“With the thirteenth pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, the Charlotte Hornets select Kobe Bryant from Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania”(David Stern). These words were the start of it all for Kobe, although he might as well have been drafted to the Los Angeles Lakers, because fifteen days after draft night, he ended up with the Lakers until he retired. The Charlotte Hornet’s Dave Cowens allegedly said his team had no use for Kobe, and allowed him to be traded to the Lakers. This was undoubtedly one of the biggest mistakes in NBA history, considering that Bryant went on to win five championship titles and attain the second greatest scoring performance since Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a single game.1
Kobe Bryant came into the league at 6-foot-6 and roughly 200 pounds. The scouts and analysts of the NBA concurred that even though Bryant had a great ability to score the ball offensively, he would need two to three years to gain weight, muscle, and adjust from playing high school basketball to playing with a league of talented men.2 Despite being relatively small compared to his competitors, Kobe Bryant exceeded expectations by averaging twenty or more points per game in eight out of ten seasons from his rookie season (1996-1997) to the season where he scored 81 points in a game and averaged 35.4 points per game (2005-2006).3
Scoring over twenty points in an NBA basketball game can be chalked up to luck when it happens once or twice, but to consistently do it takes strength. Kobe Bryant makes it look effortless to rack up as many points as he does. Looking at his scoring performances, such as the 81-point game compared to similar performances from history helps one understand what it takes to do what Kobe Bryant did on January 22, 2006. Going from a rookie averaging under 10 points per game to an all-star scoring 81 points in a single game does not happen without effort, passion, and determination. Leading into the game, Kobe Bryant had nothing stopping him from scoring 81 points. He had the experience, great past scoring performances, and he had enough time to do it.
Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Phoenix Suns on January 20, 2006. This was a game where Kobe had 37 points and his team still lost by 13 points, which as basketball players know is still a tough loss. Bryant (like any other player) let that game go and prepared for the next one, but he did not forget the feeling of the loss that occurred two nights before. As a leader of his team, he had to take that stinging feeling of losing into the Raptors game on January 22, 2006.4 Kobe Bryant kept his mind focused and performed his pre-game ritual, which includes arriving at the arena to the moment the ball is tipped to start the game.
In the first quarter of the game, Kobe scored 14 points from 5 field goals, missed a 3 pointer, and made 4 out of 4 free throws. These 14 points were pretty impressive, but there is much more to come with 3 quarters left in the ball game.5 At this point in the game, the Lakers were down 29-36. With Toronto ahead by 7 points, Bryant and the Lakers have more work to do. In the second quarter, the Lakers played terrible as a whole, but Kobe was pretty consistent with his first quarter numbers. Bryant added 12 points to his 14 points from the first quarter by making another 5 field goals, including 1 three pointer and 1 out of 2 free throws. At the end of the first half, Kobe and the Lakers were in trouble, being down 49-63.
The half-time of a basketball game is for teams to regroup, rest, and devise a strategy to win the game. For the winning team, which would be the Raptors, the strategy was to keep playing the way that they were playing and to sustain all of the energy and focus they had in the first half. When Lamar Odom, who was Kobe Bryant’s teammate at the time, was asked how Kobe was feeling at half time when they were down, he said “He was ticked off.” Then when Odom was asked about what Kobe said, Odom replied by saying “Nothing, that’s when it’s bad.”6 Kobe knew that he needed to step up and his teammates knew that they needed to step up also.
Coming out of the half time break, Kobe was angry and ready to put his game face on in the second half of the game. In the third quarter, Kobe Bryant was on fire and there was nothing that the Raptors could do to stop him. He scored in a plethora of ways, including layups, dunks, jump shots, free throws, and 3 point conversions. Kobe shot and made twice as many shots in the third quarter than he did in the first half. In the first two quarters he had only hit one 3 pointer. His aggressiveness and focus in the third quarter led to him being 4-4 from the 3 point line, which is not an easy thing to do. Despite hitting only one free throw, Kobe still managed to rack up 27 points, which is more points than his first half combined. Adding up his first 3 quarters, Kobe totaled 53 points with one quarter remaining.7 His offensive showcase in the third quarter also jetted the Lakers ahead of the Raptors on the scoreboard, with the score set at 91-85 in favor of the Lakers.
Although, the third quarter seemed impressive to spectators and maybe even to some of the players, it was not enough to satisfy Kobe “The Black Mamba” Bryant. Kobe led the Lakers into the fourth quarter still draining shots and padding his stats as if there wasn’t even a break in between. Kobe was so determined to win the game, that he was ready to do the seemingly impossible. Kobe later said in an interview with head coach of the Raptors Sam Mitchell, “Coach, for us to win that game, I had to get 81. It was just one of those nights. There was nothing you could do to stop me that night.” Then in reply to Kobe, Mitchell said, “Kobe, I know that. ‘Cause we tried.”8
Going into the fourth quarter with 53 points and seeming unstoppable, Kobe Bryant decided that he still had a job to do and a game to win. When someone has a night like Bryant had in scoring in the third quarter, you feed him the ball and that’s certainly what the Lakers did. Kobe knew he was on fire, the fans knew it, and everyone else watching knew it as well. Although Bryant shot a much lower percentage from the field this quarter, he made 12 points from free throws alone, shooting 12-13 from the line. One can only imagine how tense the Staples Center was. At this moment in the game, there was immense pressure upon Kobe Bryant to lead the Lakers to victory, and since he already had scored 53, he now felt the pressure from the fans to see how far he could push to break scoring records.9
All of the pressure carried on Kobe’s shoulders were taken with him as he took the floor to get the fourth and final quarter of action underway. The first few minutes of the quarter seemed as if Kobe felt the pressure that was on him. He forced a couple of bad shots and the second one resulted in him being down temporarily from a poke to the eye. Bryant didn’t start to really heat up in the fourth quarter until around the 9 minute mark, when he made a few free throws. It seemed as if all he needed that quarter was to see the ball go into the basket. After that, Kobe Bryant was unstoppable as he hit the Raptors with a combination of layups, threes, and mid range shots. With a little under five minutes to go in the game, Kobe had already managed to rack up 70 points. This is where the game really got intense, because everyone started to realize how close he was to getting 80 points and maybe more. Early in the game, fans had no idea that they would be witnessing greatness that night. As Bryant continued to pummel Toronto with one tough shot after another, the score continued to climb in favor of the Lakers. Kobe then began to seal the Raptors fate with continuous free throw shots, which inevitably led to Bryant sinking his last free throw with 43.4 seconds left in the game.10 After that final free throw, the whistle blew for Bryant to take a seat and end his night. After the game when Kobe was asked how he did it, he responded “It really hasn’t, like, set in for me. It’s about the `W,’ that’s why I turned it on. It turned into something special. To sit here and say I grasp what happened, that would be lying.”11