- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2006

When Kobe Bryant removed himself from a game last month after scoring a chest-beating 62 points in three quarters against the Dallas Mavericks, everyone wondered what might have been.

How many could Bryant have scored?

Question answered.

Bryant scored and scored and scored until he finished with 81 points Sunday night, the most by a player in 44 years, in a 122-104 win against the Toronto Raptors.

But Bryant, freed from his feud with Shaquille O’Neal by the Diesel himself last week, didn’t just produce the second-best scoring performance in league history.

It was the best — better than Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game on March 2, 1962 — and here’s why: Bryant was trying to win a game, a real game, for a team fighting for a playoff spot.

Chamberlain was trying to score 100 points, period, and trying to break his own record of 78 points.

Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers were trailing the Raptors 71-53 three minutes into the second half. He needed to score, and he did, dropping 27 points in the third quarter to put the Lakers up 91-85.

Chamberlain’s Philadelphia Warriors led the New York Knicks 42-26 after the first quarter and 79-68 at the half in Hershey, Pa. Chamberlain had 41 points, so he and his teammates went for the record. He got it, scoring 28 in the third quarter and 31 in the fourth in the kind of game the hated Bryant might have sat out.

Bryant scored 81 points for a team that totaled 122, making his contribution 66 percent.

Chamberlain scored 100 points for a team that won 169-147. That’s 59.2 percent.

The Warriors and Knicks combined for 316 points because they made a joke out of the game.

When the Knicks saw Chamberlain and the Warriors were going for a record, they began holding the ball for the entire 24-second shot clock and fouling other Warriors before they could pass to Wilt.

Then Philadelphia coach Frank McGuire sent in his scrubs to foul Knicks players so the Warriors could get the ball back.

Finally, Bryant was counting on Smush Parker, Kwame Brown and some guys from witness relocation to pass him the ball.

Chamberlain was counting on Hall of Famer Paul Arizin and Guy Rodgers, who averaged eight assists that season.

Bryant’s 81 points were not a selfish act and, when put in proper context, were more impressive than the Big Dipper’s 100.

Maybe Bryant is a selfish, ego-driven, Machiavellian monster. But he also is an MVP candidate. And he sure is fun to watch.

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