Fifty-one years ago today, Philadelphia Warriors superstar Wilt Chamberlain unleashed a scoring explosion unlike anything the NBA had ever seen—even if it came frighteningly close to going unseen at the time.
Only 4,124 people traveled to the Hershey Sports Arena in Hershey, Pa., to take in an otherwise meaningless late-season game between Chamberlain's Warriors and the New York Knicks (via Donald Hunt of ESPN.com). No television footage exists of the game, only a few photographs and a couple minutes of the radio broadcast.
The big man didn't only demoralize the Knicks defenders that night, he obliterated the record books. His 59 second-half points were (and still are) the most points ever scored in a half. His 36 made field goals and 63 field-goal attempts are both NBA records as well.
While he endured his share of struggles at the free-throw line throughout his career, something clicked that night. His 28 made free throws are tied for an NBA record, and he needed just 32 attempts to hit that mark.
Fifty-one years later, the game still holds its magical luster. Maybe even more so because of its near-mythical presence on the basketball landscape.
So in a ceremonious tone, we look back at the most spectacular scoring displays in league history. Here are the 10 best attempts at matching Chamberlain's dominance since the 1985-86 season.
*Full box scores were only available from that season, as older ones failed to record stats like minutes played, field-goal attempts, etc. So there won't be any further mention of David Thompson's 73-point game in 1978, Elgin Baylor's 71 in 1960, Pete Maravich's 68 in 1977 or any of Chamberlain's other 32 60-plus-point games.
Date: Dec. 20, 2005
Opponent: Dallas Mavericks
Stat line: 62 points (18-of-31 FG, 4-of-10 3PT, 22-of-25 FT)
The only thing stopping Kobe Bryant that night was his coach, Phil Jackson.
The Black Mamba roared out of the gate, dropping 15 points in 11 first-quarter minutes. By the end of the half, he had tallied 32 points in less than 21 minutes. He hit eight of his nine free-throw attempts and shot 11-of-18 from the field.
The Lakers carried a nine-point edge into halftime, and they blitzed the Mavericks with a 42-17 third quarter.
Bryant, perhaps sensing his night was ending, unleashed a game-ending barrage on the Mavericks. He dropped 30 in the period, earning 16 more trips to the line and hitting 14 of them.
He never got off the bench in the fourth quarter, and he still had a 62-point night.
Date: Dec. 17, 2006
Opponent: Los Angeles Lakers
Stat line: 60 points (17-of-32 FG, 5-of-12 3PT, 21-of-27 FT)
Before an outrageous lapse in judgement and knee troubles pushed Gilbert Arenas out of the league, he was one of the game's most dominant scorers.
After this game, it was a fact the Los Angeles Lakers wouldn't soon forget.
Arenas was nearly impossible to stop. When he wasn't hitting his 17 field goals or five threes, he was dishing out eight assists.
If the game didn't need an extra session, Arenas never makes it on this list. He had 44 points through three quarters, and he poured in 16 of Washington's 21 points in overtime, leaving a stunned Staples Center crowd to process what they just saw.
Date: March 6, 2000
Opponent: Los Angeles Clippers
Stat line: 61 points (24-of-35 FG, 13-of-22 FT)
It's never easy to pick a favorite birthday moment, but I'm guessing Shaquille O'Neal's got a pretty good idea of his. The 28-year-old birthday boy unleashed an assault on a defenseless Los Angeles Clippers frontcourt.
Given that his shooting range stops well below the free-throw line, it figured to be nearly impossible for him to enjoy a scoring night like this. The fact that he managed 35 field-goal attempts with Kobe Bryant playing 30 minutes in the game is nothing short of remarkable.
O'Neal could have bolstered his gargantuan effort with a better showing at the charity stripe. All things considered, though, the career 52.7 percent free-throw shooter did as well as could be expected.
O'Neal logged nearly 45 minutes in a 20-point win.
Date: Feb. 2, 2009
Opponent: New York Knicks
Stat line: 61 points (19-of-31 FG, 3-of-6 3PT, 20-of-20 FT)
Madison Square Garden has inspired some of the finest offensive showings the league has ever seen. Of course, a frontcourt of David Lee and Al Harrington on a Mike D'Antoni-coached team has been known to inspire some jump-off-the-page numbers as well.
This game was no different, as Bryant wowed the New York City crowd with a series of highlight finishes. He even found time to impress the stat heads with a blistering showing at the charity stripe.
The Lakers cruised to a 126-117 win, which incredibly featured just 34 points from L.A. players not named Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol.
Date: Jan. 16, 1993
Opponent: Orlando Magic
Stat line: 64 points (27-of-49 FG, 1-of-5 3PT, 9-of-11 FT)
Although this is one of the only entries to come in a losing effort, that doesn't lessen its impressiveness.
With just 12 combined points from the free-throw and three-point line, Michael Jordan had to grind his way to 26 two-point buckets. And that was hardly an easy feat with Shaquille O'Neal patrolling Orlando's paint.
All that meant to Jordan was that he had to be quicker in his post touches and sharper on his mid-range attempts. No one was going to keep Air Jordan from taking flight, not even Superman.
Date: March 16, 2007
Opponent: Portland Trail Blazers
Stat line: 65 points (23-of-39 FG, 8-of-12 3PT, 11-of-12 FT)
Incredible showings at the free-throw line are a part of nearly every dominant scoring performance. But perimeter displays like this one are rarely seen.
Bryant poured in the Lakers' final 15 points of regulation, including four threes over the final 3:33 of the fourth quarter. He scored nine points in overtime, including yet another long-range bomb, as the Lakers held on for a 116-111 win.
When players get this hot, defenses are forced to send a double-team. Imagine how much easier that becomes when those teammates are Kwame Brown, Smush Parker and Maurice Evans (who all played more than 38 minutes in the game).
Date: March 28, 1990
Opponent: Cleveland Cavaliers
Stat line: 69 points (23-of-37 FG, 2-of-6 3PT, 21-of-23 FT)
It's always easy to criticize a coach for riding his stars too hard, but sometimes a guy's playing so well that it's impossible to get him out of the game.
While this contest couldn't be decided in regulation (the Chicago Bulls won 117-113 in overtime), head coach Phil Jackson still couldn't find time to rest his star player, Michael Jordan. Jordan played 50 of the 53 minutes, with none of his teammates even topping the 42-minute mark.
He didn't waste his trips to the free-throw line and still found time between his 37 field-goal attempts to dish out six assists.
Date: Jan. 27, 1990
Opponent: Milwaukee Bucks
Stat line: 61 points (21-of-26 FG, 19-of-23 FT)
Karl Malone's race to 61 points was one of the most efficient shooting displays the league had ever seen.
He was too strong for Milwaukee defenders, toying with them on his back when allowed free touches. With fellow Hall of Famer John Stockton orchestrating the offense, the Bucks couldn't afford to front Malone due to Stockton's precise deliveries.
Malone scored a number of points in fast-break chances, several of which he was responsible for creating. He played just 33 minutes in Utah's 144-96 blowout win.
Date: April 24, 1994
Opponent: Los Angeles Clippers
Stat line: 71 points (26-of-41 FG, 1-of-2 3PT, 18-of-25 FT)
It was pick your poison for the Clippers on the final day of the 1993-94 regular season. David Robinson butchered L.A.'s defense with the second-best scoring performance of the past 30-plus years.
Robinson's performance wasn't far off from what you might see from current Spurs' great Tim Duncan; it's just Robinson never stopped. He had the mid-range jumper working, his post moves were solid and he seemed to get an extra bounce in his step in transition as his scoring numbers soared.
San Antonio left L.A. with a decisive 112-97 victory without getting double-digit points out of anyone other than The Admiral.
Date: Jan. 22, 2006
Opponent: Toronto Raptors
Stat line: 81 points (28-of-46 FG, 7-of-13 3PT, 18-of-20 FT)
Flanked by guys like Smush Parker, Kwame Brown, Chris Mihm, Brian Cook and Devean George, Bryant was forced to shoot his way to victory on a nightly basis. It didn't always work out well for the Lakers, but it certainly was fun to watch.
Despite getting 26 points in 18 first-half minutes from Bryant, the Lakers trailed by 14 at intermission.
Determined to not let the Staples Center faithful leave disappointed, Bryant embarked on a second-half showing for the ages. He played all but four seconds over the game's final two periods, scoring 55 points behind a ludicrous slash line of .643/.545/.929.
He poured in 28 of his team's 31 fourth-quarter points, hitting seven of the team's eight field goals and assisting on the other one.