The Los Angeles Lakers superstar scored his 32,293rd point on a driving layup in the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets, getting fouled in the act and hitting the ensuing free throw.
This achievement was particularly special to James, who grew up in Ohio idolizing Jordan. James tweeted his excitement about the milestone shortly before the game: "Can't even front. This is going to be UNREAL!! Wow man."
James began the night needing 13 points to reach the mark. He now trails only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387 points), Karl Malone (36,928) and Kobe Bryant (33,643).
Under direction from the NBA, the Lakers waited until the next timeout to honor James, who got a standing ovation from his new Los Angeles fans during a tribute video. James, still engrossed in the game, barely acknowledged the milestone after receiving hugs from several teammates.
James finished with 31 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, but powerful Denver beat the Lakers 115-99.
From the very first day James picked up a basketball, he wanted to be like Mike.
James and his closest friends idolized Michael Jordan while they grew up together on Akron's competitive playgrounds and tough streets. As James grew into a tantalizing basketball prospect capable of jumping from high school to the NBA as the No. 1 draft pick, he studied, imitated and drew profound inspiration from Jordan's tongue-wagging dunks, that fadeaway jumper, his competitive fire - even the little details of the way Jordan wore his sneakers and shorts.
James proudly put No. 23 on his back as soon as he could get it as a high school sophomore. He has never taken it off.
"He was everything," James said.
When James surpassed Jordan's career points total Wednesday night, he did it in a pair of Nikes with
"Thank You M.J." written neatly on the side. That tribute doesn't begin to encompass what Jordan's radiance meant to a youngster who dreamed of finding a better life through basketball.
"M.J. was an inspiration," James said. "M.J. was the lightning in a bottle for me, because I wanted to be like him."
James has grown into a 34-year-old man with three championship rings and a redoubtable 16-year NBA career. Yet he is still in awe of Jordan, who has represented the apex of achievement for his entire life.
He bettered Jordan's scoring mark with another variation of the brute physical brilliance that defines his playing style - a style that was influenced by Jordan's combination of grace and aggressiveness. His struggling Lakers rallied late on Wednesday, but dropped their fourth straight game in a season that appears to be lost.
"Like I wrote on my shoes today, I thank M.J. more than he would ever know. I've got to carry it on to the next kid. Hopefully I can inspire the next kid."
LeBron James, on Michael Jordan
Every loss eats at James, yet he fidgeted in front of his locker afterward with the anxiousness of a rookie, still buzzing over the enormity of the moment in his life.