In the history of the NBA, there are few numbers that have true value and meaning. When most people talk basketball, “23” is universally recognized as Jordan’s number. The number “100” is often thought of Wilt’s record-setting performance of when the big guy dropped in an astonishing 100 points in 1962. And most recently, anytime the number “81” is mentioned, many people have the image of Kobe Bryant holding up his finger, exhausted, walking off the court burned into their retina. After all, it’s still hard to comprehend what occurred that night all these years later.
Five years ago to the day, the unthinkable happened – Kobe Bryant dropped in 81 points in a single NBA game. No, that wasn’t NBA 2k the videogame – which most people have trouble accomplishing with a virtual Kobe I might add – this was a regular season game against the Toronto Raptors; in a game where the Lakers found themselves down by 16 points.
What happened next was not only historic, but something we may never see from a perimeter player in the league… ever again. In celebration of the five year anniversary, let’s take a look back and remember the “81” from that special night on January 22, 2006.
THE NUMBERS THAT CREATE 81
You can watch every point in the video above, but we’re also going to break down how it exactly happened. Thanks to NBA.com, here is a shot chart from the game.
NOTE: Kobe’s made field goals. No. 8 indicates eight dunks/lay-ups. He also converted 18 of 20 free throws.
The Lakers trailed by 16 when Bryant decided enough was enough. Through an entire arsenal of scoring, Kobe willed the Lakers back into it. Jumpers, 3-balls, floaters, and-1’s. . . there was nothing the defenders could do to slow him down.
The statistics of Kobe’s night also show that despite shooting 46 shots, Kobe shot 60% from the field. He also dropped in 18-20 from the free throw line. From an offensive standpoint, Kobe did a phenomenal job of attacking the entire way through. Never once did his demeanor change nor did Bryant lose focus. When most players get in this type of zone, it’s tough to defend. When Kobe gets in this type of zone, as Lakers color commentator Stu Lantz once said, “it’s just not fair.”
How many players have reached this type of zone – technically only two, but here is a complete list of the top single-game scorers of all time.
Next, let’s see what opposing players and coaches, as well as retired players, had to say about the historic night.
CURRENT PLAYERS ON 81
“Everybody was calling. Everybody called every player in the league.”
“How many minutes did he play, 42? If he had an overtime game, maybe (100 would be possible)”
“It is great for the league, for him, just because of the buzz it has created. The only bad thing about it is younger kids, whose minds are easily warped, are going to think, ‘Ohhh! I am going to go out there and do it’ instead of the team concept first. That is what is missing, guys understanding how to play as a team. They [the NBA] want scoring, they want ratings, you are going to get that. You are definitely going to get them now with the amount of 50-60-point games . . . I just hope kids and young guys understand that yeah, special guys can do that. But . . .”
“If you have it going, you’re supposed to keep it going. … Unbelievable.”
“It’s impressive,. He’s probably playing the best basketball of anyone in the NBA right now. When you’re taking jump shots, you’re going to get more tired. Wilt got all layups. With the athletes that are in the game today, no, it wouldn’t happen. You would have to put more minutes on the clock. Well, maybe Kobe could do it. If he shot every time down the floor.” ”
“How does the other team let him get that many points? Once a guy gets 50 points, you double him every time down the court. They weren’t doing a good job of trying to keep the ball out of his hands so I was actually rooting for him.
“How many times did he get to the line? You’d think the Super Bowl would lead ‘SportsCenter’ tonight. But you know it won’t. It can’t. Kobe will. He has to.”
Dirk Nowitzki (on if he could get 81):
“I don’t think that would be good from a team standpoint.”
“He took 47 shots?”
“With Kobe, he takes shots that look bad, but they’re not bad shots for him. He was on fire. On fire.”
“It’s not just a buzz about Kobe, it’s a holler. That guy is incredible. That’s why he’s the best player in the league.”
“I guess they say records are made to be broken. You wouldn’t think it could be done, but if anybody could I guess it would be Kobe. It’s just incredible. There’s not much really you can say. Wow.”
“The first thing that came to my mind when I heard about what Kobe did was the amount of shots he go. If anybody’s going to score, it’s Kobe. He can take as many shots as he wants, and nobody says nothing. Of course when you take 46 shots you are going to score, but he’s good enough to make more than half of them. He’s good enough to take good shots, and he just had one of those nights.”
“That should put all the questions to rest who’s the most talented and who’s the, you know, best offensive player in the league. You know if he would’ve had a decent first half, he might’ve got 100 points last night. I mean if anybody can go out there and score 25 points a quarter I would definitely say it’s Kobe.”
“I’m just amazed he got up 46 shots. That’s like, uh, five games worth for me. After eight shots I’m already having to ice my elbow. You know, 46, that’s just amazing on it’s own.”
“We’re witnessing greatness right now. We need to understand that. (Asked: “Is he the best of the best?”) Yeah, definitely.”
“Is that for real? You know. That’s what people will probably go around saying today. Did he really have 81 points? Is that possible?”
“Not at all.” – If he thought 80 points was possible
“Give him overtime and he might have got there. Now, it’s possible.” – On the all-time record
“Maybe if I go home and play my video game I’ll hit 80.” – If he can make a run at Kobe
“He’s the first person to ever get to 80 (since Chamberlain’s 100). Is 100 doable? You’d probably have a better chance of winning the lottery but there’s always a chance.”
“It was an amazing night for Kobe. Just unreal. Like watching a video game. He’s the best player in the game.”. Asked if he will try to top the performance #3 wasnt so humble “We play Toronto in March. I’m going to go for 100.”
“I’m still in awe of what that kid did. It was just a hell of a performance for him to shoot the ball only 46 times to score 81 points. But not just to be able to shoot it 46 times, but to shoot it 46 times and hit well over 50 percent. There are nights I’m in the 30s of shots taken and I’ve been fatigued. To take 46 and 20 free throws and end up with 81 points, I didn’t believe it.
“We were on the bus and Luther ( Head) yelled out, ‘Kobe’s got 70-something and there’s four minutes left.’ I said, ‘Luther, stop lying.’ I hurried up and got my key and went to my room and called one of my boys to put on the game and Kobe was at the free throw line with 79 points. I said, ‘Are you serious?’ I don’t think I could score that many in a video game. I talked to Mike ( James) after the game. He said they didn’t double team him — not one time. You would think after he hit 40, send two or three guys at him. When he hit 50? When he got 70? What are you doing: playing him one-on-one?”
“I don’t think (Bryant) saw himself doing it. That’s crazy.”
COACH REACTIONS TO 81
“Anybody who’s got the kind of energy to try to hoist up (nearly) 70 shots is going to score a lot of point. It’s remarkable, the execution and the efficiency, but we’ve got a lot of guys in this league, if they took 70 shots, they’d score a lot of points.” “He might get 100. If you can get 81 . . . absolutely. He has the mentality to do that and conditioning. He’s one of the best conditioned athletes in the world.”
“I’ve seen some remarkable games but I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
“It was quite an exhibition. It’s what the fans love. I don’t think you can win a championship playing that way and so, consequently, I would be concerned about that. But it was a great victory and I don’t want to take anything away from Kobe because it was one of the greatest I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of exhibitions.”
“I don’t feel so bad about the 45 he got on us now.”
“I wish we had King Kong (to guard him). Anything we can do, we’ll do.”
“Kobe brought his team back from a big deficit to win the game, so you like to see that. That means quite a bit more than getting points with no competition.”
“What was lost in all of that was that he got it going when they were down by 18 points. The other amazing part was that he didn’t get tired at the end.”
“It was just a special, special night. And I’m sure Kobe felt that way. Because 81 points is, well, 81 points, and I don’t care how you cut it up. It’s amazing.”
“Forget about 81 points. To be able to get up that many shots and still play defense at the other end of the floor, that’s a pretty incredible physical accomplishment.”
“I think Wilt’s record is pretty safe unless a player like Kobe goes into four or five overtimes. I think this is the closest you’ll see anybody get to it.”
Flip Saunders: “I think the most amazing thing about Kobe scoring 81 is about how easy he made it look. It’s not like he made a lot of difficult shots. A lot of the shots he took were like open shots.”
EX-PLAYER/OTHER REACTIONS TO 81
“That’s wild. That is really wild. That’s a lot of points, I’m telling you. There’s no question how good he is, but when you start throwing numbers around like that, it’s unbelievable. It would be hard to believe if you didn’t know it was true.”
“Kobe’s range is unreal, and he does it his way. It was a real treat. His ability to shoot from long range and also attack the hoop, split the defense and get in close for opportunities near the basket is unique. He’s made a niche for himself, and he deserves it.”
“It’s superb, definitely. Something that is new to me, that is shocking. I got the news last night about 3 in the morning, and I don’t think I even went back to bed.”
“I’m always one to credit the guys who win. I don’t know if I would have given Kobe the M.V.P. last week. But what he did in the game last night, he’s so clearly the best player out there.”
“For Kobe Bryant to do this as a guard, it is a testimony to his athletic ability, incredible endurance.”
“I think it is an awesome feat what Kobe did the other night, and I tip my hat to him. The one word that comes to mind when I think about what he accomplished is SPECIAL.”
“Hats off, he’s the best. It’s hard to get 50 in a game. He did it in a half. It takes a tough player who works really hard. I think he’s one of the best ever.”
“That was a great game. It surprises you, but the guy was hitting shot after shot.”
“To compare it to anybody would be useless. He set himself apart from everyone else. Everyone looks for another Michael Jordan, and there probably won’t be one. What Kobe did was establish himself as one of the greatest scorers of all time at an early age. He’s a phenom. I’m a believer, man. Now we’ve got to sit back and wait and see if anyone scores 82.”
“Scoring 81 points is a truly amazing accomplishment. Of course, the most important thing is that his effort contributed to a victory for his team.”
“It’s amazing. Beyond amazing. He’s on another level from any other player at this point. It’s like he is toying with teams. If you push up on him, he just takes two steps back and shoots from further out. I hope the NBA adjusts its TV schedule so we all can see him play more. It would be fun to watch and fun to debate how far a one-man show can drag four other players in a team sport.”
Darrell Armstrong (who was on Mavs & victim to Kobe’s 62 point game in 3 quarters):
“Imagine if our game had been close. ”
“The most points I ever scored was 65 in the Urban Coalition summer league in D.C.. I had something like 16 3-pointers, and I’m telling you, I was dead tired when it was over. I saw the highlights of Kobe, and he looked like he could have played another game.”
“Whether you like him or dislike him, Kobe is a special player. He has the killer instinct in him that a lot of the talented players don’t have. When he smells blood, he goes for the jugular. That’s a (Michael) Jordan-like quality.”
“Forget about 81 points. To be able to get up that many shots and still play defense at the other end of the floor, that’s a pretty incredible physical accomplishment.”
“I heard about it after I had finished hanging out with David West, and he called me and said that Kobe had scored 81. My first thought was is that I’m in the NBA with probably one of the best players ever to play in the NBA.”
“I don’t know if anyone could have stopped him last night. It’s so senseless to me to say he shouldn’t take over like that. You give the same amount of shots to everybody else and they’re not making that many, I know it. Players are jealous of greatness. Kobe is a unique talent and a unique person. His belief that he can jump to the moon is never going to change. But I admire him, what he’s been able to overcome. You would think he would be a fair-haired man of the NBA with what’s he’s already done. But he’s taken a fairly good battering.”
“He’s just one of those guys I have a lot of respect for. He’s strong-willed and he believes in himself to the core.”
WILT’s 100 vs. KOBE’S 81
Now comes the ultimate debate. What was the better performance – Wilt’s 100 of 1962 or Kobe’s 81-point performance of 2006? I am going to try and provide some very interesting facts on Wilt’s 100 to help you formulate your very own opinion.
Here are some key facts about both games that are often overlooked. Let’s take a look at each player’s incredible performances by the stats and facts:
* Wilt scored 59.2% of his teams 169 points in their 169-147 victory.
* Kobe managed to scored 66.4% of his teams 122 points.
* Wilt took 63 shots to get 100 points.
* Kobe took 17 less shots (46 shots) in his 81 game.
* Wilt played in a game where no shot clock was present.
* Kobe played in a game where there was a 24 second shot clock.
* Wilt didn’t have benefit of three point line
* Kobe did have 3-pointers, but through it, he only benefited from 7 points due to 3’s.
* Wilt played in a lane that was only 12 feet wide.
* Kobe played in a lane that is 16 feet wide.
* Wilt went 28 of 32 from the free throw line.
* Kobe went 18 of 20 from the free throw line (10 less points & 12 less attempts).
* Wilt shot 57% from the field (36-63).
* Kobe shot 60% from the field (28-46).
* In Wilt’s 100 point game, he was not guarded by anyone taller than 6-10.
* In Kobe’s 81 point game, at least 4 Raptor players are listed at least 6-10.
* Wilt played in an era where there was no zone defense.
* Kobe scored 81 in a more sophisticated defensive era, where zone is legal.
* Wilt played the entire contest.
* Kobe actually sat out for 6 minutes in the 81 point game.
* Wilt’s Warriors had 39 assists in his 100 point game.
* Kobe’s team only had 18 assists (2 from Kobe).
* Wilt’s team was playing a last-place Knicks team with their own playoff seed secured.
* Kobe’s Lakers were two games above .500, despite Raptors in non-contention.
* Wilt’s team led the Knicks the entire game.
* Kobe’s Lakers trailed by 16 at one point.
* While there is no official number, it is estimated there was around 130 possessions in Wilt’s 100 point game.
* The Lakers had 99 possessions
Now, there is an interesting twist to Wilt’s 100.
Richie Guerin, who played in Wilt’s 100 point game, had this to say about both games: “I thought the game in the second half was set up to try to have Wilt score as many points as he could. And I told Wilt this personally. Kobe’s, I think is a little more special because of his size and he played in a game that was significant and meaningful. Taking nothing away from Wilt. . . . If you play a game a normal way, I think it’s just about impossible to score that many points.”
Guerin has an interesting point about that night. It has been said many times, from witnesses and former players who were there, that down the stretch Knicks players would intentionally foul the Warriors players. As a result, the Warriors fed Wilt the ball so he would have as many chances to score as possible as he neared the 100 point mark.
In fact, after the game, Chamberlain was quoted saying, “It would have been impossible to score this many points if my teammates hadn’t kept feeding me, especially Guy!” Now, this is not to say the Lakers players didn’t defer the ball to Kobe (they did), but it’s a shared perception that Wilt’s teammates fed him the ball almost exclusively towards the later part of his 100 point game; and when the Warriors had the game in hand.
In retrospect, the Warriors spent around 30 minutes competing; and the final 18 minutes feeding Wilt the ball to “allow him to score as much as possible.” With the Lakers, they spent just about 30 minutes trying to catch up to the Raptors, with the next 16 allowing Kobe to put his foot on their throats and seal up the victory. Quite a different story to both games.
THE LEGACY OF 81
There is no questioning both are inconceivable in this day and age. Wilt’s record will probably never be broken and Kobe’s 81 is highly unlikely to be touched, either. Kobe’s 81 is often regarded as the more impressive feat due to the numbers and difficulty of shots. The opinions shared that Kobe made near-impossible perimeter shots while Wilt established position close to the rim in the paint usually is where the argument swings in favor to Kobe Bryant’s 81.
Regardless of which game is better, we will always freshly remember Kobe’s 81 point game. It’s not only a testament to the greatness of Kobe himself, but a truly special moment in the league’s history. While most of us still can’t comprehend it, neither can Kobe, “I really don’t think about it too much,” Bryant said. “I still don’t know how the hell it happened, to be honest with you. It’s just one of those things, I guess.”
It may have been five years ago, but generations from now people will look back and watch the special player that is Kobe. The 81 point game will forever live in Lakers fans minds. It was a game where even other players became fans of Kobe that night. It was a moment, when it was all said and done, where Kobe walked off the court exhausted to a stunned crowd. Ironically, the only thing that broke his focus that night was him acknowledging the standing ovation, with a finger raised high in the air, and hanging an 81 for the record books.
When you hear “81” – what do you think of? Was it better than Wilt’s 100? Let’s hear your thoughts Lakers fans.