That day, the crowd of 18,389 delighted fans went on to the Thomas and Mack Center at the University of Nevada Las Vegas to see the regular season encounter between the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Lakers. It was a new record crowd for the franchise which had moved from New Orleans to Salt Lake City prior to the 1979-80 season.
Another milestone was just around the corner, and many famous basketball faces from across the United States had traveled to Las Vegas to witness it and be a part of it.
It was on that day, April 5th, 1984, that NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored his 31,421st career point and thus surpassed Wilt Chamberlain as NBA basketball’s #1 scorer of all time.
From the very beginning of the game, it was clear that it would be one to remember for ages. Kareem was greeted with a great standing ovation by the crowd, who was expecting him to set the new record. He responded with a double thumbs-up sign and a smile.
Already in the first quarter alone, he scored 12 points. Playing team-oriented basketball, trying to find his open teammates out of double-team situations, he concluded the first half with 16 points.
But in the third period, he scored only 2 points meaning that he still needed to score 4 more points in order to break the record. At the start of the fourth quarter, with the Lakers in control of the game, his teammates started looking for him during every single possession.
It was James Worthy who drove the lane and could easily score, but he changed his mind in a split second and dished the ball to Kareem for a dunk, which tied Chamberlain’s record of 31,419 points. Two minutes later, Kareem missed a 14-footer. But then the Lakers’ Captain finally did it – with style.
With less than nine minutes remaining in the game, it was Magic Johnson who passed him the ball to a low-post position. From there, Kareem used his trademark, skyhook, to easily score two points from the right baseline. There wasn’t much Jazz defenders center Mark Eaton and guard Rickey Green could do.
At that point, with 8 minutes and 53 seconds left to play, the game stopped. Kareem had 22 points. But most importantly, his new total of 31,421career points had eclipsed the 31,419scored by Wilt Chamberlain.
The fans saluted him with standing ovations, and both his teammates and opponents went over to congratulate him. Overflowed by the magnificent emotional charge of this career breakthrough moment, Kareem said:
“It’s hard to say anything, after all, is said and done.”Karemm Abdul-Jabbar
From there, he went on to thank his parents, who traveled to see this particular game all the way from New York. Then he also thanked the rest of his family and the fans. He concluded his speech with an Islamic saying, which he translated: “It means God bless you and keep all of you.”
The newly appointed NBA Commissioner David Stern also addressed Kareem’s incredible statistical accomplishment: ”NBA players are the greatest in the world. And Kareem, you are the greatest.”
Also present at this memorable game was broadcaster Eddie Doucette, the originator of the term ‘skyhook.’ He said that his inspiration for the term came while he was broadcasting Milwaukee Bucks games during Kareem’s second NBA season.
”I had developed a lexicon of basketball terminology in an effort to stimulate interest. I’d been watching him, and one night, it just hit me. It’s so different than anybody else’s hook. It’s not a flat hook, a baby hook, a half-hook, or a jump hook. It’s a pure hook. And it does come out of the sky.”Eddie Doucette
Lakers coach Pat Riley then decided to give 37-center a much-deserved rest. That night, Kareem contributed 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists to a 129-115 routine L.A. Lakers win.
Kareem went on to star for another five years in the NBA. The 19-time All-Star brought down the curtain on his illustrious career in spring of 1989, leaving behind the untouchable record of 38,387 career points, the most by any player in NBA history.