Anticipation is at a fevered pitch with Kobe Bryant’s return to NBA action mere hours away. Also approaching on a collision course with destiny are the Toronto Raptors, and does anyone remember the last really big game Bryant had against them?
Nope, it goes all the way back to January 22, 2006, when Kobe scored 81 points in a 122-104 win.
Bryant was 27 years old at the time, at his absolute prime. It wasn’t exactly the team’s apex, however—Smush Parker was the starting point guard, and Kwame Brown was anchoring the post. Devean George and Devin Green were also in the house. Rookie Andrew Bynum, all of 18, was a DNP. Perhaps Bryant felt he needed to carry a struggling team on his back. Maybe he simply went off.
Whatever fueled Bryant’s outburst that January night may never be known, but we do have ample evidence of one of the most dazzling performances ever in the game of roundball.
Bryant took 46 shots in 42 minutes. He made 28 of them, including 7-of-13 from beyond the arc. He also made 18-of-20 free throws and chipped in six boards, three steals and a block. Bryant even had a couple dimes, which seems fairly incongruous for someone who’s just scored 81 points.
It was the second-highest performance in NBA history, bettered only by Wilt the Stilt Chamberlain’s 100 points against the New York Knicks in 1962.
Will there ever be another 81-point game in the NBA? It’s doubtful. The stars lined up perfectly that night, and Kobe went supernova.
Sunday night, December 8, 2013 will have its own special significance for Lakers fans. It’s the night that one of the true legends of the game comes back from one the most brutal injuries that an athlete can suffer. Bryant will step out onto the floor, and the noise will be every bit as loud as that January night at Staples in 2006. The lights will burn hot and cameras will roll, and Bryant will be back in his element once again.
Beware Toronto Raptors. Anything is possible.