Waiter to Bryant: How many olives would you like?
A key chapter in the ascendancy of any true transcendent talent is the fabled story of an impossible act performed by the star that exemplifies his status above us mere mortals. For example, Bo Jackson was said to jump a 40-foot ditch fleeing from a boar. Tales of soccer star Ronaldinho’s time growing up in Brazil’s favelas include him scoring 23 goals in a single game at the age of 13.
When Kobe Bryant scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on January 22nd 2006, we were seeing legend being actualised. The morning after the game, there were countless instances of fans waking up to seeing the highlights on SportsCenter, ’81 points? Yeah right.’
Many thought it was a mistake, that it didn’t happen, couldn’t happen. But that’s what Kobe did. The 81 point performance best epitomised what Kobe Bryant did best -- make the impossible seem possible.
Of course, Wilt Chamberlain‘s historic 100 point game for the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks in the 1960-1961 season remains the benchmark. However, Chamberlain set the record twenty years before the NBA would hit the mainstream and at least ten years before the majority of NBA fans today were born.
Kobe’s performance becomes even more impressive when you look at the Laker lineup that took the hardwood that night. Kobe’s supporting cast consisted of PG Smush Parker, SF Lamar Odom, PF Kwame Brown and C Chris Mihm. This game best personified Mamba’s ‘me against the world’ mentality. A way of thinking that best suits the sport of basketball.
Kobe was also going against Jalen Rose. The tyranny Kobe inflicted upon Rose and the Raptors that day has never left Rose. A player of significant talent and ability, Rose’s impressive collegiate and pro career has been completely overshadowed by this one performance. It wasn’t a fact of Rose, and the other Raptors, being scrubs defensively. It was just Kobe was just that good.
Contrast to Kobe’s final career game in 2016 (the other featured game on this list), the buckets made in the 60 point retirement game had more of a sombre feel, amidst the euphoria, with each one made. The 81 point game represented the pure power and rage in which Bryant indulged himself in each game.
Kobe’s 81 point game is without a doubt one of the greatest sporting moments of not only the 21st century but of all time. A player who meant so much to so many people because of his values and what he stood for -- scoring the basketball -- was epitomised and immortalised in this one game.
There never was, or ever will be, a better scorer in the modern era than Kobe Bean Bryant.