It’s made some things evidently clear: Phil Jackson was a wizard, Shaquille O’Neal was the most dominant force on the planet when he wanted to be, and Kobe Bryant was insanely competitive. Like insanely competitive.
When other guys went out to dinner, Kobe went to the gym. When teammates went out on the town, Kobe hit the weight room. When guys played cards on the team plane, Kobe put on headphones and read literary classics.
He was trying with all his might to emulate Michael Jordan. And that meant taking shots. And some more shots. And more shots. Most of the time at the expense of wide open teammates.
The no-days-off mindset, later rebranded as the Mamba Mentality, meant a random Sunday night game in the lull of the NBA season was the biggest game of his life.
Kobe Bryant’s 81-Point Game
The Lakers welcomed the Toronto Raptors to the Staples Center on January 22, 2006. Jalen Rose took on the task of guarding Bryant.
Bryant scored 14 in the first quarter and 12 in the second to finish the first half with 26 points. The Raptors went into the locker room with a 63-49 halftime lead behind contributions from Rose, Chris Bosh, Mike James, and Matt Bonner.
Kobe wasn’t having it.
He heated up. Draining shot after shot, he catapulted the Lakers to a 91-85 lead at the end of the third quarter behind 27 points, going 11-for-15 from the field and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc.
The fire burned at his fingertips. He was getting any shot he wanted in the second half. Dunks were the appetizer, the mid-range was the entrée, and the 3-point line was dessert.
By the time Kobe stepped to the free throw line with seconds remaining in the game and the score well in hand, the Staples Center crowd was on their feet. They had just witnessed history.
Chants of “MVP!” filled the air.
He tallied 28 points in the fourth quarter and 55 points total in the second half. He outscored the entire Raptors team by 14.
Bryant finished the game with a career-high 81 points, shooting 28-for-46 from the field, 7-for-13 from long distance, and 18-for-20 from the free-throw line.
The Lakers won 122-104. He left the court pointing one finger in the air. Kwame Brown, Lamar Odom, Smush Parker, and the rest of the LA bench congratulated their teammate.
When Kobe, his daughter Gianna, and seven others tragically died in a helicopter crash in January 2020, fans reminisced on their favorite memories of the Lakers legend.
There was his press conference announcing his intention to skip college and enter the NBA Draft. There was his conflicting relationship with Shaquille O’Neal that resulted in three NBA championships. There were two more titles. There were shots, and shots, and shots.
Contested or not, that 81-point night on a random January night was the epitome of the basketball player Kobe aspired to be.