Following Kobe Bryant’s final season has been a bit surreal. After he announced this season would be his last, he has been showered with cheers, treated to tribute videos from NBA legends, and been as well received as he ever has been. Considering this is a guy who has received “MVP” chants in opposing stadiums over the course of his career, this is saying something.
But time is getting shorter. We are now past the halfway point, the Lakers playing their 44th game on Wednesday and their 45th tonight against the Spurs. There will only be 38 more of these regular season contests (starting tonight) and a few other moments to celebrate it all before it’s over. The finality of that hasn’t yet fully sunk in, but it will. This week, for me at least, that process took another step forward.
It started with the final tally of votes for the All-Star game being released. Kobe maintained his lead as the top vote-getter, outpacing reigning league MVP Steph Curry and the always present LeBron James. Kobe has been named an all-star every season the game has occurred (curse you 1999 lockout!) since 1998. Injuries have kept him out of several contests, but this year I don’t think anything could keep him from stepping on that court one last time.
Second, though, has been the build up to today, January 22nd. Ten years ago today Kobe scored 81 points against the Raptors. It is, for many, his greatest individual performance and the feat by which he will most be remembered. That was the night where it all sort of came together — him being incredibly hot, the Lakers playing poorly enough where his scoring exploits were a needed component for the team to compete, and the Raptors being just bad enough defensively to give him the room to establish his rhythm. It all culminated with him getting to 81.
In the lead-up to today, we have gotten the best glimpse into that night to this point. First was this fantastic oral history of the game put together by ESPN’s Arash Markazi. Arash spoke to many people — broadcasters, front office members, players, and more — who were all there that night and/or involved in some way. There were so many great anecdotes revealed, but one of my favorites was the exchange between Kobe and Brian Shaw from the night Kobe outscored the Mavs 62-61 through three quarters:
A month before playing Toronto, Bryant outscored the Dallas Mavericks by himself through three quarters 62-61 (the Lakers’ lead was 95-61). Bryant played only 33 minutes that night and sat out the entire fourth quarter of the Lakers’ blowout win over the eventual Western Conference champions. When he was asked after the game how many points he would have finished with had he played the fourth quarter, Bryant shrugged his shoulders. “Probably 80,” he said. “I was in a really, really good groove.”
Brian Shaw: After the third quarter, the players were on the bench and the coaches went out and huddled on the court. Phil asked me to go ask Kobe if he wanted to stay in the game and try to get 70 and then come out. So I went up to Kobe and said, “Hey, Coach wants to know if you want to stay in for the first few minutes of the fourth quarter, get 70 and then come out.” He looked up at the scoreboard, and he said, “Nah, I’ll get it another time.” I looked at him and I kind of got mad. I said: “What?! You have a chance to get 70 points. How many people can say they scored 70 points? Just stay in the first few minutes and get another eight points, get 70 and then come out of the game.” He said: “I’ll do it when we really need it. I’ll get it when it really matters.”
Kobe Bryant: Brian was mad. He was like: “Man, are you crazy? You know what you could score tonight?” I just said, “I’ll do it when we really need it.” Brian was like, “What?!” It was something that just rolled off my tongue because I trained extremely hard and the physical tools were there. I just felt like I could have a game like that again.
The concept of “I’ll do it when we really need it” is so outlandish to me, yet, when you listen to Kobe talk about his preparation heading into that season, totally believable and understandable at the same time. Friend of the site @basquiatball recorded a bunch of games from that season and let me borrow the DVD’s (I’ll return them some day, J.D.!) and I have randomly watched multiple games from that season. Kobe really was on a level that is hard to describe. He was simply beyond what defenses what prepared for.
The second tribute I really enjoyed was the five short videos the NBA released about that night:
@NBA As 10th anniv. of #Kobe81 approaches, we look back with five-part series! Part 1: Kobe recalls pregame feeling https://t.co/bDei88rUsG
— NBA History (@NBAHistory) January 19, 2016
As 10th anniversary of #Kobe81 approaches, we look back with five-part series! Part 2: Everything flowing early! https://t.co/WtiOOChWZP
— NBA (@NBA) January 19, 2016
As 10th anniversary of #Kobe81 approaches, we look back with five-part series! Part 3: Things get interesting in 3rd https://t.co/e3dsnHx0qu
— NBA (@NBA) January 20, 2016
As 10th anniversary of #Kobe81 approaches, we look back with five-part series! Part 4: Kobe passes career-high 62! https://t.co/8ugWcmWsd1
— NBA (@NBA) January 21, 2016
On 10th anniversary of #Kobe81, we look back with five-part series! Part 5: History is made – 81 points! https://t.co/GP1utRnPPb
— NBA (@NBA) January 22, 2016
Looking back at that night combined with this week’s news of Kobe being named a starter in the ASG really has reminded me that we are getting close to the end. Ultimately, this makes me sad, but also gives me pause to remember to appreciate what Kobe has done in his career. The first to approach Wilt’s 100 and closing down his last season, the memories of what he’s accomplished really will live on forever.
Kobe outscored the eventual Finals runner up by himself just 3 weeks before and its gonna be an afterthought. That’s insane.
David Blatt has been fired and replaced by Tyronn Lue.
rr- Maybe Cleveland would be interested in B Scott? Straight swap. Plus a washing machine.
Clevland’s team is stuck together, unless of course labron leaves, again.
Clay Bertrand says
Sucks man!! There goes one of the few coaching possibilities for us that I thought was viable. The crappy Rockets will swipe another.
I fear the opening of training camp NEXT season we will see Byron Scott on the sidelines ….
Clay Bertrand says
Anon, itd have to be a REALLY SPECIAL washing machine…….
Notable career highs, steph curry 54, larry bird 60, Michael Jordan 69 in ot
Reached for comment, Kevin Love said, “I can’t really defend his firing. Or the job he did as coach. …Actually, I can’t defend anything. Please don’t ask me to.”
Clay Bertrand says
Lebron and his people had NOTHING to do with this says David Griffin. Lebron says he knew nothing about it. BUT for some reason, the CAVS, TOTALLY unbeknownst to their Superstar MVP Savior and his people, just decided ON THEIR OWN to sign Lue to a 3 year contract???!?!??!?
Yep. And we DO still have the chance to win 40 games right Mitch????
The Company Line sometimes is just insulting to anyone with a brain cell.
Lebron should just wish Blatt well and stop the Charade that he knew nothing about it. Cmon
Kobe and jordan are the only guards to have over 60 five times
Great post clay, labron had to have some say, or said something
It all goes to show you there is more to building a team than just throwing a bunch of good players together
Matt: 60 has only been done 64 times (inclusive of playoffs) and 32 of those are by Wilt (as I was saying previously – Wilt stats – are well – a little different). Kobe and MJ are the only other players of any kind to have more than 5, other than Wilt. Elgin did it 4 times. So outside of those 4 guys, it has been done only 14 times in history.
david h says
Darius: thx for putting that together for us here at forum blue and gold….10 years ago; so golden and it goes by so fast. Once upon a time, kobe use to go off against certain teams, one of them is versus the spurs tonite.
Me thinks that warrior thumping prompted the latest head coach firing……? Some organizations try to move forward; some remain the same; some remain clueless. Such is life in professional sports.
Thanks for post Darius. I am very appreciative that the FO has chosen to honor Kobe the way they did. We got to see arguably the GOAT grow up before our eyes and I feel privileged that he was a Laker his entire career, again kudos to the FO. To hear MVP chants in opposing stadiums, as you pointed out, really has been surreal and something I don’t think I’ve ever heard before for any other player. This is a unique and one-off year where a legend is leaving gracefully. Even with low numbers, Kobe is still competing and not backing down from the challenge, night in and night out. Long Live The Black Mamba!
david h says
ps: props to former laker, ty lue.
Anyone interested in Blatt for the Lakers? After all, he’s had success in leagues all over the world, and he led the Cavs to the Finals in his rookie coaching year. The guy cannot / does not suck.
Don’t quite understand the Love quote…
stats-its a joke.
Parrothead Phil says
But Nash was MVP that season….unbelievable.
lil pau says
Can someone out there help me acquire some understanding of Lue’s career?! He rode the pine for the lakers, never played basically. then, seemingly in a desperation ploy, PJ let him chase around iverson when no one else could stay in front of him. Lue ran around like crazy, kind of frustrating Iverson for a quarter or so, but it only lasted a single game iirc. then he signed a big contract with another team and basically never played. then, seemingly without warning, he showed up on Boston’s bench as an assistant and now he’s coaching Lebron. I mean, he’s not Jason Kidd- he basically had no court vision and I think he was actually more of a 2 guard than a true PG other than being a shrimp. What’s going on? Does he have a photo with someone doing something they shouldn’t have been? Really, I remember seeing him on the bench for the first time as an asst coach and asking my friend– is that Tyronn Lue and we both couldn’t believe our eyes…. now he’s got arguably the best coaching job in the league after GS. Help me!
Some people have all the luck, and some more deserving, never get a break.
Kinda makes one wonder about the meaning of it all.
MBrown had a great record too. Its amazing what coaching the best player in the game can do for your won lost record. He’s MB2. No thank you.
However, there was an apparent disconnect between Blatt and his players. Sources told ESPN’s Chris Broussard that many Cavs players, especially the veterans, felt like Blatt was in over his head as coach. They questioned whether he knew the league well enough to lead them to a championship.
Clay, the quote was that management did not discuss this issue’directly’ with any players prior to today’s firing. It’s all about plausible deniability for Lebron. The truth is this has been in the works for some time — remember Blatt was in place before Lebron’s decision to return. It was always a matter of time before he put in place a coach he wanted.
lil’ pau-Well, Riley was a bench player. Pop never played professionally. Phil was not an all-time great player. Magic was top 50 of all time, plus a living legend and sucked at coaching. So being a starter or a top guy not always an indicator of coaching talent.
Serious question. Please look at the following quote:
“Cavs players, especially the veterans, felt like Blatt was in over his head as coach. They questioned whether he knew the league well enough to lead them to a championship.”
Anyone care to elaborate on why this could be true? I wonder if the issue is not that he does not deal well with the NBA sized egos of his players.
Warriors are not the only team with a chance to win 70 games. Not that they would want to, but the Spurs are 37 – 6, with a better point differential than Golden State.
Only way the Lakers win is if Pop rests his entire starting lineup. And even with that the Spurs would make it close.
Ten years is a long time. The Sunday night that Kobe scored the 81, I went to work as usual on my regular midnight shift. I taped all Lakers’ games back then on my VCR. Remember those? Anyway, I left home at halftime to go to work. Kobe had 26 and the Lakers were down big. Later that morning I turned on the news on radio. The buzz was that Kobe had 81!! I turned down an overtime shift that morning so that I could go home and watch the tape. I was flabbergasted. 55 second half points!! The man brought the Lakers back from a huge deficit and in the process completely demoralized the entire Raptor team. For years afterwards, Mo Peterson was petrified of Kobe. You could see it in his eyes. Love him or hate him, you sure couldn’t ignore him….Kobe was just too damn good.
Clay Bertrand says
Anon, Agreed on the Cavs approach in TRYING to give Lebron James plausible deniability. Clearly that is the case. Its just such a ridiculous notion given the circumstances you just laid out to EVEN TRY to make him look as if he didn’t have anything to do with it. He and his people were not consulted on the Blatt hire because Lebron was a FA at that time and they have pressured the Cavs to hire Lue for awhile now it seems.
Here is a quote from the ESPN article,
“Although James’ fondness for Lue and his desire to be coached by a former player were well-known throughout Cleveland’s organization, James was not directly consulted Friday on the Cavs’ decision to fire Blatt, sources said.” Soooooo they didn’t DIRECTLY consult Lebron FRIDAY??? But he and his people sat down with ownership and the GM late Thursday night. LOL……… that is so THIN!!!!!!!!!! LOL.
Cmon man!!!! His fingerprints are all over this move and its not necessarily a BAD THING either!!!! Lebron is usually a pretty straight shooter on things. The public distancing himself from the decision isn’t necessary to preserve the guy’s BRAND!! It just looks completely disingenuous and self serving IMO.
But then again, in today’s media world, its likely the topic just HAD to be dealt with and they did their best. But they DIDN’t Talk to him Friday!!!! They DEFINITELY didn’t talk DIRECTLY with Lebron on FRIDAY…….so THAT’s cleared up!!! lol…..
Pressure is on Lebron and all those vets now!!! Let’s see how Lue does.
Clay Bertrand says
David Blatt was all set to be Steve Kerr’s lead assistant with the Warriors before last season when he instead accepted the Cleveland Head Coaching job. In hindsight, had he gone to the Ws, he would have a ring and would have been himself coaching the Ws ALL THIS SEASON SO FAR (instead of Luke Walton).
Instead, Blatt is at Chick-Fil-A with Mike Brown……………..
The 81 point game was what brought me to FB&G so there’s that for me. I was following the NBA from abroad and wanted to know whether it was legit and started scouring all the blogs there were and stuck with this one. Lol.
10 years ago, eh? Geez. If I recall correctly, it’s also his last season with the 8…