Lots of history swirling around Kobe Bryant as his Lakers head into Philadelphia on Monday night to take on the 76ers. The game is in Bryant's initial adopted American hometown, where he went to high school at Lower Merion High. Philly was also home to Wilt Chamberlain, as we set to take in the 50th anniversary of Wilt's 100-point game that he performed as a Philadelphia Warrior in March of 1962. Topping that, Kobe (whose 81 points in a game from six years ago is second all time to Wilt's 100) needs 24 points to pass former teammate Shaquille O'Neal for fifth place on the NBA's all-time scoring list. No. 4 on the list is, you guessed it, Wilt.
Lots of numbers. ESPN's Dave McMenamin asked Kobe about two of the more startling ones: "100," and "81."
While it took more than 40 years for another player to score 80 points or more after Chamberlain scored 100, Bryant said his and Chamberlain's scoring totals are achievable. "I believe so," Bryant said when asked if any player would ever join him and Chamberlain with a matching single-game scoring outburst. "One day it will happen."
Mmm, nope. Nope, Kobe. Nope.
Not only "nope," but can we please go back and look at just how remarkable one of those numbers was? Not the 100, sorry Wilt, but Kobe's 81. We've said it many times here at Ball Don't Lie: Kobe Bryant's 81-point night against the Toronto Raptors six years ago was more impressive than the night Wilt Chamberlain scored 19 more points against the New York Knicks.
We know. "Eighty-one ain't 100." But the Raptors, crummy though they may have been on defense, weren't missing their starting shooting guard. The Knicks were without their starting center, against Wilt. The Lakers didn't foul the Raptors, in a blowout, to get the ball back to Kobe time and time again so that he could put up more and more shots on his way towards his point total. That's what the Warriors did, in a game that already featured way more possessions (and, thus, more chances for Wilt to score) than the Lakers and Raptors worked with.
The Warriors, by the second quarter, were determined to help Wilt hit a 100 in what was a blowout game throughout. Kobe may have tossed in a couple of game-capping jumpers with the lead well at hand in his explosion from six years ago, but his points were needed. His points were more impressive. His points came with the aid of a 3-point line that, lest you forget, is from 25-feet away and a whole lot harder to hit from than a spot right in front of the basket with a guy six inches smaller than you attempting to block your dunk.
Respect the heck out of Wilt's night, please. Then read this fantastic book on the occasion from Gary Pomerantz while you're at it, assuming you haven't already.
But appreciate Kobe's more because, Jalen Rose jokes aside, it was tougher.
And it's going to take a pretty special player, with a pretty white-hot touch from everywhere on the court, to come close to 81 points in the NBA's lifetime.