In addition to spawning countless ’81’ jokes to direct at Jalen Rose, when Kobe Bryant scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors it served as arguably the most impressive scoring performance in NBA history. At minimum, it was the second-highest single-game scoring total ever.
Bryant trails only Wilt Chamberlain in NBA history, but while Chamberlain crossing the century mark is a higher total, his was full of gimmickry and intentional fouling that gave him a shot to reach 100 points.
Bryant’s scoring total, meanwhile, came within the flow of the game, with the Lakers needing all of his buckets just to squeak past the Raptors in 2006.
In a Lakers Nation exclusive Q&A with Serena Winters, Bryant, who will see both his No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys hanging in the rafters Monday, Dec. 18, said that year was when he knew he would be getting such an honor:
“I’d say, after the season I scored 81, that’s when I would say I thought it’s probably going up there now. That’s when I felt like, okay, my jersey is going to get retired.”
Bryant is arguably the greatest player in Lakers history, and even if his career had ended prior to his 81-point game he might have had the resume necessary to get his jersey retired by the Lakers.
However, what came next was arguably just as crucial to sealing the honor. Bryant would go on to snatch far more accolades, including a regular season MVP in 2008 and back-to-back NBA Finals MVP awards as the Lakers won the 2009 and 2010 titles.
Triumphs like that are just as responsible for Bryant getting immortalized in the Staples Center rafters as his 81-point game, as well as making it clear that the Lakers needed to retire both jerseys and avoid any controversy over which one they selected.
They will do so next week, and a statue is almost certainly soon to follow, even if Bryant isn’t concerning himself with what it will depict him doing.