Five years ago today, the Lakers were in a much different place than they are now. Rather than competing for championships, they were competing just to make the playoffs. They were only one dreadful season removed from trading Shaq, a year that saw them miss the playoffs for the first time in Kobe’s career (a trip to the lottery that netted Andrew Bynum, by the way), and were dealing with the fact that they may have actually been the 2nd best team in LA. A pretty far cry from the back to back defending NBA championship team we see today.
On that faithful Sunday, the Lakers entered the game 2 games over .500, had lost two games in a row and were facing the Raptors. And on that day, Kobe did what was before thought to be impossible. He scored 81 points in a single game in leading the Lakers to a victory in which they trailed for most of the game. Simply amazing. On the 5th anniversary of that game, we take you around the internet with some good stories remembering that day. Enjoy.
From Andy Kamentzky, Land O Lakers: By the time he took a final seat to a thunderous ovation, Bryant had scored 81 points, the second highest single-game total in NBA history. Since that iconic moment, so much has changed regarding Kobe. He’s grown as a player, with a desire to improve that is unmatched by any elite player in the league. He’s grown as a leader, having developed the ability to communicate high standards for teammates without alienating them in the process. He’s grown as a basketball mind, typically a step or two ahead of the competition mentally. And he’s grown as an NBA face, now as popular as he was before scandal derailed his image.
From Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: “I just remember we were down 16 points to a bad Raptors team and we had just lost I think to Houston the game before and it was just kind of doom and gloom. We needed to win and I just got hot,” Bryant said Friday after shootaround in preparation for the Lakers’ game against the Denver Nuggets. The Lakers ending up winning the game 122-104 against a Toronto team that had a record of just 14-26. Los Angeles actually trailed the Raptors by 18 points early on in the third quarter before Bryant really went off, scoring 51 of his 55 second-half points from that point on. Bryant scored 14 points in the first quarter, 12 in the second, 27 in the third and 28 in the fourth.
From Mike Ganter, Toronto Sun: It is five years ago today that Kobe Bryant made headlines at the expense of the Toronto Raptors. Jay Triano was an assistant and Jose Calderon was a rookie when Bryant got locked in like no one before or since other than that Wilt Chamberlain fellow who had 100 way back in 1962. Bryant’s 81 points that night are the stuff legends are made of. What people looking back on that night though forget, and something Triano pointed out, is the Raptors had a 16-point lead as late as the second half in that game. And what Joe Public doesn’t realize is that night the Raptors went into the game intent on giving Bryant single coverage and making sure no one else around him got on any kind of roll. Even if Kobe had gone off for 40, the thinking was, they limit the surrounding cast to very little and they still have a good shot to win the game.
From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: Five years ago Saturday, Kobe Bryant took over a game like nobody ever quite had before. Sure, Wilt got triple digits one time, but that had an element of sham to it (his teammates were fouling to stop the clock and get the ball back so they could feed him and get him over the mark). Kobe Bryant didn’t drop 81 on the Toronto Raptors because he could, he did it because he needed to. Well, a little of both, really. But he did it in the flow of the game. The Lakers trailed early to the Raptors and L.A. was playing in one of its lazy funks that it still suffers from at times. And, as he does now, Kobe decided to put the team on his back and carry them to a win.
UPDATE: From Mark Medina, LA Times Laker Blog: Finally, there came a point when Coach Phil Jackson felt comfortable enough the Lakers would secure a victory that Kobe Bryant no longer needed to be on the court. “Maybe I should take him out because the game is in the bag,” Jackson recalled saying to Lakers assistant coach Frank Hamblen, as detailed in the updated edition of his book, “Sacred Hoops.” According to Jackson, Hamblen responded this way: “There would be a riot.” That’s because at that point very little of the 18,887 at Staples Center cheered because the Lakers would prevail in a 112-104 victory over Toronto after overcoming a 14-point halftime deficit exactly five years ago. No, the fans chanted “M-V-P” throughout the game and stood up for the entire fourth quarter as they witnessed Bryant scoring 81 points, marking the second-highest scoring total in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point performance with Philadelphia against the New York Knicks on March 2, 1962. It’s a good thing Jackson heeded Hamblen’s advice because he initially considered yanking Bryant when he had 77 points, one point behind Chamberlain’s then-No.-2-all-time mark when Philadelphia visited the Lakers in a 151-147 triple-overtime loss on Dec. 8, 1961.
UPDATE #2: From Michael Goldsholl, Lakers Nation: Jan. 22, 2006; 7:25 p.m. pacific standard time. Five minutes until the tipoff of the Lakers and Raptors game at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Lakers are barely floating above .500 at 21-19 and the Raptors are sitting at a lowly 14-26. There is not much for fans to expect of the game; the Lakers will probably win by a just-better-than-slim margin and it’s pretty much a given Kobe’s going to score at least 35 points. After the final buzzer, the season will move on, and the game will ultimately be forgotten. Oh, how the basketball world was so terribly mistaken.
Finally, take a look at the box score from that game. Yeah, the Lakers had Lamar Odom at that time, but look at the other names. Kwame, Smush, Cook, George. How did that team even make the post-season? And here is the video of his historical scoring outburst. Even 5 years later, all I can say is WOW.
And Kobe, for all the time the ball was in his hands…only 3 turnovers. Oh the days of better fingers.
(Granted there were less passing opportunities.)
With the passing of time I think two things are going to emerge more clearly.
First, how insanely good Kobe could be. I think a lot of people who have not liked Kobe for various reasons are going to look back and see his talent in a new light.
Second, how marginal the team around Kobe was. You had LO and….. There were a couple of decent role/bench players, but there were only two starting calibre players on that whole team.
Happy Anniversary, Kobe. 🙂
How in the world did Kobe not win the MVP that year? Simply inexcusable considering no one on that team would play considerable minutes on this team except Lamar who has improved noticeably since then if you look at the per 36 mins stats.
In retrospect, it’s unfortunate that Kobe and Shaq couldn’t coexist and even worse that the lakers front office traded Shaq for pennies on the dollar which essentially wasted Kobe’s prime. I don’t think 8 or 9 championships for Kobe is out of the question had the Lakers been able to trade Shaq for a low post scorer and quality point guard instead of Butler (another wing that duplicates some of Kobe’s contributions), a young LO (who played more on the perimeter then) and Brian Grant’s corpse.
4 consecutive 50 point games,months averaging 40 points,Kobe 62-Dallas 61 in 30 minutes,81 points in 42 minutes…27K points 5500 rebs 5000 assists and still going strong despite getting no love from refs.
Way to go Kobe against all Dwyers:)
Not only did he not win, he came fourth. Yet many people would have us believe that Amare Stoudemire, playing on a .500 team in possibly the worst division in basketball, is a top MVP candidate, simple because ‘he’s made the Knicks relevant again’. That award has no defined criteria; it’s all about popularity and what storyline is most interesting to the media for that particular season.
I was at the 81 game, ten rows back. The most amazing thing about Kobe that night was that he didn’t seem to be outrageously hot, or playing beyond his capabilities – it was really kind of a workmanlike, determined performance. Although I do remember how impressive it looked up close to see him draining deep 3’s and making them look like 12 foot jumpers.
If there ever was an MVP, it was Kobe that year. The Lakers wouldn’t have won 15 games without him.
Couple days before that game, I was teaching my son (6 years old then ) how to play NBA live on PS2. In my video game, Kobe had like 60+ points. I told my wife only in video games you can have score like that.
In Taiwan, we only get about 10 lakers games a year, unless they go deep into the playoff. I did not know at the time, Kobe already had a 60+ games against the Mavs just couple of weeks ago. Anyway, I did not get to see that 81 points game either, there was no broadcast. So as usual I just tried to surf the net and look for some box score numbers, read some game recaps to crunch my thirst for Lakers update. When I saw 81 points on box score, I thought it was a typo. I was thinking this is gotta be a joke for espn. After I read the game recaps then I realized that it was real. Kobe has achieved something extraordinary and something that fans like me will never forget.
It didn’t matter Kobe didnt win the MVP or upset the Suns that year. Just that one game, 81 points, has cemented Kobe in the hearts of his true fans.
One thing that struck me was that this happened only 5 years ago. So much has happened since that game with the trades and trips to the finals that 5 years seems to recent.
81 Witness says
Happy 5th Anniversary ya’ll. Someone should let Kurt know it happened on a Sunday (looking at my ticket stub).
Being surrounded by the crap called the 2006 Lakers would have drove anyone insane. That is why Kobe has been defending Melo in the media: a certain deal should get done to surround him with good players within reason. Not like the superfriends of Miami.
Kobe was on fire that night, he couldn’t miss. And when Toronto respected it, they bought his fakes and sent him to the line. It seemed as if Kobe was destined to have a great game even though the fans were booing at half time and he only had 26 points.
The 2nd half proved to be different. Kobe became even more aggressive and Toronto still refused to double him. Kobe achieved greatness and myself and others feel very fortunate to be a witness to that game (unlike Jack).
Off-topic: BOS lost and SA is down 14.
That game brought me to FB&G. I was stunned after seeing the box score (in Korea, just like in Taiwan, you don’t get many NBA broadcasts) and was trying to make sure that it was real. Scoured a ton of websites and blogs and…
… I still remember just reading and reading and reading articles, comments after comments, searching for recaps and video highlights and still not quite believing.
To be honest, even after downloading and watching the entire game, I can’t believe he scored 81. It had a very normal-yet-surreal feel to it that made it very ordinary and difficult to realize that he was scoring that much.
Craig W. says
Go back and read all the info on the Shaq trade. You may find that there was no way not to trade him.
Also, in 2006 the media was determined not to give Kobe any credit. There was no way he was going to win any MVP award.
He will never win another and the only reason he has one is that the writers announced their criteria for ignoring him the previous year (he wasn’t able to push his team to the best record in the West) and he directly bested Chris Paul’s team the following year. The writers couldn’t very well completely change the criteria they set the previous year and had to give him the MVP.
dave m says
#7, jodial – it must have been incredible to be there, maybe even more so in retrospect. It’s an interesting perspective, that it was workmanlike and that’s something that you’re just not going to get from TV or hi-light reels with the angles, slo-mo’s, narration, etc..
dave m says
ps, I was thinking earlier today about the distance the Spurs have been putting between themselves and the pack and was fairly relieved to see a lopsided loss to the Hornets (really?). Not that it changes the landscape or anything but I’ll take it.
I always have such a good feeling inside when ever I watch the highlights of that game. When I watch the complete game though, you just feel all the way into the 3rd that there is now way this is the game he scores 81 in, he just exploded towards the end of the game. On top of it, the Lakers seemed to be losing that game most of the time, until it was mamba time.
T. Rogers says
15 – Unless the Spurs go on a real slide the Lakers won’t catch them. I am not even worried about it anymore. If they meet in the playoffs the Lakers will just need to split the first two games and they get HCA. The beauty of the earlier rounds is the 2-2-1-1-1 format.
However, the Finals (if the Lakers get there) are another story.
Greatest game ever played by anyone. Wilt’s 100 points were ridiculous, but it was a bit of a sham since his team was intentionally fouling to get the ball back to him. Kobe shot 60% that day from every inch of the court! Simply incredible. He should have won the MVP that year for sure, but the media will never admit their bias of course. Hell they are even talking about giving the trophy to Lebron this year based on how poorly the Cavs are doing…even though their only remaining star is Mo Williams.
17- Looking at the schedule and it seems the Spurs have played a home heavy first half of the season. The second half will be a bit tougher for them as they play 8 more away games than the Lakers. Boston will play 5 more away games. The Heat have played just as many away games as LA. I think we are in good position to challenge for HCA and if we don’t get it we will have the second best record behind the Spurs.
Part of what made that night seem so business-as-usual at the time was that Kobe was routinely putting up huge numbers to keep the Lakers afloat. I remember sitting in the stands at halftime and saying, well, he’s got 26, probably going to hit 50 tonight, but I don’t know if that’s going to be enough – and the thought of Kobe going for 50 was about like the thought of him going for 35 today.
I didn’t think he was going to drop 55 in the second half though!
I went with my wife, who had previously been to one Laker game with me in 2001. In that game (vs. NYK), Kobe was hurt in the first quarter and never returned, finishing with 0 points. So after 1/22/06, Kobe’s average was a cool 40.5 points a game when she came to Staples!
Craig W. says
The thing that comes up every year, but is only given a cursory brush by those not playing/coaching NBA basketball is injuries.
You just don’t see teams who have had key players injured for measurable stretches of the season win the championship. Over the last three years the Lakers have been amazingly healthy. Our big three (Andrew was not in this group until this year) have not suffered any major injuries and even the role players needed have been there over the last three years. This is a key aspect for any team, never mind one that is getting older and more injury prone.
@13 I realize that lakers weren’t going to get dollar for dollar return on shaq (you never do when trading a superstar). I criticize not b/c of the quality of players they received in return but the fact that they didn’t get players that meshed with kobe very well AND received Brian Grant’s albatross of a contract. I don’t think the Nuggets are in any worse situation than the lakers were (not to mention the fact that shaq was a better player than melo is now) and their reported trade offers have been so much better than what the lakers received.
As far as the HCA debate goes, I don’t think they lakers will catch the Spurs but Bill Simmons did bring up a great point in his chat friday. The aging Spurs have not suffered any injuries yet like the other contenders have (Rondo/C’s big men, Bynum/Barnes, Wade/James/Miller). To me it seems almost inevitable that we should get Lakers-Celts for a 3rd time as Kobe goes for #6, Phil for #12 and the lakers go for #17 to tie the C’s.
Craig W. says
In 2004 Kobe was a free agent on 1 July and the Lakers wanted to keep him. They HAD to trade Shaq before then or Kobe would have signed elsewhere. There was no time to fiddle and Grant’s contract was needed to balance the money Shaq earned. Most clubs could not make a trade because of the size of Shaq’s contract.
Actually, Mitch got more than most clubs do. Hindsight is great, but Lamar and Caron + a 1st round pick that became Farmar isn’t a bad trade. It is just in hindsight that we criticize this and want a combination of players that fit better with what we had. Actually, Mitch took a reasonable chance to get a potentially good big man in Kwame for Caron, whom they weren’t going to resign at large $ because he was duplicating many of Kobe’s skills. Our biggest complaint is that Kwame didn’t work out.
Finally, how many clubs trade away their biggest star and return to championship form within 4 years?
If you remember that was one of the few games where an opponent decided not to send constant doubles at Kobe. It didn’t work out well.
You can see that when Artest has the ball in his hands he is a force to be reckoned with. Anthony is a big and strong sf and he had no chance covering Ron. Artest though is finally learning how to play without the ball in his hands it looks like… But we will see. I mean… Its just nice to now have a sf who can out play a Carmelo Anthony.
The Logo on the Lakers:
“I don’t think the Lakers will be good for much longer, ” he said.
“You can keep a car running for a long time by changing the tires, etc. You can’t change a player’s tires.”
West said many of the Lakers’ current players are “getting long in the tooth.”
“If there’s a loose ball now, how often do they get it?” West pointed out to the crowd, which was relishing the sports talk.
“The reason you ‘can’t play defense’ is because you can’t!” West said, pointing to players’ remarks to the media.
Regarding his take on who would take the NBA championships this year, West clearly had an opinion on that, too.
“I think Boston is a very dangerous team,” he said of the Celtics. “I would not want to play them every other night.”
— Jackson smiled wide when asked about Jerry West’s comments to the Orange County Automobile Dealers Association, in which he appeared to say the Lakers were, more-or-less, too old to play defense effectively. “He’s right,” Jackson said.
Jackson did elaborate, though. “We have to do a lot of things right to be able to play defense the way we want to, and most of it is about controlling the tempo of a game,” he said. “There’s something about just speed. Outright speed. We’re not the fastest team on the boards here in the NBA, but we can do it if we control things in the right way.”
I think of the Shaq trade as chemo-therapy. The process is painful, and you lose weight and muscle along the way as well as health, but in the end, it is a success if you just manage to be healthy again.
In a way, what we did was pull a Lance Armstrong of sorts. Remove cancer, and return to championship form.
Problem is, now is the harder part. How do you deal with having a championship tested, talented and illustrious core that is aging? Which part goes first and at what risk?
Joe A says
Just saw that Theo’s back at practice. May not seem like a huge deal, but I think it is.
Obviously, in the event of foul trouble. But while Barnes is out, I’d like to see Pau with the second unit occasionally as the PF. Play Theo at C for five minutes and let Lamar play the SF. It pains me to see Luke out there, Phil probably ain’t playin the Rook, and I’d like to keep Kobe at 33 MPG.
Darius, I didn’t see this in the links provided above, but this is an amazing look at Kobe’s 81 point game.
The reaction of his peers, coaches, and former players is what makes his performance an all-time great.
That is why kobe is the best underpaid player in the league right now. No other superstar can bring his team to the playoffs despite a subpar cast. I am glad that Mitch shifted Shaq instead of kobe that year. For the past 15 years that kobe played for the lakers only once that he missed the playoffs and in those times that he competed for the playoffs half of those reached the WCF and seven of those went to the NBA Finals. I dont knowif there is another player in the league ,past or present, that have a mindset that he has the RIGHT to play for the title every season. And that shows Kobe’s incredible desire to win.
Darius Soriano says
#28. I just saw that link today as well. Really great stuff.
dave m says
#28 – thanks so much for linking that piece. The way it’s put together with all of the players’ and coaches’ comments… it just sort of snowballs and gives a sense of the moment and the impact of Kobe’s accomplishment.
some of the comments are somewhat petty (cuban’s just doesn’t seem sincere, and carter’s, well) but even that adds to the myth and legend of that game.
he really did change after becoming 24 though. I still debate whether i miss the days where we could ‘expect’ kobe to go for 40 without guilt. as much as i like basketball, the team sport, there is a childish fascination of seeing a single player simply dominating…
btw, the link has one error, i think.
the shot clock was introduced in 1954 and wilt’s 100 point game has testimonies from players where they’ve fouled intentionally as the knicks tried to use up all of their 24 seconds before launching a shot.