- It takes more than just raw talent to become a scoring-leader in any professional sport and while flawless fundamentals are a key to success, they can only carry you so far.
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired at age 42 and was the first player to play 20 seasons in the NBA.
- The NBA's most prolific point-producer was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. During a career that spanned from 1969-1989, Abdul-Jabbar scored 38,387 career points.
There have been some incredibly talented players to hit the hardcourt in the National Basketball Association (NBA) over the years, but throughout the history of the league there have been a select few who have displayed elite skill sets, unmatched compete-levels, and uncanny consistency.
It takes more than just raw talent to become a scoring-leader in any professional sport and while flawless fundamentals are a key to success, they can only carry you so far. In order to amass points, a player must play a lot of games, which means staying healthy over the course of many grueling seasons. It also helps to be paired with other great players that can help elevate player potential and generate higher individual production overall. Certain teams also have a tendency over time to cultivate or collect some of the most talented players the NBA has ever produced.
As we take a look at the most prolific point producers in NBA history, we tend to see these similar characteristics, and while not all careers were the same, it is notable that four out of the top five players on this list eventually played for the same organization at one time or another during their career, as well.
5. Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan entered the league in dramatic fashion, stunning the sports world with a dazzling display of dynamic skill, propelling the Chicago Bulls (and the entire NBA) into the mainstream of popular culture during the early 1990’s. During the Jordan era, the Bulls were a true 'dynasty' winning a total of six championships. 'Air Jordan' even managed to orchestrate two seperate "three-peat's" winning championships in 1991, 1992, 1993 and then in 1996, 1997, & 1998.
Jordan is arguably the best all-around talent in NBA history, so it may come as a surprise to see him just at No.5 but, had it not been for his two-year hiatus taken in the middle of the Bulls dynsaty years, to play minor-league baseball with the Birmingham Barons (a farm team with the Chicago White Sox), Jordan could have topped this list. In total he scored 32,292 total points, averaging 30.1 points per game, 6.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists throughout his NBA career. However, Jordan appeared in just 1,072 career games, and ultimately took two seperate 'retirements' before finally hanging up his Nike's on April 16, 2003.
4. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant was an 18-time NBA All-Star who played his entire 20-season career with the Los Angeles Lakers and he is regarded as one of the most talented players the NBA has ever seen. Not only was he an offensive threat, but Bryant was also extremely effective away from the ball, and was a 9-time NBA All-Defensive First Team selection.
Bryant entered the NBA straight out of Lower Merion High School after being officially selected 13th-overall by the Charlotte Hornets in the first round of the 1996 NBA Draft. A trade for that specific pick was previously agreed upon between the Hornets and Lakers and so, as a result, Bryant would join the Lakers and go on to play 1,346 games for L.A. in his career, becoming the franchise leader in games-played, minutes, and points to name a few. 'Kobe' scored 33,643 points, averaging 5.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game for his career, and won 5 NBA Championships.
3. LeBron James
LeBron James is the only active player on this list, currently sitting third all-time. James has notched 34,087 points during his 16 seasons in the NBA with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat and now his current team, the Los Angeles Lakers. His 'living-legend' status comes not just from his individual prowess on the court, but from his ability to carry his teams to championships... or at least to the Finals. James has made it to an incredible eight NBA finals, winning three championships (0.38%) so far, picking up two rings with the Miami Heat in 2012 and 2013 and then, more impressively, with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.
At age 35, James is still racking up points at a fairly torrent pace. At the time of the NBA announcing the pause of the 2019-20 season due to COVID-19 concerns, James was averaging 25.7 points per game (PPG) with the Lakers. Should that trend continue, it is plausible to assume that by the end of his current 4-year, $153,312,846 contract with L.A., we could potentially see King James taking his talents to No.1 on this list.
2. Karl Malone
Karl Malone scored 36,928 points during his career, and finished as the second-highest scorer in NBA history. Malone was drafted out of Louisiana Tech by the Utah Jazz in 1985 and, along with teammate John Stockton, would form one of the most dominant dynamic-duos in NBA history. Malone played the majority of his career in Utah, appearing in 1,476 NBA games with the Jazz (1985-2003) and the Los Angeles Lakers, in his final season (2003-2004). His nickname ‘the Postman’ was fitting, as Malone averaged 25.0 points per game, 10.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists throughout his 18-season career that spanned from 1985-2004. Despite making three appearances in the NBA Finals (1997, 1998, 2004), Malone was unable to capture that elusive championship ring.
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
The NBA's most prolific point-producer was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. During a career that spanned from 1969-1989, Abdul-Jabbar scored 38,387 career points, adding 17,440 total rebounds and 3,189 blocks while playing with the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers. He was named the NBA's Most Valuable Player on six separate occasions (1971, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1980), which is the most all-time, while also winning six championships as a player.
A big reason why Abdul-Jabbar amassed the highest point totals to-date by any NBA player is directly related to his longevity. Abdul-Jabbar was the first NBA player to play for 20-seasons, playing 1,560 career games in total, and notably, at the time of his retirement in 1989 he was 42 years of age.