DETROIT — Throughout his 20-year NBA career, the late Kobe Bryant provided basketball fans across the world with tons of countless memories.
From his highlight dunks to his game-winning shots to leading the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA titles, he accomplished a lot. Of his many achievements, however, one could argue what he did on the night of Jan. 22, 2006, is on a category of its own.
On his late grandfather’s birthday — and ironically the only NBA game his grandmother ever attended –, Bryant scored the second-most points in an NBA game, dropping 81 on Raptors, leading the Lakers to a 122-104 victory.
Sunday marks the 17th anniversary of Bryant’s historic performance, and Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey remembers that game quite well.
At that time, Casey was in the middle of his first season as an NBA head coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He already had success against Bryant and the Lakers earlier in the season, having beaten them twice. He was aware of how of dynamic a player Bryant was. While watching the game, Casey couldn’t help but feel bad for then-Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell.
“He tried everything,” Casey said regarding Mitchell’s defensive schemes. “Box-and-one, double-team blitzes and Kobe (Bryant) just kept on finding different ways to score that. I think that’s the beginning of today’s 40-point barrages, 30-point barrages. The guys are so skilled today and we saw it the other night in Paris with (Zach) Levine and (DeMar) DeRozan. You can play great defense and still not get a stop.”
“But I thought that night was one of the first times that you could see you could try any defense and that great player was going to get what he wanted.”
Casey wasn’t alone in remembering Bryant’s historic night.
By now, it is not secret that Pistons forward Saddiq Bey is a huge Kobe Bryant fan. After all, Bryant’s Mamba logo is tattooed on his upper arm. Bey recalls being with his grandfather during the game, watching the first player he ever idolized shoot 28-for-46 from the floor — a stat line he remembered vividly.
“I always go back to it just (to) watch it; seeing how you could be in the zone for that long, how to mentally being in there (and) physically,” Bey told MLive. Another thing he pulls from that game is how to stay poised, focused, and live in the moment.
“You could have 20 points in the first quarter. You have 30 at half, but can you come out the next half and do the same thing? Can you come out the next quarter? Can you do it for minutes and possessions at a time? That’s (what) matters. That’s the mental toughness that he had,” Bey said.
Bryant, along with his daughter Gianna, and six additional passengers — including the pilot — died on Jan. 26, 2020, as a result of a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. At the time of his death, Bryant, 41, was only the third deceased former NBA MVP, with Wilt Chamberlain (1936-1999) and Moses Malone (1955-2015) preceding him.