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Alexander: Can LeBron catch Kareem? It now looks inevitable

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The world according to Jim:

• Father Time might indeed remain undefeated, but LeBron James is certainly putting up a fight. And suddenly what once seemed like an unbreakable record might not be.

Going into Saturday’s game in Denver, James – who turned 37 two days before New Year’s Day – has 36,239 career points in 1,340 games over 18½ NBA seasons. He’s put himself into the MVP picture because of all he’s had to do for a struggling team this season: 36.9 minutes per game and a 29.1 scoring average overall and 34.2 over the last 12 games, much of that while playing center in the Lakers’ newly configured small-ball lineup. …

• It is, of course, a venerable Lakers center whom LeBron is chasing on the NBA’s career scoring list: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his 38,387 points over 20 NBA seasons, the last at age 41. (Keep in mind that Kareem played four collegiate seasons at UCLA, as Lew Alcindor. LeBron played no collegiate seasons, as one of the last prominent players jumping to the league directly out of high school.) …

• The assumption all along was that Kareem’s record was out of reach. But at his current rate, LeBron could pass Kareem sometime next season. That, of course, assumes a lot – and those 12 missed games earlier this season are reminders of Father Time’s influence – but as much time and attention as LeBron pays to his physical condition, it’s not as impossible as it once seemed. …

• Kareem’s reaction? “If he can keep up his consistency I’ll gladly be there to congratulate him if and when he breaks the scoring record,” he tweeted earlier this week. And in September he told NBA scribe Marc Stein (in a summit between Substack creators) that everyone wins when a record is broken: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration.” …

If he can keep up his consistency I’ll gladly be there to congratulate him if and when he breaks the scoring record.

— Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (@kaj33) January 11, 2022

• The top of the all-time scoring list has purple and gold splashed all over it. Karl Malone is No. 2 at 36,928 – the last 554 of which he scored as a Laker in 2003-04, after 18 seasons in Utah – and is 689 points ahead of LeBron. Kobe Bryant is No. 4, 33,643. Then comes Michael Jordan at 32,292. And two others with Laker ties are in the top 10; Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) at No. 7 and Shaquille O’Neal (28,596) at No. 8. …

• Sudden thought: Since LeBron is playing center these days, might he be working on a skyhook? …

• Proposition bet of the week, according to the folks at BetOnline: Which number will be higher, the Lakers’ point total on Saturday night in Denver or Cooper Kupp’s receiving yards for the Rams on Monday night against Arizona? (The Lakers were 5/6 favorites as of Friday morning.) …

• We had two more reminders this week that Coaching While Black is a most insecure position in the NFL, when Miami’s Brian Flores and Houston’s David Culley were fired on consecutive days – the latter after just one season and winning four games with the league’s worst roster. That leaves one Black head coach in the NFL, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, who has 15 consecutive winning seasons with a stable franchise. Even NFL executive VP Troy Vincent acknowledges the double standard.

Black coach: “What I gotta do to get a head coaching job?”

NFL: pic.twitter.com/EDyFA4VWPD

— Josiah Johnson (@KingJosiah54) January 13, 2022

In one sense it wouldn’t be a surprise if Flores, as part of the Bill Belichick coaching tree, either winds up replacing Culley or gets a shot at another opening. But in another sense, it would, given how few Black coaches get a second chance. Meanwhile, Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is said to be a candidate in Denver. I’ll believe it when I see it. …

• Monday’s Georgia-Alabama college football national championship game drew an estimated 22.6 million TV viewers, nearly four million more than witnessed last year’s Alabama-Ohio State game. That’s the good news. The bad? It’s the second-lowest viewership for a national championship game since the USC-Oklahoma BCS final in 2005 (21.4 million), and way behind every other season of the CFP era.

CFP title game viewership by year (excluding 2020)

2014 Ohio St-Oregon: 34.6M
2015 Bama-Clemson: 26.7M
2016 Clemson-Bama: 26.0M
2017 Bama-UGA: 28.4M
2018 Bama-Clemson: 25.3M
2019 LSU-Clemson: 26.9M
2021 UGA-Bama: 22.6M

— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) January 11, 2022

There are a number of factors, of course – a more stratified TV audience, ESPN’s reduction of subscribers because of cord-cutting, etc. But I’m curious just how many people outside of the South said to themselves: “SEC vs. SEC? Why bother?” …

• One more TV ratings item: Last Sunday night’s Chargers-Raiders game drew a 13.7 rating and 32 share in the huge Los Angeles TV market, where you would imagine both Chargers and Raiders fans would be engaged. In San Diego, according to the Union-Tribune’s Jay Posner, the game drew a 19.9 and 46 share. In the Chargers’ former home they might be hate-watching but they still care, one way or another. …

• And a final word – here, anyway, for a while – on analytics, going for it on fourth down, etc., in light of Brandon Staley’s gambles that didn’t work: The numbers are probabilities. An individual play (say, fourth-and-1 from your own 18-yard line in the third quarter of a game you have to win to get to the playoffs) is the ultimate small sample size, and one individual effort can blow up the percentages and maybe your season as well. So perhaps the risk-reward ratio should adjust according to the stakes. …

• Baseball’s management and labor had their first negotiating session since the lockout began Dec. 2 with no movement, about a month before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report. Let’s set the current over/under for Opening Day at May 1.

And here’s our periodic reminder: People go to Dodger Stadium – or Angel Stadium, or any other sports venue – to watch the players, not the owners.

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