Gene Collier: Some records are not made to be broken

Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Basketball

Long forgotten and deservedly so, a virtually meaningless and dislocated basketball game just happened to be the one in which Wilt Chamberlain's career NBA scoring record fell to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

On April 5, 1984, the Los Angeles Lakers were hosting the Utah Jazz in Las Vegas for unexamined reasons, and that's where Kareem put in a workmanlike shift for a team that had long since clinched a playoff berth, scoring 22 points to become the league's all-time best at what the cliche slingers love to call "scoring the basketball."

Eight months and 25 days later, LeBron James was born into the kind of grinding Akron poverty where aspirations were as scarce as just about everything else.

And that's why this week deserves a far better spot than Kareem's lost Las Vegas milestone — if not in history, then certainly in our memories. "Records are made to be broken," we've heard like a broken record for about a hundred years, but when the oldest ones break, the snap is resounding, momentous even.

Six people have held the record that will fall by the close of NBA business on Tuesday, Thursday at the latest. Joe Fulks of the Philadelphia Warriors was the leading scorer at the end of the first NBA season, 1946-47, and the career leader for six years. George Mikan surpassed him and stayed at the top for five, then Dolph Schayes for six and Bob Pettit for two before Wilt held the record for the next 18.

All of which means Kareem's No. 1 status in this regard has been one of the sports world's Facts of Life for 39 years. If he was making a record that was meant to be broken, it was the only thing he wasn't very good at. Others have been even worse, of course.


Cy Young's 511 wins is a record that's never to be broken, owing to all manner of baseball trends since he set it in 1911, most of them unfortunate. If you won 22 games every year for 23 years, you'd still be five short of 511. Last year, no Pirates starter won six games.

You heard me.

Pete Rose's career hits record could enjoy a similar run. His 4,256 has been around for 38 years and looks fairly safe unless Miguel Cabrera's final season includes a wickedly unlikely 1,168 hits. The record for hits in a season is Ichiro Suzuki's 262 and has itself been around for 19 years.

Since we're this far into the weeds, we probably should point out that Emmitt Smith's career record for rushing yards, 18,355, has also stood for 19 NFL seasons, and no active player is closer than Derrick Henry (8,335). Safer still is Jerry Rice's career record for receiving yards (22,895) as no active player has even 14,000. More approachable is Eric Dickerson's record for rushing yards in a season, 2,105, as three running backs had more than 1,500 last season now that a 17th game has been added.


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