Before LeBron James became the first NBA player to score 40,000 points on Saturday, he re-watched a commercial that aired before he entered the league. 

At the time, James was an 18-year-old from St. Vincent-St. Mary High. Now, as a 39-year-old who is widely considered one of the greatest players of all time, he couldn’t believe his eyes. 

“They were mentioning all the greats that ever played the game of basketball,” James recalled after reaching the historic milestone in the Lakers’ 124-114 loss to Denver on Saturday. “… And then it was like, ‘And the next one, LeBron James.’ I didn’t even see that commercial when it happened. But watching it today, I was like, ‘What the hell?’

“That expectation on an 18-year-old kid? That was insane to just think about it. I was watching that today, and I was like, ‘I wish that on no kid, in no sport, to have to have this type of pressure put on them. And everybody wanted to see you fail.'”

James has more than lived up to the crushing pressure he faced as an adolescent who was being compared to Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant before he even stepped foot on an NBA court. 

Now, he’s a four-time NBA champion, four-time MVP, four-time Finals MVP, 20-time All-Star, two-time Olympic gold medalist and the league’s all-time leading scorer. 

And on Saturday, he needed just nine points to reach the elusive 40,000-point threshold, something that was previously considered impossible. James reached that mark off of a spinning left-handed layup in the second quarter over Michael Porter Jr., drawing a raucous standing ovation from the sold-out crowd at Arena.

After accomplishing yet another first, James was asked what he’d want to tell the 18-year-old version of himself about the journey that lies ahead. 

“I wouldn’t tell him anything, honestly, because 18-year-old LeBron had a great head on his shoulders,” said James, who had 26 points, nine assists and four rebounds. “He just did. He was put in a position where I wouldn’t wish on too many 18-year-old kids to be put into.

“…He was raised the right way by his mother. He was raised the right way by his little league coaches. He was held accountable by his friends. He met a young lady in high school that held him down as well. And then he just told himself, ‘If you want to make a real name for yourself, and your last name, and your family and your friends, and your city, the only way it’s going to happen is if you just stay focused and maintain focus and put in the work.’ 

“Besides my family and my friends and my city  … everybody wanted to see me fail when I got to the league.”

There’s no question that the odds were stacked against James. 

He was under an incomparable microscope. It seemed as though everyone was waiting for him to make a misstep. Even Spurs coach Gregg Popovich recently lamented that when James entered the league, he was constantly criticized for every shot he took or pass he made, with detractors saying he should’ve done the opposite. 

But James put his head down. He played his game. He continually rose above the deafening noise, making it irrelevant. There were no scandals. There were no failures. It was just wild success, extending far beyond even that which was projected for him. 

Now, when most players his age have retired or assumed ceremonial roles, James continues to shock us. He’s literally breaking records on a nightly basis, averaging 25.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.9 assists in his 21st season when no player in that stage in their career has averaged more than 7.4 points. 

As for his latest accomplishment, Anthony Davis believes it’s in a class of its own. 

“As of right now,” Davis said, “I don’t see anybody breaking his record.”

James acknowledged that hitting the 40,000-point mark hasn’t really sunk in for him. “Don’t know when it will,” he said, “Or if it will ever.”

But what he’s acutely aware of is how far he has come.

It’s heightened now by the fact that his 19-year-old son Bronny, who is a freshman at USC, is going through something similar by the mere virtue of sharing his father’s DNA. After ESPN recently demoted Bronny from the 2024 draft class to 2025 in a mock draft, James chimed in on social media.

“Can y’all please just let the kid be a kid and enjoy college basketball?” James posted in a now-deleted tweet. “… If y’all don’t know, he doesn’t care what a mock draft says, he just WORKS! Earned not given!”

James is now experiencing that pressure second-hand, as a father. Sure, Bronny isn’t expected to be another “Chosen One.” But he’s also not allowed to just be a teenager. He’s under a blinding spotlight. James doesn’t want that for him. Or any kid. 

Somehow, James overcame it. But looking back, he realizes the depth of its toxicity. And on Saturday, when he reflected on his journey, it clearly upset him.

James can still play as though he were 20 years younger. He has made Father Time seem like a mortal who can be defeated, as opposed to a symbolic shadow which eventually enshrouds everyone. 

But it’s clear that James views his success as coming in spite of the pressure, not because of it. 

And that’s something he’s willing to celebrate now. 

“I wouldn’t tell that 18-year-old kid nothing, James said. “I would tell him just to do exactly what you’re thinking. No matter what, just stay true to yourself. Believe in yourself.”

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

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