Simply Amazing- KB8 Scores 81
"Not even in my dreams..."-Kobe Bryant
Every once in a while, something truly special happens to the sports fan. As a die- hard Kobe Bryant supporter, Sunday night was one of those moments for me. Kobe Bean Bryant scored 81 points on Sunday against the Toronto Raptors, the second highest single game total in NBA history. To be honest, I could not be more proud.
Before you send me your hate email, let me tell you about the long strange trip it has been for me, rooting for the guy everyone else loves to hate. The summer of 1996 was a special one for all Laker fans. Not only did the team sign Shaquille O'Neal as a free agent, but they also acquired the rights to Kobe Bryant, the 13th overall pick in the 1996 draft, for Vlade Divac. Jerry West was building something special, and the kid from Lower Merion High School showed serious upside right away. Unafraid to take big shots or to go after Michael Jordan even as a rookie, he had me at hello.
The years that followed were up and down: he won the dunk contest, was the youngest All Star ever, etc. but was labeled selfish and disliked by many who resented his alleged goal of surpassing Jordan as the game's premier player. Even then, Kobe Bryant was a controversial figure. There never was a middle ground: you either loved him or hated him. Unfortunately, about 99% of the people with whom I talk sports are in the latter group. To me, his talent and drive were almost inspiring, and there was never a doubt that he would be the best player in the NBA at some point in his career. To others, he was a selfish, punk kid who epitomized everything that was wrong with the NBA.
In 2000, the Lakers won the first of 3 championships behind the unstoppable duo of Shaq and Kobe. Those were good times to be a Laker fan. Phil Jackson was on board, Shaq was the most dominant force in the league, and Kobe just kept getting better. The Kobe to Shaq alley-oop against Portland in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals was the defining play of their championship run and probably my favorite NBA play ever. Predictably, more and more Kobe haters emerged from the gutters and sewers that those rat bastards call home.
In the summer of 2003, all hell broke lose. Kobe Bryant was arrested for alleged sexual assault in Colorado. I still remember first hearing the news; my heart dropped as I pondered Kobe breaking ankles in the pen for the next 15-20. I was shocked when bumbling district attorney Mark Hurlbert announced that the state of Colorado was officially charging Kobe Bean Bryant. The phone calls poured in as friends and Kobe haters basked in my misery. On the court, the 2003-04 season saw Kobe's scoring average drop from 30 to 24 and the Lakers lost in the playoffs. The 2004 NBA Finals were the low point of my love affair with Kobe. Living in Michigan, I predicted a sweep of the upstart Pistons (which would have happened if Karl Malone were healthy, damn it). Instead, the 'Stons rolled the Lakers in 5 games. The series would have been a sweep if it weren't for some heroics by, you guessed it, Kobe.
The Kobe haters really piled it on in the summer of 2004, as they blamed him for driving away Phil Jackson, trading Shaq, and the death of Princess Di. What many failed to realize is that the Lakers traded the Diesel at precisely the right time. His value was still sky-high and his game was only going downhill as the Big Aristotle aged. Jerry Buss avoided giving the Big Fella a prolific contract extension and the Lakers were finally Kobe's team. Fortunately, the case against Kobe was dismissed. Unfortunately, the Lakers fell out of playoff contention with significant injuries to both Lamar Odom and Kobe.
The 2005-2006 season has unfolded as well as I could hope. Kobe is playing out of his mind, the Lakers should make the playoffs, and Phil Jackson is back. Sunday night's game is already being called the greatest individual game ever seen (sorry Wilt, your 100 points in Hershey didn't make it to video) and Kobe's reputation is slowly being rehabilitated. Scoring 81 points in this day and age is unheard of, and territory that MJ only sniffed at from a distance. It should also be pointed out that the Lakers were trailing the Raptors significantly as late as the third quarter and needed a monstrous effort from Kobe just to win.
When Kobe scored 62 points to Dallas' 61 through 3 quarters, some fans and media unfairly ripped him for coming out of the game, even though it was a blowout. We all wondered just how high Kobe could go. Now, we know. Although I know Kobe bashing will never stop, at least until he wins a championship without Shaq, the MVP trophy he wins this year will look pretty on the mantle.
So Kobe haters, bring on the rapist, adulterer, black mamba, and ball hog jokes, because you know you just can't touch his game right now. He is simply the greatest, and its a lot more fun to enjoy this run than to tear down the character of a man you've never met.
81 points. Unbelievable...