Decade’s Best: Individual Performance
Kobe Bryant’s 81 point game!
by Eric Woodyard
With 18,997 fans in the Staples Center erupting as time begins to expire, Los Angeles Lakers guard, Kobe Bryant, walks off of the court to find his seat on the bench with one finger in the air.
As the Lakers lead the Toronto Raptors, 122-104 with only 4.2 seconds remaining, his work is certainly done.
“Ladies and gentleman, you have witnessed the second greatest scoring performance in NBA History!” FSN West Sportscaster Bill Macdonald utters.
When Macdonald woke up on the morning of January 22, 2006, I’m sure he thought it would be a normal day. He was simply asked to fill in for Lakers play-by-play announcer Joel Meyers, who had another broadcasting commitment that day while the team squared off against the lowly Toronto Raptors, who had an overall record of 14-26 at the time.
Never in a million years would he have dreamed that he would be witnessing Kobe Bryant score 81 points in the individual performance of the decade. Just one month earlier, Bryant had posted a season-low 11 points in the Lakers’ 102-91 victory over the Raptors in the T-Dot. What would be so different about this game?
At 27-years-old and in his prime, The Black Mamba had been on a tear in the 2005-2006 season. His old coach Phil Jackson had returned to La La Land, he was determined to lead his team back to the playoffs after missing them just one year earlier, he squashed his beef with Shaq, and he was leading the league in scoring.
Kobe Bryant couldn’t be stopped! In fact, On December 20, 2005, he had just lit the Dallas Mavericks up for his career-high of 62 points despite playing only three-quarters. Entering the fourth quarter Bryant had, by himself, outscored the entire Mavericks team 62-61, the only time a player has done this through three-quarters since the 24-second shot clock had been in effect.
By taking him out of that game early, Phil Jackson was only setting us up for the inevitable explosion of one of the game’s greatest players of all time.
Bryant entered the game versus the Toronto Raptors on that epic January of 2006 with his grandmother in the audience.
“What a lot of people don’t know about that particular night (is that) it was my grandma’s first time watching me play in person,” he said in an interview a few years later. “She’s never seen me play. Even in high school, she’s never seen me play and we flew her out here from Philadelphia and she was at that game sitting with my wife and our daughter and she watched me play and it was also my grandfather’s birthday who passed away the year before that so a lot of people don’t know that and that night was made even more special because of that.”
Rocking the No. 8, wearing a pair of black, white, and purple Nike Zoom Kobe 1′s, and a white wristband to match his white Lakers home uni, he was dressed to handle business. Although his team started the game slow, Kobe Bryant started out fast as he wasn’t faced with any double teams.
The Raptors entered half time with a 63-49 lead with Bryant dropping in 26 of those Lakers buckets. The second half started no different as the Raps went up by as many as 18 points early in the quarter, which only angered the legend.
Fueled by his team’s lack of effort, Bryant started dropping buckets faster than Twista’s lyrics. Pouring in pull-up jumper after pull-up jumper, deep three after deep three, and one lay-up after another, Bryant piled up 27 points in the third quarter and 28 in the fourth. He finished the half with 55 points and challenged Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point record as he finished with 81 points on the night.
He gave Michigan fans (and the world for that matter) a night to remember as he torched Flint’s Morris Peterson and Detroit’s Jalen Rose, who were his primary defenders. After the final buzzer sounded, Bryant approached FSN sports reporter Patrick O’Neal for his post game interview still in awe of his performance with a towel around his neck. Responding to O’Neal’s question of what could he say about the 81 point game, Bryant responded with a boyish smile on his face and said: “Well you know, we wanted to win this game so bad and they jumped out to us on an early lead and my ankle was hurting me and I was a little tired but we needed to get this W so I had to push through it and I had a great performance.”
Bryant also added that: “I couldn’t have dreamed of this when I was a kid. It’s no way possible. It’s just a blessing from above to be able to play this game and more importantly get outta here with this W and that’s what really matters.”
Despite all of the attention that he did receive from this magical performance, he did get quite a bit of flack from several peers. The knock on his magical evening was that he only grabbed 6 boards, handed out 2 assists, 3 steals and one block, only cementing his everlasting hateration from the sports community (Cough cough, including my friend Meat from Western Michigan University, who is hands down the biggest Kobe hater…I’m sure there’s one in every town).
Besides my friend Meat, Vince Carter stated that he didn’t think Kobe “is setting the right example for kids out there.” The great Michael Jordan also said that he wouldn’t have allowed Kobe’s 81 points to happen without fouling out.
Through all the hate, Kobe reached a zone that no has come close to reaching in this decade. Shooting 60.9 percent, he connected on 28 of his 46 field goal attempts in 42 minutes of action. He also dropped 7 of his 13 three-point attempts and 18 of his 20 free throws.
When the NBA produced a short documentary on the night for an episode of “Real NBA,” he spoke in descriptive fashion on how that night felt.
“When you get in that zone, it’s just a supreme confidence that you know it’s going in. Things just slow down, everything just slows down and you just have supreme confidence,” Bryant added. “When that happens, you really do not try to focus on what’s going on because you can lose it in a second. Everything becomes one noise, you don’t hear this or that. Everything is just one going thing.”
I am proud to say that I can tell my kids one day that I witnessed Kobe Bryant pour in 81 points!
For more Decade Awards, check out the archive.