We continue our “23 days of Toronto Raptors history” with Kobe Bryant‘s unbelievable 81-point performance. The Raptors (unfortunately) became fodder to an iconic moment in the “Black Mamba’s” legacy.
Every NBA fan remembers where they were and what they were doing on the eve of January 22, 2006: standing in awe in front of a television and watching Kobe Bryant score an insane amount of points on the hapless Toronto Raptors.
When Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in 1962, it was considered one of the most unbreakable records in sports history. But for one night, Kobe had the whole world believing he might just do it.
It was the 41st game of the season. The Raptors were in Tinseltown with a 14-26 record and were one of the league’s worst teams.
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It had been just over a year since Vince Carter was traded. This was supposed to be an easy win for the Lakers, despite their middling record.
But at the half, the Raptors led the Lakers 63-49.
Kobe had 26 points and was the only player keeping the Lakers in the game. This wasn’t surprising as this Lakers team was one of the worst during the Kobe era. Outside Lamar Odom, no other Laker was worth a damn.
Lakers fans were embarrassed, but Raptors fans knew better than to hope for a victory. After all, Toronto started the season with a 1-15 record in November. It was only a matter of time before the Raptors would blow the lead.
And that’s exactly what happened. Except, nobody predicted how the Lakers, er, Kobe would do it.
“Kobe never bumped his chest. He never pointed in the crowd. He never trash-talked. If Kobe had behaved like that, he wouldn’t have got to 51, let alone 81, because we would have wanted to physically harm him on the court.” – Jalen Rose
Right out of the gate, Raptors point guard Mike James would bury a three and increase Toronto’s lead by 17. After three minutes in the third, Toronto would earn their biggest lead with the score at 71-53.
Then Kobe caught fire.
Already with 30 points, Kobe would bury his next TEN field goal attempts including four three-pointers as the Lakers went on a 38-14 run to complete the third. They now led Toronto 91-85.
Kobe now had 53 points. But he was just getting warmed up.
With the Raptors still struggling to score, Kobe would keep shooting undeterred.
With six minutes remaining, Kobe would head to the line and eclipsed his career-high of 62 to push the Lakers further now leading 105-94.
Two three-pointers later and Kobe had 70 becoming only the fifth player to hit this scoring mark.
Jalen Rose and the rest of the team would have no answers for the Black Mamba, as he went on to score 28 of the Lakers’ 31 points in the fourth as Los Angeles blew Toronto out 122-104.
He sank his 17th and 18th free throw with 43 seconds remaining to record the highest-scoring single game in 44 years, 81 points.
His work fulfilled, Kobe exited the game to a thunderous standing ovation. Even if the Raptors were on the wrong side of this legendary performance, fans of either team would look back at this game as one of the NBA’s greatest moments.
Check out day 16 of our “23 days of Raptors history” when we recall how we still “can’t believe what we saw” with Morris Peterson’s game-tying three.