Putting the ball in the basket. It’s the most primitive, yet undeniably essential part of the game. Regardless of era or change, this aspect will always stand the test of time. It has been the most prevalent and ultimate standard by which to compare and rank the greatest players of all time.
It is only fitting, then, that the greatest individual scoring performance in the history of the game be considered the most unbreakable record of all-time.
Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game has frequently been referred to as the most amazing and untouchable record of all time—in any sport. Now, while this statement is probably true, is Wilt’s scoring performance the most impressive and remarkable in the history of the NBA? I’d beg to differ.
Kobe Bryant’s ridiculous 62-point game trumps Wilt’s triple digit showing for a variety of reasons relating to the two players’ extremely dissimilar situations.
Chamberlain had countless advantages during his time over his competition. All of them were heavily exploited in his 100-point game.
Chamberlain’s physical dominance over the other centers at the time has to make his achievement less significant. The three bigs who guarded Wilt on that infamous day in March 1962, were all well under seven feet and weighed significantly less than him.
Darrall Imhoff, the man deemed “the one who held Wilt to 100,” despite only playing 20 minutes, was listed at 6'10," 220 pounds and was the starting center for the Knicks that night in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Dave Budd, the backup center, was listed at a mere 6'6," 205 pounds, while Willie Naulls, was listed at 6-6, 225 pounds.
These centers were a far cry from Wilt’s 7-1, 275 pound build, which allowed him to manhandle the Knicks front line. The typical NBA center today tends to be over 6-10 and 250 pounds. This kind of size would have provided a substantial obstacle for Chamberlain.
Pick on somebody your own size, Wilt.
Kobe faced a number of Dallas Mavericks defenders when he scored 62 in Staples Center in December of ‘06, but those who guarded him were fairly matched physically, or so it seemed on paper. Josh Howard, listed at 6-7, 210 pounds, was the primary defender, although Marquis Daniels, 6-6, 200 pounds, and Adrian Griffin, 6-5, 220 pounds, took stabs at him as well.
There were two rules at this time in the game, which allowed Wilt an absolute advantage over his competition, and over Kobe Bryant.
First, there was no three-second violation during the 1962 NBA season. This provided Wilt with the opportunity to camp out in the lane and feast on offensive rebounds and lob passes.
Second, there were two free throw regulations that benefited Wilt extensively in this game:
1) After the defenses’ sixth team foul, the offensive player was given three shots to make two and two to make one.
2) The offense was given one free throw on non-shooting, defensive fouls.
The rules, complicated with Wilt’s fortuitous and uncharacteristic 28 made on 32 free throw attempts, means that Wilt would have had a hard time getting the same production today. He shot 51 percent during his career, and 61 percent that season. If Chamberlain were in today’s game, his free throw percentage and free throw opportunities would have taken a dramatic hit.
Kobe was 22 for 25 from the free throw line, and his career 83.7 percent free throws would imply that this game wasn’t an outlier or uncommon for the Black Mamba.
Wilt played a center position, which, at that point in time, was the centerpiece and focus of most offenses. Larger, atypical bigs at this time (i.e. Wilt, Russell, etc.) tended to dominant the NBA landscape because of a lack of regulations that prevented them from loitering around the hoop, as I stated previously.
Wilt’s shot attempts and points consisted primarily of one to five foot layups, dunks and shots, and an abundance of free throws.
His offensive arsenal wasn’t nearly as developed or diversified as that of Kobe Bryant, who was forced to use a multitude of moves and tactics to get off an array of 3-pointers, mid-range jumpers, and sweeping layups.
There is a lot of speculation as to the actual happenings on that fabled night in 1962 in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Some eyewitnesses and players say that the game was a mockery.
The most notable of all of these individuals was Knicks guard Richie Guerin, who said:
“That game was not played as it should have been played. The second half was a travesty. I don't care what the Philly people say, I'm convinced that during the half they decided to get Wilt 100. He took nearly every shot. In the normal flow, Wilt would have scored 80-85 points which is mind-boggling when you thing about it. I'm sorry, this may be basketball history but I always felt very bad about that game. I got so sick of it that I intentionally fouled out.”
Tom Meschery, one of Wilt’s teammates, had this to say about the event:
“We would take the ball out-of-bounds and throw high lobs directly to Wilt near the basket. When Wilt wanted the ball, he was big enough and strong enough to go get it. Guys were hanging on his back, and he was still catching the pass and scoring. I knew it was going to happen…”
The mythical tale almost seems to have been orchestrated and organized by the Sixers coaching staff and players. Several people seem to insist that the game was no longer fluid, but rather a farce.
Kobe’s 62-point performance though, was in the spirit of competition. He sought to put the game away early. The L.A. Times reported via ESPN, that Kobe was given the opportunity to re-enter the game, “if he so desired."
Kobe replied: "That's not what we play for. That's not what it's about. It's not to score 70 points. We wanted to win the game, and the game was in the bag. It was in the refrigerator."
The man was about the “W,” while the Sixers seemed to make a conscious and concerted effort to give Wilt yet another record.
Kobe managed to put up 62 points through three quarters of play, with only 33 minutes of actual floor time. Chamberlain managed to put up 69 points through three, with 36 minutes of floor time. Kobe was scoring at a rate of 1.88 points per minute, while Chamberlain was putting up about 1.92 points per minute.
At the rate Kobe was scoring, if he would have played the entire first half, as Wilt did, he probably would have had 67 points. If Kobe had replicated his roughly 1.88 points per minute for 11 minutes per quarter, without taking into consideration the extra three-minute advantage that Wilt had, he would have ended up with almost 84 points.
Now, I understand that this is all speculation, but usually when players have a hot hand like Kobe did, they tend to maintain it.
Kobe made 18 of 31 shots from the field and 22 of 25 from the free throw line, resulting in 58 and 88 percentages, respectively. Wilt shot 36 of 63 from the field and 28 of 32 from the free throw line, resulting in 57 and 87.5 percentages, respectively. Kobe scored the ball with more efficiency than Wilt, albeit by a small margin.
The fashion in which Bryant repeatedly dismantled and dominated the Mavericks D’, regardless of the primary and help defenders, was something only seen by the likes of MJ. Even Jordan though, had never done something of this magnitude in such a small amount of time.
To further acknowledge Kobe’s achievement, the man outscored the entire Mavs’ roster through 36 minutes of play, 62-61. That means that five players, each playing 36 minutes, were losing the game to a single man who played three less minutes.
I am not attempting to discredit Chamberlain’s accomplishment because he was gifted with a massive frame and blessed by a time period that suited his position and playing style.
I am, however, saying that in a discussion and comparison of extraordinary achievements, you have to consider and factor in the vast advantages which one player had over the other. The player’s achievement that was faced with more adversity and difficulty should be subsequently more heavily weighted.
Both of these are feats that have never prior been accomplished and will never be duplicated. Kobe Bryant’s accomplishment though, is the single, most impressive individual scoring performance in the storied history of the NBA.