By Tony Patrick
As the 2015-2016 National Basketball Association season comes to an end, Kobe Bryant has only seven games left in his 20 year career before he retires at the end of the season. As I sit back and reflect on his career and his constant success throughout; one game stands out to me the most but before we talk about Kobe’s most memorable game, we will start with another Laker legend.
On March 2, 1962 the most points ever scored in a NBA game was by 7’1 center Wilt Chamberlain, he scored 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors. Just when we thought another feat like that would never come close a guy by the name of David Thompson of the Denver Nuggets posted 73 points on April 9th, 1978. Air Jordan himself even posted worthy numbers on March 28th, 1990; his airness scored 69 points. What if I told you there was an even better performance on January 22, 2006. Kobe Bean Bryant for the Los Angeles Lakers scored 81 points on the Toronto Raptors for a 122-104 win. You may be wondering how 81 points is more impressive than 100 points well here are the facts.
Put yourself in Kobe Bryant’s sneakers. If the Toronto Raptors erupted in the first half making seven out of ten three pointers and you scored 26 first half points and you’re still losing 63-49 at halftime, what would you do? What would you say to your teammates to get them fired up to rally at a comeback in the second half? How do you dig even deeper to pull something out of your ass for your team? Well I wish I knew the answer to the last question because that is exactly what Kobe Bryant did. Kobe came out with the fire in his eyes and willed his team all the way back damn near by himself. Kobe get this bad reputation of being a bog hog and a bad teammate well when your starting point guard’s name is Smush Parker you know you’re on an abysmal team. No Smush bashing today, I’ll save that for another day, today I will give him semi-props because he was one of two teammates of Bryant’s that actually recorded more than one field goal on the night. The other teammate was center, Chris Mihm and that name does not scare anyone but Lakers fans. Everyone else on the team, Lamar Odom, Kwame Brown, Sasha Vujacic, and Luke Walton just to name a few only made one shot the whole game from the field.
The Lakers minus Kobe went 14-42 a whopping 33.3% from the field, which is atrocious and heartbreaking if you’re a Lakers fan but that meant Kobe had to step up and you got a treat if you kept your TV’s on the game. Kobe went for 55 second half points, which is second in NBA history for most points ever in a half. Whether it was fast break dunks or layups, turnaround jumpers, pull up jumpers, three pointers, post moves, or free throws Kobe Bryant did it all that night. Kobe Bryant got to the free throw line 20 times and made 18 of them, those 18 points from the line was more points than anyone on his team scored that night. A guy notoriously known for his bad shooting percentages, Kobe could not miss on that night, making 28 field goals on 46 field goal attempts, which is 60.3% from the field, which is pretty efficient if you ask me.
The next guy with the second highest point total that game was Raptors point guard Mike James who had 26 points and 10 assists, too bad that went unrecognized because of Kobe Bryant’s epic night from the field.
The Lakers and Kobe Bryant came back to beat the Toronto Raptors 122-104, a plus 18 margin of victory which you never really hear about because all anyone talks about is Kobe’s 81 points but to be down 18 at half and do a complete 360 and win by 18 is pretty incredible, you really do not hear about those type of wins too often but for a guy to have 81 of the 122 points is the cherry on top.
Michael Jordan said that the perimeter player has it way harder than big men to make a legitimate run at Wilt’s record, taking an array of longer and/or tougher shots. Factor in the ball-handling responsibilities and the energy required to play defense all over the floor and you can understand MJ’s theory. This might also help back it up: Jordan himself topped out at 69 points as his one-night best and needed overtime to get there. It took Jordan a full game with extended time to make it to 69 points which was also breathtaking as I watched the reruns of the game on what use to be ESPN Classic. It took Kobe 42 minutes to get 81 points to Jordan’s 50 minutes to get 69 points. Michael Jordan was playing with Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant on their way to their first of six NBA championships. On the flipside Kobe had Kwame Brown and Smush Parker (insert stale face emoji, my younger generation knows what I’m talking about), which means Kobe was playing 1 on 5 out there.
“You’ll recall, sadly, that there’s no footage of Chamberlain rumbling for triple digits in Hershey, Pa., on March 2, 1962. Which makes it tough to commission an in-depth analysis comparing Wilt’s feat (scoring 100 of his team’s 169 points that day) to Kobe’s (81 of 122). But there’s really no need. The folks who did see the 100-pointer and the game’s historians would be forced to tell you that the entire fourth quarter was a back-and-forth scramble between one team trying desperately to get Wilt the record and another trying to keep him from getting it.” It was planned to get Wilt the Stilt that 100 points, they fed him the ball and fed him the ball possession after possession. Kobe took the ball possession after possession trying to will his team back for a win. The same Toronto Raptors held Kobe Bryant to 11 points earlier that year which seems like it could not be possible after witnessing the 81 point game. For him to respond in a fashion like that was remarkable.
Kobe being a guard and being 6’6 also gives him the slight edge over Wilt’s 100 points because he shot from all over the field not just dunks and layups like Wilt. No offense to the late, great Chamberlain, but he was better positioned to dominate a box score back then with the overwhelming size and strength advantages he possessed, especially given the lack of defensive sophistication in those days. Some of you will inevitably counter with the claim that Kobe had the benefit of a 3-point line, but don’t exaggerate. Having the long-ball option added only seven extra points to Bryant’s total. If you take away those seven points he would still have 74 points still second highest behind Wilt.
In closing, Kobe Bryant’s illustrious career will always be looked at as one of the best. Getting drafted at 17, being the youngest NBA player to win the dunk contest, to teaming up with Shaquille O’neal and winning 3 straight championships, his MVP years, winning two championships with Pau Gasol, countless NBA all-star appearances and now his farewell tour that I was fortunate to attend in Los Angeles and watch the Lakers beat the current NBA champions Golden State Warriors. I grew up with Kobe Bryant in the league and it is going to be tough watching Lakers games next year without him on the court. I’m going to be left with the memories of everything he did for the Lakers organization and the NBA but the memory that is going to stand out the most is January 22, 2006 when Kobe Bryant scored 81 points.