basketball celebrating James' all-time NBA scoring record Tuesday night in Los Angeles.

The day after seeing his all-time NBA scoring record finally fall to LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar reflected on the complicated relationship between the two athletes.

"LeBron said we don't have a relationship," Abdul-Jabbar wrote in an online letter. "He's right—and for that I blame myself."

Abdul-Jabbar's letter came hours after James passed Abdul-Jabbar's career 38,387 points on Tuesday night in front of the LA Lakers home crowd. The NBA paused the game so Abdul-Jabbar, himself a Lakers legend, could appear on court alongside James.

Abdul-Jabbar ceremoniously handed James the basketball, and the two embraced before James addressed the crowd.

"Seeing my family and friends, the people that's been around me since I started this journey to the NBA, definitely very emotional right there," James said.

Abdul-Jabbar said he's moved on from his sports career

In the letter, Abdul-Jabbar reflected on comments from other athletes, including Magic Johnson and James, in the months leading up to the new record. Abdul-Jabbar said people were wrong to assume that he wouldn't be happy for James.

"It's as if I won a billion dollars in a lottery and 39 years later someone won two billion dollars," Abdul-Jabbar wrote. "How would I feel? Grateful that I won and happy that the next person also won. His winning in no way affects my winning."

While Abdul-Jabbar admitted he may feel differently had someone broken his record even a decade after he did, he said he no longer feels that way now. Having retired from the NBA 34 years ago, Abdul-Jabbar said he's now more focused on his family and social activism.

"If I had a choice of having my scoring record remain intact for another hundred years or spend one afternoon with my grandchildren, I'd be on the floor in seconds stacking Legos and eating Uncrustables," he wrote.

Abdul-Jabbar blames himself for the strained relationship

Abdul-Jabbar corroborated comments James made earlier that the two athletes don't have a relationship. The retired athlete blamed his introverted personality and the stark age difference between the two — James is 38, Abdul-Jabbar is 75.

"That disconnect is on me," Abdul-Jabbar said. "I knew the pressures he was under and maybe I could have helped ease them a bit."

Abdul-Jabbar also pointed to comments he previously made about James. This includes criticizing James for comments he made about the pandemic. Abdul-Jabbar also pointed out that he has previously written articles "lavishly praising LeBron," and continues to do so today.

"My good opinion of LeBron has grown in the two years since I wrote that," Abdul-Jabbar said. "His passion for social justice and bettering his community has only increased—and his athleticism has soared to a whole other level of performance."

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Giulia Heyward
Giulia Heyward is a weekend reporter for Digital News, based out of New York. She previously covered education and other national news as a reporting fellow at The New York Times and as the national education reporter at Capital B News. She interned for POLITICO, where she covered criminal justice reform in Florida, and CNN, as a writer for the trends & culture team. Her work has also been published in The Atlantic, HuffPost and The New Republic.