Ten years and six days ago this month, Perennial All-Star and five-time NBA champion of the Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant had one of the greatest scoring nights in the modern era of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Literally with the stroke of his right hand willed the Lakers to victory versus the Toronto Raptors. At the same time, he left an unforgettable impression on not just fans in Staples Center that Sunday night of Jan. 22, 2006, but on a future Lakers draft pick; four Laker employees that still work for the organization; the public address announcer for Staples Center; a play-by-play commentator doing his first Lakers broadcast alongside longtime color analyst; a Hall of Fame head coach and this blogger.
On the aforementioned date of Jan. 22, 2006, future first ballot Hall of Fame guard of the Lakers Kobe Bryant, a.m. “The Black Mamba” had the second highest individual scoring performance in NBA history when he had 81 points going 28 for 46 from the field, including 7 for 13 from three-point range and 18 for 20 from the free throw line in 41 minutes and 56 seconds of playing time in leading the Lakers to a come from behind 122-104 win versus the Toronto Raptors.
The highest scoring game in the history of the NBA was done by the late Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlin, who scored 100 points back on Mar. 2, 1962 in leading the Philadelphia Warriors to a 169-147 victory versus the New York Knicks at the Hershey Sports Arena in Hershey, PA.
To put the once in a generation performance on that Sunday night a decade ago into perspective, Bryant has topped the 60-point mark or more five times in his career, which is second in league history to Chamberlin’s 32 times. There have been over 1,300 instances that an NBA team scored less than 81 points in a single game. At the time of this occurrence, the other four starters for the 65th NBA All-Star Game that will be taking place in Toronto next month, which were announced during NBA on TNT pregame show a week ago in Kevin Durant and Russell of the Oklahoma City Thunder); reigning league MVP Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors and 2014 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs all were in high school.
“It means a lot to me. To be back here, it’s strange because it seems like it was yesterday,” Bryant said this past Friday night to Time Warner Cable Sportsnet sideline reporter for the Lakers Mike Trudell before the Lakers hosted the Spurs. “Ten years went by in a hurry.”
The two men that were very lucky to call that historic performance were then Fox Sports West’s Bill Macdonald, who was calling his first Laker game ever alongside longtime Lakers’ color analyst Stu Lantz. Macdonald was filling in for the play-by-play commentator Joel Meyers, who on assignment elsewhere on that day.
Lantz said of the historic performance by Bryant that he was “sitting at the Staples Center watching a video game.” “It was the most special game that I’ve called that wasn’t a championship.”
This dream night though did not get off to a great start as the Raptors lead by the likes of perennial All-Star Chris Bosh, swingman Jalen Rose, guard Mike James, sharp shooting forward Matt Bonner and rookie reserve forward out of the University of Connecticut Charlie Villanueva were shooting the lights out and were killing the Lakers and were leading 63-49 at the break.
“The night was kind of funny because it was just a normal Sunday game. The first half was pretty standard,” then Laker cheerleader Jessica Elliott said.
“There was sort of a lethargy in the arena from Kobe’s teammates,” then Orange County Register beat writer for the Lakers from 1999-2013 Kevin Ding said. “The feeling was well this maybe one of those nights where the Lakers just kind of mail it in and they don’t have their best effort.”
The outlook was so gloom and doom that Lakers’ beat writer for the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan had already began writing his story on the game that the Raptors were going to win.
Then the second half came around and Bryant, who had 26 of the Lakers 49 first half points had a look in his eyes according to Alison Bogli, who was observing the game from the scorer’s table that this game was not going to slip away.
He came out guns blazing in the third quarter scoring 27 of the Lakers 42 points in the third quarter as the Lakers outscored their visitors from over the Canadian border 42-22 in the period.
In the words of longtime Lakers’ trainer, who along with Bryant will be retiring at the end of this season, “He got rolling? You were like, ‘Okay. We’re going for a ride tonight.’ ”
Staples Center Music Director Dieter Ruehle concurred when he said of the moment, “Kobe was really like hitting most of the shots.”
Bryant was on such a role that one of the Lakers’ camera operators Rusty Breslow got on the phone of one of the Lakers regular camera people who was not at Staples Center on that night and said that “Kobe might score 60 points tonight.”
“As a Laker girl sitting on the court, whenever a Laker scores we stand up and we cheer. As his point total just kept growing and growing, we were standing more and more,” Elliott said of Bryant’s scoring tear.
Bryant’s kept the pedal to the medal in the fourth and final stanza as he saved his best for last as he scored 28 of the Lakers’ 31 points in the period.
While he was in that unbelievable scoring zone that only the best of the best seem to get to, Bryant felt the energy of all those in attendance at Staples. The crescendo of cheers of shock that they could not believe what they were witnessing.
Then assistant equipment manager and now the head equipment manager Carlos Maples was so into the game, his reaction to what was occurring at that moment was, “Wow. He gets 70, I’m just going lose my mind.”
He did not get 70, Bryant got 72 points when he connected on a 14-foot jumper that made the score 113-96 and surpassed Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor for the most points scored by a Laker in a single game. The previous mark held by Baylor was 71. Chamberlin was third with a 66-point performance.
Bryant was on such a role that Staples Center public address announcer Lawrence Tanter, who has been calling Lakers games since the 1981-82 season when they were playing at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, CA that the scorer’s table and the stats crew upstairs had a devil of a time keeping up with what scoring record Bryant was shattering or shattered next.
“We kept interacting with the stats crew upstairs like what record is he’s approaching now,” Tanter said.
As Bryant was scoring the last of his 81 points from the charity stripe, nearly everyone was on their feet in the arena, even Lantz, who said that it was his instincts that made him rise out of his seat and acknowledge Bryant’s out of this world performance. In the words of Macdonald at that moment, “This entire crowd on its feet. Including my partner.”
“I had to get up and stand and give the ovation that the rest of Staples Center was giving him. It was really something special,” he said. “He’s always doing something that not only amazes me, but everybody.”
The only that would put the cork on the bottle of this great evening was the final salute, something that Fox Sports West Television Director Jerry Weinstein was rooting for.
He got it at the 04.2 mark of the fourth quarter as Bryant exited to a thunderous ovation and hugs and congratulations from his teammates and then Head Coach Phil Jackson, who also saw the great Michael Jordan have a night to remember when he scored 69 points at the Cleveland Cavaliers back in 1990.
As Bryant made his exit, Tanter announced to the audience that Bryant had scored the 2nd most points in a game in NBA history, something that he never has done.”
“I mentioned that he scored 81 points. I’ve never done that before and why I did it? I don’t know. History,” Tanter said.
Macdonald during Bryant’s exit crystalized the performance for those watching on TV by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen you have witnessed the second greatest scoring performance in NBA history.”
For me, this moment made me take notice of the eventual five-time NBA champion; the 2007-08 regular season MVP; 18-time All-Star and the closest thing to Michael Jordan. On the conclusion of this contest, I can finally say in my 23 years of following the National Basketball Association as a huge fan, I can say who my favorite player is and his name is Kobe Bryant, “The Black Mamba.”
“For me to put on such a great performance at that time, it was fun for me,” Bryant said on the Week 19 edition of “Backstage: Lakers.”
This was not only the highest scoring night of the modern era in the NBA, it was a night where Bryant showed his sheer will and never surrender attitude that has been the hallmark of his career and he left an amazing impression on all of those in attendance at 1111 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90015.
Elliott, who is now the Game Entertainment Manager for the Lakers said, “I feel extremely lucky to have been sitting courtside for one of the greatest games in NBA history.”
Ruehle said, “I’m fortunate to have witnessed that out there.”
“The very next year, I got drafted by the Lakers and I told him the story,” Jordan Farmar, who was selected by the Lakers in the 2006 NBA draft after his sophomore season with the UCLA Bruins said of that experience. “I was just a fan enjoying the game.”
Macdonald became the full-time play-by-play commentator for the Lakers five seasons ago and he and Lantz have been calling Lakers games for now Time Warner Cable SportsNet.
Ding now covers the NBA for Bleacher Report, which is based out in Los Angeles and Bresnahan is still the Lakers beat writer for the L.A. Times and also can be seen on “Lakeshow,” with Dave Miller, Trudell, Kelli Tennant and Jamie Maggio.
On the Anniversary of Bryant’s 81-point performance, he managed to score just five points going an abysmal 2 for 9 from the field, including 1 for 4 from three-point range with six assists, just two rebounds and three turnovers in 27 minutes as the Spurs (39-7) beat the Lakers (9-38) at Staples 108-95 extending their then winning streak to 13.
While the fans witnessed another Lakers defeat this past Friday night, they did walk out of the arena with a serious memento as their ticket stubs carried a photograph of Bryant from that aforementioned Sunday night 10 years ago as well as those lucky fans that bought commemorative T-Shirts from that night.
“It’s wonderful to see him 10 years later. See him still be able to go out there and play,” Bogli said. “Just seeing someone go down in history as one of the greatest players ever.”
Information, statistics and quotations are courtesy of the 1/22/16 10:30 p.m. ESPN news crawl during their NBA telecast of the Indiana Pacers at Golden State Warriors with Mark Jones and Jon Barry; 1/27/16 8 p.m. edition of “Backstage: Lakers” Week 19 on Time Warner Cable Sportsnet; www.basketball-reference.com/boxscores/pbp/20060122LAL.html; http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilt_Chamberlin%27s_100-point_game; http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Macdonald; www.imdb.com/title/tt3529988/fullcredits/; www.espn.go.com/nba/team/schedule/_/lal.