Anguish. Frustration. Despair. Disbelief.
These were the emotions running through the minds of Lakers fans after watching Bynum get carried off the court against Memphis two days ago. The two Lakers fanatics at my work looked physically ill when I walked in yesterday. “Can you f**king believe this dude?” one of them said to me, shaking his tormented head. I didn’t bother stopping to talk to him, “Don’t worry man” I said as I walked past his desk, “you still got the greatest player in the world”.
“Pfff yeah” he scoffed. “Whatever”.
~ 24 hours later ~
“You see that man? Kobe scored 61! KOBEEEE!!”. He was bouncing in his seat bopping the little Kobe bobble-head doll on his desk. “KOBEEE. MVP! MVP!”
And so the Lakers roller coaster of emotion continues, the soaring heights of 40-point scoring world-beating Andrew Bynum, the crushing blow of his potentially season-ending injury, and the striking reminder that they have the one guy in the league who can make it all seem irrelevant. The irrepressible, the irresistible, the inexorable Kobe Bryant.
I almost forgot he could do that. Score 60 on a whim, pervade defenses as if they’re not there, transcend the boundaries of hardwood to fool you into thinking you’re peering through some rip in the fabric of basketball realism. But he did, like he’s done four times before, like he’s done more times than anyone in the history of the league not named Wilt Chamberlain.
In a neat basketball symmetry the Lakers number 24 topped the fifty point mark for the 24th time, and today being the 24th birthday of my mate Dave (you’re old man) I thought I’d spend 24 minutes* recollecting the history of the Fifty Point Mamba. Yep, every single one of them, from first to last.
1. Golden State, 6th December 2000
The line: 51 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds
The context: This game turned into a Kobe vs Antawn Jamison shoot-out (yeah, who thought we’d ever say that?) and Antawn had the better game, scoring a more efficient 51 and getting the W in overtime. With Shaq in his prime, there were probably definitely other scoring options for the Lakers on that day. Take a trip down memory lane with Golden State of Mind – this was nine years ago folks!
Lights Out Rating: 6/10. Shot 18-35 and didn’t miss a FT, but 2-7 from threes kinda takes the shine off it. Just a little.
2. Memphis, 14th January 2002
The line: 56 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists in three quarters
The context: The Lakers were missing Shaq due to suspension and Kobe wrote Shaq’s number 34 in black ink on both of his shoes. This game sparked a lot of Kobe v MJ comparisons, and rightly so – MJ never scored 50 through three quarters.
What they said: “That was one of the most incredible things you’ll probably ever see. Words can’t describe what that cat did tonight. He was unreal.” — Robert Horry
Lights Out Rating: 9/10. Only played 34 minutes, shot 21-34, and didn’t turn the ball over once. The only other guy in the last 24 years to score 55+ with zero turnover? Reggie Miller back in ‘92.
3. Denver, 12th February 2003
The line: 51 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals in three quarters
The context: Amidst Kobe’s nine-game 40 point streak, and another 50-point effort without playing the fourth-quarter. Right around this time everyone was thinking: “C’mon Phil, just let Kobe play a fourth quarter to see if he can get 80. How unreal would that be!”
What they said: “He’s tough. What more can you say. I’ve been in this league a long time and he is playing better than anybody I’ve ever seen.” - Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik, and he watched a lot of dudes play.
Lights Out Rating: 7/10. Only played 31 minutes (least time out of all Kobe’s 50 point games) but his 15-28 shooting puts it around the middle-of-the-road as far as Kobe’s 50 point games go. I know, I’m a harsh grader.
4. Houston, 18th February 2003
The line: 52 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 blocks
The context: Epic double-overtime game, playing on a sore right knee, without Shaq, against Yao and Steve Francis (when he was an All-Star). And this dunk.
What they said: “He must not have been hurting that bad. I don’t know. Some people just have the will to win and he had it.” — Houston’s Cuttino Mobley having a sook. HTFU Cuttino.
Lights Out Rating: 5/10. Shot 50% in this one, jacked up nine threes and only connected on three. Meh.
5. Washington, 28th March 2003
The line: 55 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals
The context: Against Michael Jordan and the Wizards, the last time Kobe and MJ would go against each other on the court. Jordan started this game on fire hitting his first four shots, before Kobe scored 23 straight and blew the game to high hell.
What they said: “He was hot. We tried to keep him on the perimeter; we went out on him and he was still hot.” — Michael Jordan swallowing his ego.
Lights Out Rating: 9/10. Kobe’s long distance shooting in this game is freaking ridiculous. 9-13 from downtown including one from about 33 feet that will make your pants fall off.
6. Dallas, 28th December 2005
The line: 62 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals in three quarters
The context: Context? He outscored the entire opposition team after three quarters. There’s your f**king context.
What they said: “I’ve seen a few 60-point ballgames in my time, but none of them had been done by the third quarter. His 30-point third quarter was incredible.” — Phil Jackson
Lights Out Rating: 9/10. Kobe shot 18-31 and 22-25 from the stripe. Yes it gets better.
7. Los Angeles, 7th January 2006
The line: 50 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists
The context: Came the night after he scored 48 against Philly, and the Lakers needed every single one of those points. Hit the game-winning shot with 12 seconds left. Here are the highlights.
What they said: “My thing is, no matter who’s guarding me, I believe that you’re going to crack before I will. I’m just going to keep on pushing at you until you give in.” — Kobe Bryant mentally dominating everyone.
Lights Out Rating: 4/10. Kobe had to squeeze out 41 shots to get the 50, including a massive 15 attempts from downtown (of which he made 7). Lame.
8. Sacramento, 19th January 2006
The line: 51 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists
The context: Amidst another 40-point-average month, Kobe’s 51 weren’t enough to get the Lakers over the line against the Kings. When Kenny Thomas has a triple double you’re probably going to lose. That should not happen.
What they said: “Everybody on the floor had to do something, because Kobe is an incredible player. It’s different in the NBA. One guy isn’t going to beat a guy like Kobe. — Sacramento’s Francisco Garcia, admitting that one guy isn’t going to beat a guy like Kobe, especially when that guy is Francisco Garcia.
Lights Out Rating: 5/10. A sub-50% shooting game including 4-12 on threes. Sure, superhuman by any normal human’s standards. But sub-human when we’re talking about a superhuman like Kobe.
9. Toronto, 22nd January 2006
The line: 81 points.
The context: 81 points.
What they said: “You’re sitting and watching, and it’s like a miracle unfolding in front of your eyes and you can’t accept it. Somehow, the brain won’t work. The easiest way to look at it is everybody remembers every 50-point game they ever saw. He had 55 in the second half.” — Lakers owner Jerry Buss.
Lights Out Rating: 10/10. 81 points. I said it all here.
10. Phoenix, 7th April 2006
The line: 51 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists.
The context: In a match up of potential first-round opponents, Kobe proved that him scoring a heap of points against this Phoenix team wasn’t going to work. The Lakers go down by 11 points.
What they said: “At some level, it’s remarkable,” Jackson said of Bryant’s 93 points on consecutive nights. “At another level, it limits us, it hackles us a little bit because other players don’t get in the flow, and they didn’t get in the flow tonight.”
Lights Out Rating: 7/10. Kobe shot 19-33 including 5-11 from downtown, and enjoyed spending 48 minutes thoroughly abusing Raja Bell.
11. Portland, 14th April 2006
The line: 50 points, 6 rebounds, 5 steals.
The context: Broke Elgin Baylor’s season scoring record of 2,719 points during this game, ensuring the Lakers wouldn’t miss the playoffs. His sixth and final 50 point game of the 2005-2006 regular season.
What they said: “Right now it looks like Kobe’s challenging himself in the fourth quarter to see if he can just dominate. Before we could even get a double-team on him, the ball was released. And there’s not much more you can do about that.” — Portland coach Nate McMillan ten minutes after being dominated.
Lights Out Rating: 8/10. Try scoring 50 points by taking less than 30 shots. It’s difficult.
12. Utah, 30th November 2006
The line: 52 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists.
The context: Back from knee-surgery Kobe delivered his first 50-point outburst of the 2006-2007 season in emphatic style. Had 30 points in the third including a span of 11-straight shots. Completely smoked a really decent team.
What they said: “He caught the ball and got on a roll; he just made whatever he caught. Players like that, they get on a roll and I don’t think there’s much you can do. — Utah coach Jerry Sloan sounding eerily like Nate McMillan a few months earlier.
Lights Out Rating: 10/10. Of all Kobe’s 50-point games this was the most efficient. A ridiculous 73% shooting on 19-26 shooting. FFS.
13. Houston, 15th December 2006
The line: 53 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists..
The context: Another epic double-overtime duel with the Rockets, with the Lakers trailing by 21 at the half. Kobe getting the better of a 35 point, 15 rebound, 8 block performance by Yao Ming.
What they said: “I don’t know about if he imposed his will. He imposed his skill, I know that.” — Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy
Lights Out Rating: 6/10. Not often did Kobe shoot less than 50% in a 50-point game, and this is one of those times. Hence the more assists.
14. Charlotte, 29th December 2006
The line: 58 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists..
The context: This one hurt. A triple OT loss against the lowly Bobcats – the highest scoring loss of Kobe’s career.
What they said: “I don’t want to have to do that. It’s too tiring.” — Kobe Bryant pissed off about having to score 58 points just for his team to stay competitive against the Bobcats.
Lights Out Rating: 6/10. 22-45 shooting, the second most attempts Kobe has needed to get to 50 other than his 81-point night against the Raptors.
15. Portland, 16th March 2007
The line: 65 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists..
The context: The first of Kobe’s historic four-game 50+ point streak. Some of the shots he hit in this game were utterly ridiculous. The one falling out of bounds in the corner may be the most unbelievable shot I’ve ever seen.
What they said: “Kobe just made MVP-type plays. He made every shot down the stretch. We were trying to do things to stop him. It was a great game to play in. But we need to figure out a way to stop great players down the stretch.” — Brandon Roy
Lights Out Rating: 8/10. Like the Washington game at #5, this is another amazing display of Kobe’s long range shooting. 8-12 from downtown and 23-39 shooting on the whole.
16. Minnesota, 18th March 2007
The line: 50 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists..
The context: The second straight 50-point game, and again the Lakers needed every one of Kobe’s 50 points to get them over the line.
What they said: “We should have trapped him earlier.” — KG, understatement of the century.
Lights Out Rating: 6/10 . A sub 50% shooting game, although the three Kobe hits at the end of the third-quarter is among the best you will see (1:33 into this clip, he shoots it like a 12 foot J).
17. Memphis, 22nd March 2007
The line: 60 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists..
The context: The third straight 50 point game and now it was becoming a bit of a joke. After watching this game I started to get the feeling Kobe could basically score 50 whenever he wanted to – it was just about taking enough shots without his coach getting angry.
What they said: “At one point, we got the offensive rebound and a whole new 24-second left. Lamar gave the ball right back to him and Kobe went right back at them. He just smells blood in the water and he’s going to go after you.” — Phil Jackson
Lights Out Rating: 8/10. Kobe shot 20-37 and a brutally efficient 17-18 from the charity stripe. His third sixty point game of the season.
18. New Orleans, 23rd March 2007
The line: 50 points, 7 rebounds
The context: The end of the streak – the Lakers season had officially been revived after looking very shaky just a week earlier.
What they said: “We knew Kobe was going to have one of those nights. He’s just so good. He’s such a competitor and he lives in the moment. This is the moment right now with a playoff-type atmosphere. We knew he was going to come out and play like that.” — Hornets coach Byron Scott, hinting at the lousy preparation of his coaching staff.
Lights Out Rating: 8/10. One of the seven times Kobe scored 50 taking less than 30 shots. And his 16-16 from the stripe wasn’t bad either
19. Houston, 30th March 2007
The line: 53 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists
The context: You don’t hear much about this game, probably because the Lakers lost, but it was Kobe’s fifth 50 point game during a stretch of seven games (one of those was a 43 point win against the Warriors).
What they said: “I was fine on our defense on Bryant. There’s only so much you can do.” — Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, happy that his defense gave up 53 points to one player
Lights Out Rating: 4/10. Kobe’s 19-44 shooting was the second lowest FG% he’s had in a 50 point game.
20. Los Angeles, 12th April 2007
The line: 50 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals
The context: Losing to the Clippers is always humiliating, but scoring 50 and losing to them might be even worse. Maggette’s 39-8-9 and Brand’s 32-8-7 probably had something to do with it.
What they said: “I didn’t feel like my legs were heavy. I didn’t feel tired at all. They just double-teamed me and triple-teamed me. You’ve got the advantage when that happens.” — Kobe stating that when three players are guarding him, you’ve got the advantage. Just.
Lights Out Rating: 6/10. A tidy 17-33 but Kobe couldn’t connect from long range in this game, going just 1/4.
21. Seattle, 15th April 2007
The line: 50 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists
The context: The tenth (and last) of Kobe’s 50 point games through the 2006-2007 season – the third highest total in NBA history, only behind Wilt. It was also the last 50 point game ever scored against the Seattle Supersonics. That is almost as sad as the Sonics defense in this game.
What they said: “He was brilliant. He was just determined. He’s special” — Seattle coach Bob Hill.
Lights Out Rating: 10/10. Kobe shot 18-25 in this one – the least number of shots he’s ever needed to get to 50. 72% shooting from the field including 3-6 from downtown. This may be the most underrated 50 point game of Kobe’s career.
22. Dallas, 2nd March 2008
The line: 52 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists
The context: This was an absolute monster of a game – possibly amongst Kobe’s Top 10 all-time games. He scored 22 in the final quarter and OT and was perfect on his last 15 free throws to impress his new teammate Pau Gasol.
What they said: “We gave him a single look, then we double-teamed him, then we gave him a triple-team and he split the triple-team and scored. We tried to zone him, we tried to funnel him in the trap for a zone and he went the other way. He didn’t cooperate on any of our defenses” — Mavs coach Avery Johnson listing every defense known to man.
Lights Out Rating: 8/10. A 15-27 shooting display including a Wade-esque 20-27 free throw attempts.
23. Memphis, 28th March 2008
The line: 53 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals
The context: Excluding Bryant, the entire Lakers starting unit combined for a craptastic 21 points. When your best player doubles the output of the other four starters you are going to lose, even if you are playing against Memphis.
What they said: “They’ve had a rough stretch and I think Kobe has been shouldering a lot of that. It’s hard to ask him to do that for both halves.” — Grizzlies coach Marc Iavaroni pointing out that scoring 37 points in a half is “hard”.
Lights Out Rating: 7/10. A 9-17 three-point shooting display was the highlight here – the second time Kobe has taken at least 17 three-ball attempts in a game. The other time? His NBA-record 12-18 three point display against the Sonics in ‘03.
24. New York, 2nd February 2009
The line: 61 points, 3 assists
The context: The first time Kobe has scored 50 against the Knicks, and the highest score ever at Madison Square Garden, topping Bernard King’s 60. Watch all 61 points here.
What they said: “I’ve never had a night like that. You could tell, just watching the highlights, he had a pep in his step and he was on a mission. With Bynum out, he’s going to have to do a little more, and I think he understands that. I mean, 61 points, that’s Kobe — that’s all you can say” — Dwyane Wade.
Lights Out Rating: 9/10. The 19-31 shooting ain’t bad. The 20-20 free throw shooting is freakish. Only three other guys in the last twenty years have shot 100% from the stripe and taken at least 20 attempts – Rip Hamilton (20/20), Amare (20/20) and Dominique Wilkins (23/23).
There you have it. All 24 of Kobe’s 50 point games. Or is it? Many will no doubt forget the 52 points he scored in Game 6 against the Suns on May 4 2006. That would have gone down as one of his greatest ever had the Lakers pulled out the win in OT, thereby winning the series. But playoff scores are a different statistical breed in the NBA, so for now Kobe’s tally stands at 24 – six behind MJ at 30, and ten more than Elgin on 14.
Some might wonder why we bother marveling at feats only measurable in points. Is a 50 point game any more impressive than a 20 assist game? Or a triple-double? No doubt there is a sexiness about scoring that can’t be equaled by other facets of the game – you won’t see posters in kids rooms saying “Scott Skiles – 30 Assists”. But when I try to understand the allure of scoring I realise that it’s more than just turnaround jump shots and threes and dunks; it points to the fundamental limitations of man. After all, anyone can pass out of a double team – that’s what it’s designed to do and most will obey its demands. But few will meet it head on with fearless execution. Even fewer will be successful.
Kobe Bryant is one of those few.
*This took way more than 24 minutes.