Yahoo Canada is committed to finding you the best products at the best prices. We may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Pricing and availability are subject to change.

After becoming NBA’s all-time leading scorer, what may have been LeBron James’ secret weapon? His memory

Much has been made over the years about LeBron James’ true proclivity as a basketball weapon: Is the kid from Akron more of a natural scorer or pure-born passer? As James has marched his way to the NBA’s all-time record for points in a career, while standing fourth in all-time assists, maybe both functions of his game have been boosted by a different skill: memory.

James has described his recall as photographic, and it certainly seems to be. After Game 1 of the 2018 East finals, James responded to a question from a reporter, wondering what happened as the Boston Celtics scored seven straight points to open the fourth quarter, by stating, well, exactly what transpired.

“What happened?” James said. “The first possession we ran ’em down all the way to two on the shot clock, Marcus Morris missed a jump shot, followed it up, he got a dunk.

“We came back down, we ran a set for Jordan Clarkson, and he came off and missed it.”

Checking the play-by-play, James was off to a strong start before he correctly recalled how Cleveland forced a defensive stop, plus the fact Jayson Tatum inbounded the ball from the sideline on Boston’s next possession, to find Marcus Smart in the corner for a three. And then James capped off the performance by nailing that, “Tatum came down and went 94 feet, did a Eurostep and made a right-hand layup. Timeout.”

Here, James pursed his lips, bulged his eyes and raised his palm, as if the moment of memorization was rudimentary. “LeBron has the best memory ever,” Channing Frye, then a Cavaliers teammate, told Yahoo Sports.

Frye was on the Suns for the 2013-14 season, when Phoenix visited James’ Heat in Miami that November. Undrafted guard Dionte Christmas had landed the final roster spot on that year’s Suns club.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 07: LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers scores to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA's all-time leading scorer, surpassing Abdul-Jabbar's career total of 38,387 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Arena on February 07, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates after scoring to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA's all-time leading scorer, surpassing Abdul-Jabbar's career total of 38,387 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Arena on Feb. 7, 2023, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

It was almost Christmas’ job to scream as loud as he could during games. So when James gathered the ball in front of Phoenix’s bench late in the third quarter, he sized up Suns forward P.J. Tucker with a few jab steps, and Christmas rose to his feet. The 15th man cupped his hands and began bellowing, “It’s off! It’s off!” James’ shot indeed clanked off the iron, and Christmas kept going, “His shot’s broke!”

The next possession, James found himself in front of Phoenix’s bench once again. “It’s off! That thing’s broke!”

Hands on his knees, James turned and uttered two words Christmas will forever remember: “Keep talking.”

James promptly barreled past Tucker for an and-one layup. He strolled over toward the Suns bench after making the bucket, fiery eyes locked onto that last seat. Possession after possession in the fourth, Miami isolated James against Tucker on the left side of the floor. “He started shooting all these fadeaways on P.J., being like, ‘You’re too small!’” Frye told Yahoo Sports.

Tucker received the brunt of it, but the Suns had no doubt this outburst was fueled by their little-used rookie. “[Tucker] goes, ‘This is all your fault,’” Frye said.

“I felt so bad,” Christmas told Yahoo Sports. “Every time [LeBron] scored, he just ran down the floor looking at me on the bench. I’m like, ‘Oh, my god.’”

By the time Frye joined James in Cleveland at the February trade deadline before those 2018 Eastern Conference finals, James had played over 300 more games — regular and postseason combined. But when Frye jokingly referred to Christmas’ provocations from the Suns’ bench, James still remembered the moment four seasons later.

That 2017-18 campaign with Frye proved to be James’ last in Cleveland, with The King leaving the Cavaliers to join the Lakers in free agency. By January 2020, he had played with over 170 different teammates. Who could even count how many opponents he’d faced? Let alone list them off the top of his head? And yet, in a Jan. 22, 2020, postgame locker room at Madison Square Garden — following a 100-92 victory over the New York Knicks — when Lakers center JaVale McGee needed some assistance recalling members of the 2014-15 Philadelphia 76ers’ roster, James delivered once again.

McGee sat two lockers over, both men with their feet submerged in ice buckets. McGee had played just six games with the Sixers after being traded from Denver before being cut from Philadelphia. There were, in fact, 25 different players who spent time on Philadelphia's 15-man roster that season — a dizzying number, to be fair — and McGee was struggling to place the name of his closest friend on that team.

“Jerami Grant, Nerlens [Noel], we were real cool,” McGee said. “There was one more … I can’t remember his name …”

A few seats away, James decided to chip in. “Tony Wroten?”

“Mm-mm,” McGee declined. Wroten was indeed a point guard on that Philly team, but not the name that was slipping McGee’s mind. “The one, he got crazy hair now. He play for, uh …”

“Where he at [now]?” LeBron asked.

“I don’t know …” McGee said. He was scrunching his face, obviously feeling a bit guilty now.

“It ain’t Nerlens?” LeBron tried.

“No, not Nerlens.”

“Is he a big or small?” LeBron wondered.

“He’s a 3,” McGee said. “He’s like 6-8, 6-9, skinny.”

“JaKarr Sampson?”

“Yes!” McGee beamed. “There he is. JaKarr.”

“You have the whole roster memorized?” a reporter wondered.

“Yeah, I know them all,” James deadpanned. “Hollis Thompson. Tim Frazier …”

“But there were, like, 30 guys on that team.”

“Hey man, I’ve been in this sh** forever,” LeBron said. “You gotta pay attention.”

The basketball world watched closely as James broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s long-standing scoring mark on a step-back jump shot at the left side of the free-throw line for his 38,388th career point. You can debate if he’s the greatest player of all time. You can debate if he’s better at getting buckets than he is creating for others. But it will be hard to forget the fact James toppled Abdul-Jabbar’s record, no photographic memory necessary.