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Kobe Bryant's 81-point performance five years ago against Toronto vivid example of how scoring helped the team

21664018Finally, there came a point when Coach Phil Jackson felt comfortable enough the Lakers would secure a victory that Kobe Bryant no longer needed to be on the court.

"Maybe I should take him out because the game is in the bag," Jackson recalled saying to Lakers assistant coach Frank Hamblen, as detailed in the updated edition of his book, "Sacred Hoops." According to Jackson, Hamblen responded this way: "There would be a riot."

That's because at that point very little of the 18,887 at Staples Center cheered because the Lakers would prevail in a 112-104 victory over Toronto after overcoming a 14-point halftime deficit exactly five years ago. No, the fans chanted "M-V-P" throughout the game and stood up for the entire fourth quarter as they witnessed Bryant scoring 81 points, marking the second-highest scoring total in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point performance with Philadelphia against the New York Knicks on March 2, 1962. It's a good thing Jackson heeded Hamblen's advice because he initially considered yanking Bryant when he had 77 points, one point behind Chamberlain's then-No.-2-all-time mark when Philadelphia visited the Lakers in a 151-147 triple-overtime loss on Dec. 8, 1961.

"I wasn't keeping track on what he had," Jackson told The Times' Mike Bresnahan regarding Bryant's mark, which also eclipsed the Lakers' franchise record -- Elgin Baylor's 71-point performance in a 123-108 victory over the Knicks on Nov. 16, 1960. 

Surely, it was a night to marvel at Bryant's seeming ability to will his team on his scoring prowess alone. The feat itself proved enough of a sight, with The Times' Mark Heisler writing that the performance epitomized Bryant's penchant for "dropping in seemingly impossible shots -- defenders all over him, not squared up, moving laterally, from way downtown, not even he can make that one, nice shot, Kobe -- one after another as if they were routine." And Bresnahan's game story certainly captured the emotions surrounding a record-breaking night. He noted public address announcer Lawrence Tanter telling fans to save their ticket stubs, quoted Lakers owner Jerry Buss describing Bryant's performance as "like watching a miracle unfold" and related the scene of teammates and staff members asking Bryant to sign the box score.

Five years later, Bryant won't wax too much sentimentality on it.

"I really don't think about it too much," The Times' Broderick Turner quoted Bryant, who also noted his grandmother attended in what was her "first and only game she's ever been to in the NBA." "I still don't know how the hell it happened. It's just one of those things, I guess."

But here's where it's not just one of those things. The performance partly contributed to an improved relationship with Jackson and perfectly juxtaposed what Bryant's facing, where he's playing both facilitator and scorer on a championship-contending roster.

"The funny thing is that this was one of the few scoring tears Kobe has gone on where I wasn't anxious about making sure he didn't make it a one-man show," Jackson wrote in the updated "Sacred Hoops."  "As a coach, you always strive for success of the team over any individual. But, on this night, it was Kobe who was responsible for the team's success. Without his heroic performance, we would have lost. His outburst came in the context of the game. I trusted him, and he trusted me. This was a moment in a relationship that has certainly endured its share of turmoil."

That included the contentious and ego-clashing dynamic shared by Shaquille O'Neal, Bryant and Jackson during the Lakers' three-peat seasons (1999-2002) and the next two, which fell short by Lakers standards (an elimination in the 2003 Western Conference semifinals to San Antonio and a five-game series loss to the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA FInals) and illustrated in Jackson's book "The Last Season," which captured the coach's feelings that swung between admiration for Bryant's competitiveness and disdain for Bryant's ego fueled higher distrust.

With Jackson returning to coach the Lakers only a season removed from his departure, however, it didn't take long for the two to foster a better relationship. Consider Bryant's revelation to ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin that Jackson asked him numerous times that season whether " I wanted to stay in," including a 62-point performance in the Lakers' 112-90 victory Dec. 20, 2005, against Dallas, four games he scored between 50-59 points and 21 contests he logged between 40-40 points.

58866852"Phil's been really cool about stuff like that," Bryant told McMenamin. Bryant's 35.4 points per game that season was the NBA's highest single-season average since Michael Jordan's 37.1 during the Chicago Bulls in 1986-87.

Surely, there were other adversities ahead, including two first-round exits to Phoenix in 2006 and 2007, his trade demands in 2007 and another NBA Finals loss in 2008. But Bryant's performance, among other things, helped paved the way for what's resulted in five NBA titles. Bryant's no longer having to carry a team. The Lakers' 107-97 victory Friday over Denver featured five players scoring at least 17 points. It's astonishing to see Bryant make 28 of 46 shots (60.9%), hit 18 of 20 free throws and drain 13 three-point attempts in a record-setting night against Toronto. It's still intriguing, however, to witness Bryant still seemingly do everything on offense, but in various capacities. His 18-point performance with seven assists and six rebounds showcased his scoring mentality (14 third-quarter points, including two consecutive baseline jumpers) an uncanny court vision (an alley-oop lob to Pau Gasol and a jump-pass to Lamar Odom) and a good dose of pure grit (diving and tipping a loose ball to the Lakers' favor).

Trust issues occasionally remain, such as the his 27 shot attempts in a double-digit loss to San Antonio last month and his six of 24 clip in Game 7 of the NBA Finals against Boston. His changed game also points to his increased awareness on maintaining health and longevity on a taxing body. But it also speaks to how he's thrived and excelled in complementing and elevating the increased talent around him. 

"We are going from the bottom to the top all together, so it's important for us to enjoy the journey, and that is what we are doing right now," Bryant said to reporters after his record-setting performance. "We are on a journey, and to put on a show like this for the fans here in L.A. is truly something special."

As Jackson remarked in his book and Bryant later found out, that was just the beginning to a storied second chapter.

-- Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Photos: Kobe Bryant on the way to an 81-point performance against the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center on Jan. 22, 2006, the second-highest single-game scoring total in NBA history. Credits: Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times

Video: YouTube

Comments () | Archives (40)

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Great game...I don't ever see it happening AGAIN. Maybe the KING can surpass it...nah!!! you would have to be a BALL HOG.

The king surpass it? I didn't know Elvis could play basketball.

G. Money
As I recall from that game, the other players were feeding Kobe throughout that game. Kobe got the record because the TEAM made it happen.


Better to be a ballhog with 5 NBA Championships than a King with ZERO.

G. Money
As I recall from that game, the other players were feeding Kobe throughout that game. Kobe got the record because the TEAM made it happen.

Posted by: Jolly Rancher | January 22, 2011 at 08:42 AM

Dude...I saw the game, If any other would have player shot the ball,
he would found his @ss on the PINE.

My bad...If any other player would have shot the ball....

81 point games/ballhogging/1 MVP/5 rings/2 Finals MVP > A self proclaimed title, 2 MVP's and...and...well...a bunch of TV commericals and the worst Infomercial in sports history.

I really enjoyed that 2006 season. It wasn't a championship season, but to watch Kobe fully unleashed was incredible and something I'll always appreciate having a chance to witness.

@MM - Good point about Kobe's uncanny court vision. That is something he doesn't get nearly enough credit for.

81 point games/ballhogging/1 MVP/5 rings/2 Finals MVP > A self proclaimed title, 2 MVP's and...and...well...a bunch of TV commericals and the worst Infomercial in sports history.

Posted by: utzworld THE BOOT LICKING BANNER FOLDING FAKE PASTOR & Proud Member of THE LAKERS BLOG 27 | January 22, 2011 at 09:03 AM

Dude...and you forgot!!! Photo-OPT, picture#4. Rupaul's little brother.

utz...Dude it's been fun, go to GO. PEACE

27 for RCOD absolutely.

Happy Birthday to Steve Perry, one of rock’s best voices. This one is for those who think they’re taking down the Lakers.

Foolish Heart

It’s also the birth date of the man who influenced Steve Perry the most….and one of my all-time favorites. Laker victories are always Good Times.

Let the Good Times Roll

Both artists

I repeat 27 for RCOD.

I wanna be in the 27 list. Can I, can I?

Jolly Rancher,

you wrote: As I recall from that game, the other players were feeding Kobe throughout that game. Kobe got the record because the TEAM made it happen.


my response: I missed the original game, but caught it on google/you tube.
At first, I thought ... "Oh, crap. All of those people were right about Kobe!"
Then I watched the game.

*You* are mistaken. Kobe had 27 in the first half and we were down by
double digits. Lamar was the king of dimes w/ a whopping 7. Our bench
contributed with a ginormous 5 pts & 2 assists.

Should you go back and check, I think you'll find Kobe literally took the ball
out of people's hands. W/ Phil's blessing.

@27 you're delusional, drugs fry the brain.

Magic Phil how could the creator of the RC Chat not be on the 27 list?

For me there were several impressive things about the 81 point game:

1. Lakers were down by 14 points at the half and won by 18.
2. His stat line was 81 Pts, 6 Reb, 2 Ast, 3 Stl, 1 Blk
3. The other players shot 33%-14/42 and Kobe shot 61%-28/46
4. He played 42 minutes which means he actually played about 2 hours and 12 minutes in a game that lasted 2 hours and 22 minutes. The physical stamina required to play at that level for that length of time was extraordinary. If anyone has ever played basketball it is physically taxing to shoot jumpers for an hour straight forget about running up and down the court. What Kobe did was absolutely phenomenal from a physical standpoint.
5. It was sports at its best! A once in a life time performance by a great athlete!

Forgotten piece of history: Smush Parker was the second leading scorer for the Lakers that night.


Now, what's the 27 list? Sorry, I missed the blog for a few days...

And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth on that 17th Ring day in June as the multitudes were allowed to leaf thru the Holy Book of 27 and found not their names. Woe unto you disbelievers, it would be easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for you to become one of the 27. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and yet loses his chance to be on the list of 27.

SIAP...but here's a good interview with Kobe's talking about the challenge of getting to the finals 4 straight years, Bynum and more....

Hmmm....when Jerry West speak we listen. Here's his thoughts on the Lakers.

Hmmm....when Jerry West speak we listen. Here's his thoughts on the Lakers.

Posted by: LRob | January 22, 2011 at 11:18 AM
great link, LRob. thx


Ex-Laker Sasha in two places at once.

Yahoo shows Nets team photo in Russia, they photoshopped Sasha's head onto Terrence Williams body (who is no longer with the team) because they wanted a complete team pic as the team is now. But when the pic was taken Sasha was in Spain with the Lakers.

Geepers, if he had committed any crimes while in Spain while there, looks like he's got a good alibi now. The photo even has the date on it, 10/10/10.

Hello Nation...Very good win last night...

When we play our game, we are very hard to beat. Last night's effort showed us when we use our advantage of our length, other teams simply can't match up.

We have another half of the season to fine tune this race car...Come playoff time, if 100% healthy, and with PJ having the engine firing at all cylinders, there is not team in the Association, that can beat our Lakers in a 7 game series...

Fan of the Mamba...

Great post!!

a couple of significant DNP coaches decision
Andrew Bynum and Von Wafer (just kidding)

the second and third best offensive players that night were
Smush Parker and Chris Mihm

Lamar was 1-7 from the field but did grab 10 rebounds as did Kwame

A tribute to Kobe that season just to be competitive, what a horrible team

Chris Mihm - out of the league
Smush Parker - out of the league
Devin George - out of league
Devin Green - out of league

Von Wafer - 2.7 pts for Celtics
Kwame Brown - averaging 6 pts 6 reb for Charlotte
Brian Cook - 6 pts for Clippers
Sasha - enjoying moderate success for NJ

Still with team-
Bynum but you forgot to put the stats for the 3 active Lakers

Lamar-best steady season so far,6man,mip,allstar??
Luke-shoulda been ool(outta of leagues)??phil's son,cough cough(boy toy)..
Bynum-steadily improving(thus far),but also(steadily injured)thus far tbd.....

don't hate me gvuys not my list just trying a

@LRob....Thx for the links

I can see where Jerry West is coming from, but I draw the line with his prediction of a Celtic C'ship this year. Perhaps he's having a flashback to his Finals experiences against Boston! I kid, I kid!

Seriously, good things don't last forever. The landscape of the NBA is ever-shifting and evolving. The Lakers have to plan for the future while trying to maintain excellence in the present. Not an easy thing to do. But the best org. in the NBA has done it before.

Two young shooting guards the Lakers should keep an eye on are Nick Young of the Wizards and rookie Wesley Johnson of the T'Wolves. Either would look good in Purple and Gold down the road.

So, when we contract the league, one of the teams out will be the Celtics, right?

What do we play for? RINGS!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.


I remember this game well.

I find it slightly humorous that trolls begin ripping on Kobe for what really was a superhuman feat. He BEGAN scoring like that because the team needed his scoring... and then things took on a life of its own.

If Michael Jordan would have done the same thing, these same complaining toolbags would be licking their Air Jordans and moaning.

What do we play for? RINGS!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.


I had to work that Sunday night when Kobe dropped his 81, so I only got to watch the first half of the game. I knew, however that Kobe was in for a big number that night. He had scored 26 by halftime, and had been putting up big scoring totals all season. When I turned on the news later at work, the lead story in sports was Kobe's 81. I was stunned. I had figure he would score between 50 and 60 points, but 81? Unreal! I had recorded the game and couldn't wait to get home and watch it.

Kobe was simply amazing that year. It was an injustice to him that he didn't win MVP that year. He was unstoppable and was clearly the League's best player. AND...he was carrying out the game plan set forth by his coach, the Zen master himself. People who call Kobe a ballhog need to remember that. NBA politics and the bogus argument that Kobe "didn't make his teammates better" denied him that MVP. Take Kobe off of that team, and they would have been lucky to win ten games, triangle or no triangle. PJ or no PJ. Kobe carried that motley crew of a team to 45 regular season wins. A great accomplishment that went largely underappreciated.


you're so right KB24 was definately robbed of the mvp that year,It seems like the criteria changes every year. I wonder how it will change this year??


OK, I'm mistaken, G. Money is absolutely right. Kobe got every rebound, took the ball up the floor and shot every shot in the second half. See, I'm easy.


ahhh who cares if he get 81 points his time is limited.. that was then here is now, yes might be the King no ring now but Kobe made his 3 rings before the king arrived then jus got another two wiht the help of 2 or I should say 3 big man (center).don't forget the king will go on but Kobe will be over and then theres a start begin in that chapter.. so either way the Laker pay the price vividly for a ball hocker until he sees his not going to win it by himself and what a change..

What the f*** are u talking about? its a team game. your so called "king" james couldnt do it with shaq. your so called "king" james had to join wade and bosh in the quest for a ring. kobe has 5 rings, pau gasol 2, bynum 2, etc etc. James has 2 mvp titles woopdi freakin doo. Its a team game, u need the right tools in order to be victorious. Kobe knows what he needs to be a champ. Call him a ball "hocker" or whatever u want, but he has achieved much more than James, and most

thats what ur going with? really? alright good luck with that buddy. after the games we will c. and here is that thing u missed when u were out the prof. says its some new sports drudge thing. ok ill tty after all the games..

great post back at ya!

I always keep this 81 point game and the last championship game 7 on my TIVO to watch the next day after a particularly bad performance by the Lake Show. Been doing that for years, with different playoff games, but always the 81 since it occurred.

Brought tears to my eyes to watch it live (well, live on TV with Stu all choked up).

a few little errors and typos here and there... just to point them out:

- Staples Center capacity crowd is 18.997, not 18,887.
- He didn't drain 13 3-pt attempts, he made 7 of 13.
- The final score of this game was 122-104, not 112-104.
- "...and 21 contests he logged between 40-40 points." Did you mean 40-49? :]

but other than that, awesome article. I remember watching this on TV when I was running a high fever feeling completely out of whack when this happened. Definitely made my day! Thank you Jerry West for bringing this guy into LA!



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