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Tom Thibodeau lauds ‘truly remarkable’ LeBron James as he nears NBA scoring mark

Tom Thibodeau has coached LeBron James with Team USA and against him as a head coach or an assistant throughout the four-time MVP’s NBA career.

As James moves closer to eclipsing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time league scoring mark — 116 points away entering Tuesday’s visit by the Lakers to the Garden — the Knicks head coach marveled at the soon-to-be 19-time All-Star’s ability to maintain his “truly amazing” level of play over 20 NBA seasons.

“When I look at Kareem’s record, that’s one of those records I never thought anyone would get to,” Thibodeau said after Knicks practice Monday in Tarrytown. “The fact that he’s doing it and he will do it and doing it in such an efficient way, he’s truly remarkable, durability wise and the way he continues to improve each year.

“But I also think that it’s not only the greatness that he’s brought out of himself, but every team that he’s been with, like the track record of the championships and getting to the Finals. Just an unbelievable career.”

Abdul-Jabbar, a six-time NBA MVP, netted 38,387 career points in 20 seasons as a center with the Bucks and Lakers from 1969-89.

Jason Szenes for NY Post

The 38-year-old James, who sat out Monday’s game in Brooklyn on the first of back-to-back games for the Lakers in New York also will soon move into the top 5 in NBA history in career assists. With 10,327 career dimes, he is seven behind No. 5 Mark Jackson and eight back of No. 4 Steve Nash. John Stockton (15,806), Jason Kidd (12,091) and Suns guard Chris Paul (11,237 and counting) would still be ahead of him.

“Whatever rule changes come, he adapts to those. And that’s what makes him who he is,” Thibodeau said of James. “He grew up and I think all those guys benefited from watching Michael [Jordan]. But not just Michael, he’s watched all the greats.

“To me, there’s a lot of Michael in him, and there’s a lot of Magic [Johnson] in him … and there’s him. You hate to compare players to each other and all that, and I still don’t think you’re gonna be able to truly measure him until he’s done. But still to be doing it at this age and the way he’s taken care of himself, that’s a remarkable achievement.”

Asked if there was anything during the experience of working alongside James with Team USA that gave him a better appreciation of him, Thibodeau added, “Just watching how his mind works.”

“The same could be said about Kobe [Bryant],” Thibodeau said. “I think for all players, particularly the younger ones, they grew up watching LeBron, just like the generation before watched Michael and [Larry] Bird and Magic and Isiah [Thomas].

“You gotta think that’s sort of the nature of the game and it keeps getting better and better.”

Added Knicks point guard Jalen Brunson: “I want to play as long as I can, for sure. Watching what [LeBron] has done, everything he’s had to [go] through, being a guy in the media since he was 15 and all the way to now, [he’s] a pretty special guy who’s lived up to his expectations. To do all that, there’s a lot of respect for him that way.”


James, a four-time NBA champion, is averaging 30.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.1 assists in 40 games for the Lakers this season. He has said that he hopes to stick around long enough to play in the league — perhaps in two years — with his son Bronny, who is a high school senior and collegiate prospect in Southern California.

“I know LeBron mentioned this a while back, about how he’s played against some of these guys’ fathers. And that’s the way life works,” Thibodeau said. “But to stay at the level that he’s been at for so long, yeah, you just tip your hat to him.”