In his 20 years in the NBA, Kobe Bryant won five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. His ability to score frequently and easily gave his team a huge advantage. One stellar game in particular demonstrated his skills. On January 22, 2006, Bryant set his career record for mopoints scored in one game.
Bryant’s 81-point game
On a Sunday when most sports fans focused on the NFL conference championships, the Lakers played the Toronto Raptors. The Lakers were down by 18 points entering the third quarter. However, Bryant scored 55 points in the second half, bringing his game total to 81 points and leading the Lakers to a 122–104 win.
In this showing, Bryant scored the second-most single-game points behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points in 1962. The Lakers legend made 28 of 46 shots from the field, with seven of 13 made from the three-point line. In addition, he also made 18 of his 20 free throws.
Bryant told ESPN the success felt natural: “Those same shots I took during the game are the same shots I took during practice every single day … I’ve made them a thousand times a day. It wasn’t something where I was like, ‘This is otherworldly.’ No, this is what I’m supposed to do.”
Bryant’s playing style
Phil Jackson, Bryant’s coach with the Lakers, described him as having an “irrepressible fire.” There’s evidence of this drive in the number of points he scored. Bryant wasn’t afraid to dream big, perhaps bigger than all other NBA players at the time.
He told ESPN, “There’s a lot of players who come up now who don’t think 80 points is possible. You think 50, and if you’re really hot — 60. I never had that limit … I think that game is a testament to what happens when you put no ceiling to what you’re capable of doing.”
Bryant’s style of play has often been compared to Michael Jordan. Jackson, also Jordan’s coach, discussed the two in his 2013 book Eleven Rings and in a keynote speech at a tech conference in 2018. He described Jordan as more coachable, a tougher defender, and more of a leader.
Bryant, who started in the NBA right out of high school, took longer to develop as a leader and become close with his teammates. Both players, however, were known for their competitiveness and their abilities to score high numbers of points.
In 2015, Bryant discussed his own playing style with ESPN: “Just very aggressive and very combative and confrontational and cutthroat. And I took a lot of pride in competing that way. Now, it’s different. I just sit back a little bit more and I take what comes.”
Bryant as a record-setting scorer
Bryant’s ball-handling skills are reflected in the awards he received and the records he set during his lengthy career. The game against the Raptors was part of a top-scoring period for him.
The Philadelphia native led the NBA in scoring for both the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons. Behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone, Bryant is third for all-time regular-season scoring. In his career, in addition to his 81-point game, he also had six 60-point games (including his last career game), 26 50-point games, and 134 40-point games.