14 years ago on this day, Kobe Bryant made NBA history.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ legend scored 81 points in a game against the Toronto Raptors, landing him No. 2 all-time on the single-game scoring list. Bryant put himself right behind Wilt Chamberlain, the man infamous for setting the single-game scoring record against the New York Knicks in 1962 with a whopping 100 points.
Scoring 81 points in a single game is an astonishing feat, but without Bryant’s miraculous efforts, the Lakers would have likely fallen to the Raptors. With his team down 18 points in the third quarter, Bryant took matters into his own hands and scored 27 points in that quarter, followed by 28 points in the fourth quarter. He was unguardable, making shots from seemingly anywhere on the court.
To cap off his already masterful performance, Bryant finished the game by scoring 20 points in the final six minutes of play. As he left the court, the entire Staples Center erupted into cheers of “MVP!” Though Bryant was incredible throughout the game, his second-half performance was even more so. He posted 55 points, a figure that once again put him second only to Chamberlain, who scored 59 points in the second half of his 100-point game.
Bryant was unstoppable. When asked how many different Raptors players had guarded him during the game, he responded with “All, yet none.”
Even Hall of Famer Phil Jackson, the head coach of the Lakers at the time, was blown away. Jackson, after coaching Michael Jordan throughout his entire career, maintained that Bryant’s 81-point performance was the most mystifying he had seen.
“It was another level,” Jackson said. “I’ve seen some remarkable games, but I’ve never seen one like that before.”
Bryant finished with a remarkable stat line of 81 points, six rebounds and two assists to accompany three steals and a block in 42 minutes of play. He shot 28-of-46 from the field (61 percent), went 7-for-13 from three-point land (54 percent) and 18-of-20 from the free-throw line (90 percent). Compared to Chamberlain’s 100-point game, Bryant was much more efficient. Chamberlain took 63 shots and shot 57 percent from the field. Though Bryant was never a stranger to taking his fair share of shots, one can only wonder what 18 more shots could have done to the history books.
While Bryant is known to be one of the most competitive and clutch performers in NBA history, the pressure he felt to secure a win for his team and to give his fans a jaw-dropping performance was deeper than the game of basketball. Jan. 22, 2006 was the first time that Bryant’s grandmother attended one of his NBA games and the same day as Bryant’s late grandfather’s birthday. With his grandparents in mind, Bryant put his “Mamba Mentality” on full display and posted one of the greatest performances in NBA history.