Giannis Antetokounmpo breaks Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Milwaukee Bucks scoring record
NEW YORK – Giannis Antetokounmpo wanted this one.
As he compiled numbers and climbed over names in respective Milwaukee Bucks and NBA recorded histories these last few seasons, he has allowed himself to briefly recognize the moment before moving beyond it. But – but – never too far in advance. It’s a mental tightrope he’s become comfortable on.
This one, however, was different.
“It’s cool,” he acknowledged a few games before he broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s franchise scoring mark Thursday night on a step-back three-pointer over Brooklyn center Andre Drummond with 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The shot tied the score, 110-110.
He then hit the two game-winning free throws in a 120-119 overtime victory at the Barclays Center.
“How many points 14,000-something? Ohhh! I’m a bucket! I’m a bucket! It’s fun, you know?”
So much so he had a scene play out in his head of how he wanted it to go.
“I hope they stop the game so I can get the ball,” he told the Journal Sentinel through a smile. “Probably they won’t. It is what it is. I want it to be like, you know when Kobe passed MJ? The whole game stopped and he took the ball and he was like…”
He lifted his hand high, cupping an imaginary ball, and he turned slowly to acknowledge an imaginary crowd.
“I want to do the same.”
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Unfortunately, the game operations crew in Brooklyn did not mark that moment for him, and the ball remained in play.
Kobe Bryant passed Michael Jordan for third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list on the road in Minnesota on Dec. 14, 2014 with a pair of free throws. During the stoppage, then-Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor then handed Bryant the ball, who held it aloft for the crowd before returning it to the Lakers bench.
It took Antetokounmpo 652 games in nine seasons to surpass Abdul-Jabbar’s mark of 14,211, set in 467 games over six seasons from 1969-1975. The three-point shot didn’t come into the NBA until 1979, so all of Abdul-Jabbar’s points came via two-point field goals (5,902) and free throws (2,407).
“Geez, that’s insane,” said Bucks center Brook Lopez, who came into the league in 2008 as a post-oriented center. He attempted only 7 three-pointers in his first six years in scoring 6,168 of his franchise record-setting point total with the Nets.
He couldn’t gather any more thoughts as he kept laughing at Abdul-Jabbar’s total.
“That’s so nuts. There was no three-point line. I mean … it’s … wow. 14,000 in six? That’s insane. That’s … you can’t believe those numbers. That’s wild.”
Antetokounmpo eclipsed the mark in his ninth year with his 14th basket of the night. After a 44-point effort, he has made 4,704 two-point field goals, 445 three-pointers and 3,473 free throws and sits at 14,216 points.
Both men were 27 years old when they set the records.
“Shout out and congratulations to Giannis because when all this is said and done, is there such a thing as 1A and 1B in terms of the greatest players in the history of the franchise? And I think that’s the way it will be viewed,” said Hall of Famer Bob Dandridge, who played his first six seasons with Abdul-Jabbar. “Neither one has been any more significant in the history of the ballclub. Unless Giannis can slip in there and win one or two more championships, then he may surface above Kareem!"
“We will see. But Giannis has surely been a tremendous credit to the organization.”
Jon McGlocklin also played with Abdul-Jabbar and was the television analyst for the team through 2017.
“It’s a remarkable story that I don’t think is ever – I’ve been associated with NBA 56 years – and I’ve played against and with the great ones back in the early 60s, mid 60s, the 70s, and who came along even close to this story?” McGlocklin said, his voice hitting a high pitch of incredulity. “That came out of left field and became what he’s become. Never seen it. You can’t name anybody that was that much of a surprise and grew in the NBA. Because most of the great ones came in, even back then, with big credentials out of college. But not Giannis. It’s a remarkable story.”
Bucks all-star Khris Middleton, who has been there every step – and every point – along the way with Antetokounmpo, agreed.
“That’s what makes it even better – he worked for all of this,” he told the Journal Sentinel. “He believed in his skill set. He believed in himself. He believed in how great he could be and he worked for it. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what makes his story even better. A lot of people – I wouldn’t necessarily say counted him out – but didn’t believe the potential that he actually had.”
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Lopez is the only other member of the Bucks to hold a franchise scoring record, as he scored 10,444 points in nine seasons with the Nets. He set the mark in 2017 while also on the road in Boston.
“For me, it was crazy,” Lopez recalled to the Journal Sentinel. “I grew up as a fan of the league and everything like that and to be a scoring leader for one of these teams is pretty wild – one of 30 teams. That’s rarefied air. It was a great honor for me. It made me appreciate all the players I played with, the coaches that helped get me where I was to put me in those positions to succeed.
“For Giannis to be in the position he is, with this franchise, and Kareem’s record – that’s freakin’ amazing. That speaks to the player he is.”
On his way into the postgame press conference room, Antetokounmpo passed Jrue Holiday on the way in.
"That's a lot of points my boy," Holiday said. "That's a lot of points."
Once he sat down and was told the three was the record-breaker, Antetokounmpo said he didn't know. Then he smiled.
"It's good, it's good because I'm changing the narrative," he said. "I'm not; I don't want to be the guy only that dunks and runs. I can make a three. But no, it doesn't really matter because at the end of the day if you don't have a successful season and if you don't try to keep getting better and staying humble and staying hungry to play all the way til May and June, nobody's going to remember this.
"So I just want us to stay humble. I want myself to stay humble. I feel like the more humble I can get, the more hungry I stay, the more things I can accomplish, the more art I can create. Playing basketball is like creating art, and the more I can prolong my career. So I just gotta keep staying humble, keep trying to make my teammates great, win games and good things like tonight are going to happen."
Mike Budenholzer has literally had a front row seat to the last 7,465 points Antetokounmpo has scored through Thursday since he took over as head coach at the start of the 2018-19 season.
“Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of the iconic players in our league and what he was able to accomplish in Milwaukee and then of course going forward, he’s one of the all-time greats," Budenholzer said after the game. "So for Giannis to pass him as organizationally, our all-time career leading scorer, to have a front row seat for the last 3 ¾ years, almost four years, I just feel incredibly fortunate. His teammates are beyond happy for him, giving him all the love and everything that he deserves.
"To see where he’s come from, where he was drafted, how hard he’s worked and all the great coaching he’s gotten along the way, it’s just beyond impressive what he’s done. He’s got a lot more left ahead of him.”
Contact Jim Owczarski at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @JimOwczarski or Facebook at facebook.com/JOwczarski.