Friday marks the 10-year anniversary of Kobe Bryant’s historic 81 point game.
I wasn’t present at the Staples Center that night but I was in California, working as a weekend sports anchor in Palm Springs. It was my first job out of school and I had a problem.
See in television, you are taught more often than not to lead with what’s local. And what was local that night was the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. The five day event had concluded that night and we were all set to lead with the final round coverage.
Then Kobe went crazy. I'm talking 81 points crazy.
I remember having the game on from the second quarter on and not really paying too much attention. Kobe had 26 at the half, which was impressive but honestly it was par for the course that year with the Lakers.Everyone remembers the Lakers won 5 titles from 2000-2010. What they don’t remember is how bad things got after Shaq left town two seasons after their third title. Basically, Kobe decided it was either him or me and the Lakers ended up with Kobe, dumping Shaq and Phil in the process.
What followed in 2005 was some really bad basketball and it continued even when Phil Jackson returned after a one year absence. I covered the opener that season and looking back, the Lakers roster was a who’s who of guys you probably won’t remember. Brian Cook, Von Wafer, and Ronny Turiaf. The Lakers had Phil, Kobe, Lamar, and a bunch of guys that weren’t really good. Phil always promoted team basketball but that season, team basketball meant giving it to Kobe and getting out of his way.
That night, the game plan worked to perfection and suddenly this meaningless NBA regular season game was my only concern. Kobe took advantage of an even weaker Raptor team and scored 55 in the second half. As poorly as the Raptors defense and their strategy were, 81 is still pretty darn special.
That night, I had to stand face to face with a harsh reality: Kobe might even be better than Michael Jordan. As Kobe kept pouring on the points, I kept hoping he wouldn’t reach 69 (MJ’s career high), let alone crush it by 12 points.
Looking back now, no Kobe wasn’t better than Jordan but I do think he was a better shooter over a longer period than Jordan was. Kobe also utilized the three point shot more than Jordan which I think fuels that point.
I ended up putting Kobe’s epic night second in my show order which is crazy because for the life of me, I can’t even recall who won that year's Bob Hope. (It was Chad Campbell. And by the way, Tiger didn’t play in the event.) Ten years later it’s a regret because while I certainly don't remember anything that happened at that tournament, I will never forget what Kobe did that night.