It has been one week since Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven of their friends, died in a helicopter crash. It is a tragedy that has shaped the beginning of this year, and decade, in a way none of us could have anticipated.
The past seven days have brought forth vulnerability, honesty, and wonderful tributes by people all over the world, especially those in the basketball community.
One of the many highlights of Kobe Bryant’s career was when he scored 81 points in a game against the Toronto Raptors, on January 22, 2006.
I would’ve been 14-years-old, at the time. It was a Sunday night game, that started at 9:30PM ET. I was someone who was in bed by 10PM or 10:30PM back then, so I’m assuming I watched a bit of the first half on TV, before listening to the rest of the game on the radio, because that’s what I would do.
A few days ago, that game was replayed on Sportsnet, here in Canada. I decided to watch it and make note of things that stood out.
Let me just say, you don’t realize how much the world has changed in 14 years, until you go back and watch footage from 2006. Trust me, it’s like a portal into a different world.
Here are my observations:
Toronto Raptors @ Los Angeles Lakers – January 22, 2006 (Lakers Broadcast)
1. The Lakers starting line-up consisted of: Smush Parker, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Kwame Brown, and Chris Mihm. Kobe averaged 35.4 points-per-game that season because no one else on his team could score (except Lamar Odom).
So, if ever there was a year for Kobe to score 81 points, this was it.
2. The Raptors starting line-up consisted of: Mike James, Jalen Rose, Morris Peterson, Matt Bonner, and Chris Bosh.
Oh, the memories. To be honest, this starting five was ahead of their time in that they could all shoot the three. But it’s 2006, so shooting the three a million time per game is not a generally accepted strategy.
3. At the beginning of the game, the commentators mentioned that Morris Peterson normally guards the opposition’s best player. In this case, Kobe Bryant.
They threw Peterson under the bus before anyone even got on the bus, and they didn’t even know it! But it’s fine, a bunch of players “guarded” Kobe that night, not just him.
4. Their jerseys are so baggy! You don’t realize how ridiculous a trend that was until after the fact. That being said, it’s a trend that will probably come back in style in 2035, for no other reason than fashion is cyclical.
5. The Lakers are wearing white jerseys at home and it just feels so wrong. For the longest time, they always wore gold at home. Then they introduced a white jersey and it never felt right.
6. Chris Mihm was a good player 2006.
7. A Laker player took a wide open shot while standing one foot inside the three-point line. It went in. Everyone applauded. He was proud of himself. If he were to do that in the current NBA, he’d probably get yelled at.
As a kid, I often wondered why players didn’t back up an extra step and shoot the three. They were so content with shooting long two-point field goals, but heaven forbid they back up an extra foot or two.
The current crop of NBA players probably grew up observing this, too, which is why they shoot threes as often as they do.
8. I also think video games played a big part in the emergence of the three-point shot. Also, that’s all kids did on the playground. If you made the three-pointer, you got another shot. But no one wants to talk about this. It’s all “analytics”.
9. I can’t stress this enough – so many two-point field goals. And there was no urgency to the offence. No movement. A distinct lack of energy on both sides. Whoever had the ball, had nine other players staring at them.
It was a boring brand of basketball. I can say that now because I’ve seen what the game has evolved into.
I mean, they throw it in the post with 11 seconds on the shot clock. Jab step. Jab step. Back down the defender. Four on the clock. Force up a shot. Rims out. Other team goes down and does the same thing. Ugh.
10. The commentators were so appalled that the Lakers gave up 63 points in the first half. On multiple occasions, they were pleading for “their team” to play defence.
In 2020, if you give up 63 points in the first half, it’s no problem because you probably scored 65.
11. Kobe only had 26 points in the first half. He would’ve had 100 points if he realized sooner that his teammates weren’t going to do anything.
12. The Raptors controlled most of the game. They had an 18-point lead in the third quarter. An 18-point lead in 2006 is the equivalent to a 26-point lead in 2020.
13. They said the Raptors had the highest scoring bench in the NBA. Charlie Villanueva, Jose Calderon, Joey Graham, and Matt Bonner (he only started 6 games), were the bench.
Three of them were rookies and Bonner was a second-year player. Not bad. We had high hopes for those players back then.
14. People like to laugh at Jalen Rose for giving up 81 points to Kobe, mainly because Jalen is still in the public eye as an analyst. Make no mistake about it, the Raptors took turns giving up those 81 points.
They were all auditioning to be turnstiles at a Hollywood theatre that night. Kobe would came at them and they’d let him right by.
15. Near the end of the third quarter, the Raptors put Jose Calderon on Kobe. The commentators said the Raptors did this so Calderon could deny Kobe from getting the ball.
Bless those commentators’ hearts. I’m sorry to say this, but Calderon was known for not being a great defender. Maybe in 2006, he was better than his (eventual) reputation, but he didn’t slow down Kobe. No one could.
16. I don’t know if it was because the player’s stats weren’t posted anywhere in the arena, but the fans didn’t really get going until the Lakers took the lead with a minute left in the 3rd quarter and Kobe had 49 points.
It just didn’t feel like they realized how many points Kobe had. Or maybe they were used to it?
17. Kobe’s point totals in each quarter: 14-12-27-28.
18. There was absolutely no help on defence for the Raptors. Once Kobe got by his man, it was curtains. Not sure why everyone else was so keen on guarding their man – it’s not like Kobe was passing to them.
19. Going into this game, Kobe had a streak going of consecutive made free throws. That streak ended during this game, at 62. He actually missed two free throws that night.
20. People look back on this game and say Mike James had a good game for the Raptors. Yes, had 26 points, but 19 of them were in the first half.
21. The players didn’t seem to communicate a lot on the floor. This was something I saw with both teams, but mainly the Raptors. Even when the whistle blew, it just felt like five guys out there wearing the same uniform by coincidence.
22. The crowd gave Kobe his first standing ovation when he hit 64 points, which broke his career high. Maybe they gave him a standing ovation before this, but I’m going off of what I saw.
24. Kobe hits 70 and the crowd is fully invested. Finally. I’m convinced they didn’t have individual player stats in the arena. Video screens were smaller back then and didn’t have the space. No one thought people enjoyed stats that much.
That’s the excuse I’m giving the fans.
25. “Finally, an alley-oop that works for the Raptors.”
That just tells you how many failed alley-oops they attempted. By the way, this happened when they were down 17 points with 4 minutes left.
God bless that team.
26. The Raptors double teamed Kobe with 2:30 left in the game. Where was this sooner? Kobe cut through the double team like he was making a banana split. It was just too easy. Video games don’t make it that easy.
27. It’s the final minute of the game, Kobe has 81, and the broadcast duo are upset that the Lakers aren’t fouling, so they could get Kobe out of game and allow the fans an opportunity to give him a standing ovation.
I understand where they were coming from, but it just seemed like the wrong time to be complaining about something on-air.
28. The ball goes out of bounds with 4.2 seconds left and Kobe checks out of the game. The crowd gives him a standing ovation.
The LA Lakers defeated the Toronto Raptors, 122 – 104.
Overall, it was a normal basketball game until the mid-point of the third quarter. And then Kobe took over. He was unstoppable.
It was a perfect storm of a great offensive player, and a team made up of poor defenders. I’m still baffled the Raptors didn’t double team Kobe every time he touched the ball.
Who did they have to guard that was more dangerous?
Kobe’s teammates combined for 41 points that night.
Kobe Bryant’s life ended too soon, at the age of 41, and he has left behind a basketball legacy that players will be trying to chase down for generations to come.