In case you’ve been living in the present– Kobe Bryant wobbling through his farewell season in fits and starts — Friday offers a glorious chance to look back.
Jan. 22 marks the 10-year anniversary of one of the greatest performances in NBA history, when Bryant went off for 81 points in a 122-104 Lakers win against the Raptors. It was the second-highest single-game scoring total ever — trailing only Wilt Chamberlain’s famous 100-point performance — but former Lakers teammate and current New York Knick Sasha Vujacic was hardly impressed.
He wanted more.
“I’m still mad at him because I gave him the last assist as the game was expiring, and he missed that,” laughed Vujacic as he reminisced with FOX Sports about Bryant’s performance.
Vujacic and Bryant were teammates from 2004 to 2010, over which time “the Machine” assisted on 78 of Mamba’s made field-goal attempts, per NBA.com. But there could’ve — and perhaps should’ve — been one more on that magical 81-point night.
“It could’ve been 84, to be honest,” said Vujacic, who was probably being more sarcastic than honest. “But it was a great game. We were trailing, I think, double-digits actually. It was one of those moments when he just took off.”
That’s the theme with Bryant when he’s on, though. No matter how many points he scores, it always seems like he left some on the table. There may not be a better example of that tricky mentality than when he dropped 62 points on the Mavericks only a month before churning out 81.
“And you can’t forget the fact that the Mavs back then, they were the team that was leading the league,” remembered Vujacic of a Dirk Nowitzki-led squad that represented the Western Conference in the Finals that season.
Bryant sat the fourth quarter of that game, a blowout through three periods to such a degree that the all-time Lakers great was actually outscoring Dallas 62-61 at the end of the third. And though the 81-point game was a marvel on an individual level, Vujacic was quick to point out that the Dallas game was slightly more of a team effort.
“That was professional. It was spacing, everyone being involved, but him being on another level,” said Vujacic.
But which performance was better? The 81-point outburst that still stands as the second-highest point total for a single game or the 62-point slaying of the Mavs which took only a trio of quarters to accomplish?
“I don’t know,” Vujacic shrugged. “Both were complete performances. I just think against Toronto, he just came out of nowhere, and he couldn’t miss a 3-point shot. Like, he would just come to halfcourt, and boom. In the Dallas game, he was doing it more from the triangle and just being involved and getting to the right spaces. So, they were two different games. What if? I don’t know. But I think he could’ve gone for over 81 (in Dallas).”
We’re not entirely sure either, Sasha. So we’re going to take a minute to watch this in-depth look at Bryant’s 81-point performance — from pregame to a slow first half before the onslaught begain in the third quarter. Care to join us? Then settle in and click play.
Fred Katz covers the NBA for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.