Kobe Bryant’s 81: The audacity of points

KOBE08As part of #MambaWeek, this Thursday, SiriusXM NBA Radio honors Kobe Bryant with a two-hour special celebrating his incredible 20 seasons in the NBA. They’ll look back at Kobe’s legendary career with highlights and interviews with Kobe himself, Phil Jackson, Magic Johnson, and many more. Hear the two-hour special hosted by Justin Termine Thursday night at 8pm Eastern, only on NBA Radio, Sirius 207, XM 86, and on your phone with the SiriusXM App.

81. Even in the moment I can recall being shocked and unable to comprehend that someone had scored 81 points in a 48-minute game of basketball. 10 years and a few months later, and Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game is no less shocking. The second-highest point total in an NBA game, the most, of course, since Wilt Chamberlain’s astonishing 100 points in Hershey, Pennsylvania in 1962. The Stilt’s legendary 100-point game was eight years after the NBA had adopted the shot clock, there exists no archival video footage of it; audio-only footage of the game exists, but even that is only clips from the game’s fourth quarter. The NBA in 1962 was vastly different than the Circus Maximus that the Association had evolved into by the time Kobe hung 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on January 21, 2006.

For many, the outburst crystalized Kobe’s role as the villain, a me-first gunner who had chased Shaq out of town and wanted the spotlight all to himself. Bear in mind, Kobe, despite his selfish reputation had been dragging a moribund Lakers team into playoff contention the only way he knew how: by scoring points. Bryant, ever the one to lean in on a heel’s reputation, had been obliterating teams on his own. A one-man avalanche of offense that had buried the Dallas Mavericks by himself with a 62-point explosion earlier in the season. [A feat that somehow was omitted from our “8-Most Mamba Moments” post -Ed.] Yet there the Lakers were, losing to the Toronto Raptors by 14, at home, at the half. And then Kobe happened.

In the third period, down 14 at home, Bryant exploded for 27 points in the quarter while being defended by Jalen Rose. Rose, like a lamb being slaughtered by a tiger, must have been begging to know what he did to deserve THIS, could only watch as Bryant willed the Lakers in front for good, claiming the lead on an emphatic dunk as the clock wound down in the third.

But Kobe still wasn’t done. With a rejuvenated home crowd and an entire bench sensing the electricity in the air, Bryant played out the fourth quarter as the gobsmacked Lakers home TV announcers reeled off records Kobe was smashing until the only records left were ones owned by Wilt Chamberlain. He crashed through the 70-point ceiling with about six minutes left in the game. Nobody had scored 70 or more since David Robinson had in 1994. Hell, Kobe’s role model and the resident NBA G.O.A.T., Michael Jordan, never cracked 70. Still, Bryant’s points barrage continued. With two free throws late in the fourth, Bryant surpassed Wilt’s second-highest point total and with another free throw he cracked 81. Bryant’s achievement, the win, the shattered psyche of Jalen Rose, all speak to the individual greatness that anyone can achieve. Forget “It takes a village,” this was some “I burnt it down and rebuilt it better on my own.”

It’s too easy to describe Kobe Bryant as the “next MJ” or as some bridging All Father that passed down the whispers and sigils from the old NBA guard to the LeBrons, Stephs and Durants of today. Kobe on his own has been far more human than the Bunyanesque Wilt Chamberlain, more masked than Michael Jordan’s iron will and far more calculating than Steph or LeBron’s myriad veneers. Instead, Kobe, and his many imperfections, always spoke for himself and on January 21, 2006 he let the world know what one man could do against five.

Powered by WordPress VIP