For some men, nothing is written.
Peter O’Toole, playing T.E. Lawrence, said that in the 1962 movie “Lawrence of Arabia,” after going back to rescue a comrade who was lost in the desert. It could also apply to Kobe Bryant of Los Angeles, whose incredible recent run climaxed (we think) in Sunday night’s 81-point explosion, the second-highest single-game total in NBA history.
Wilt Chamberlain, of course, set the record of 100, but that was back in 1962 when the lowest-scoring team in the league averaged 111.
Of the next seven games on the list, five came before Wilt’s. There had been only two games over 70 points since, by Denver’s David Thompson, who got 73 in 1978, and San Antonio’s David Robinson, who went for 71 in the last game of the 1993-94 season against the Clippers to snatch the scoring title from Orlando’s Shaquille O’Neal.
Bryant is writing his own rules these days, dropping in seemingly impossible shots -- defenders all over him, not squared up, moving laterally, from way downtown, not even he can make that one, nice shot, Kobe -- one after another as if they were routine. For him, for better and worse, they are.
This is the high-wire act of our time. In 15 games since Dec. 20, Bryant has hit 80 points once, 60 once, 50 twice, 40 four times and 30 five times. He’s averaging 43.3 points over that span and shooting 46.6% and 37% on three-pointers.
The whole league has been watching in awe for weeks. As Miami’s Dwyane Wade said before the last Laker-Heat game: “You turn to ESPN to see what he did that night.”
According to conventional wisdom, no one can win a basketball game single-handedly, and indeed, Bryant does need someone to inbound the ball and help guard the other team. A screen here and there comes in handy, and it’s nice if someone can hit a shot now and then when he’s triple-teamed (he’s actually averaging 4.0 assists in this run.)
Aside from that, however, Bryant is capable of doing it on his own. As former Laker assistant coach Tex Winter, the architect of the triangle offense who envisioned it as a way to spread the offense around, noted recently:
“Most of these guys have to rely pretty much on team play and Kobe doesn’t. He doesn’t have to rely on the offense, even though we’d like for him to rely on it a little more than he does.
“I guess that’s the best way to put it. He could give the ball up more, hit the first open man a little bit more, play off the ball a little more.”
Coach Phil Jackson has been regularly sounding little warnings that this isn’t really the way the game is played, waiting for Bryant to return to Earth ... except Kobe hasn’t returned to Earth. He’s been back to visit a few times, turning in some lackluster games, sometimes out of sheer exhaustion, as when he followed Thursday’s 51-point effort in the game they gave away at the end in Sacramento with a relatively mortal 37-point game in Phoenix, where the Lakers were routed and he shot 12 for 33.
But he hasn’t stayed. Sunday night, Bryant had 26 by halftime -- these days that doesn’t even get much attention -- but the Lakers trailed lowly Toronto by 14 points, looking like they were about an hour away from a three-game losing streak.
So Kobe went out and put up 55 in the second half. Of course, he said afterward his sore ankle didn’t hurt him too much and they really needed this game.
Just who is this guy, anyway?
At 27, he’s played all 10 of his NBA seasons here and we’ve seen him do quite a lot in his event-filled career but nothing that compares with this.
Bryant has always been a little force of nature, a world unto himself, for better and worse. He had bulletproof confidence from the time he showed up here at 17, and at 18, fired off those four airballs in the season-ending playoff loss to Utah.
Lots of people were afraid that would leave a scar but it didn’t even leave a scratch on his psyche. His unbelievable belief in himself made him great and it also made him stubborn so he learned all his lessons the hard way, but by now everyone knows about his fall from grace and the end of the Shaq-Kobe dynasty.
Bryant is now in the process of re-establishing his lost reputation and the way he’s been playing lately, you’d have to say it’s going pretty well. This is an important development for the Lakers, who still have to recruit some good players if Kobe is ever going to get out of this deal in which he has to play heroically to keep them in the race for the playoffs at 22-19.
These days you don’t say anything. You just watch, slack-jawed like everyone else.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
He’s No. 2
Kobe Bryant scored the second- most points in an NBA game:
100 -- Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia
vs. N.Y. at Hershey, Pa., March 2, 1962.
* 81 -- KOBE BRYANT, Lakers
vs. Toronto, Jan. 22, 2006.
* 78 -- Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia
vs. Lakers, Dec. 8, 1961 (3 OT).
* 73 -- David Thompson, Denver
at Detroit, April 9, 1978.
* 73 -- Wilt Chamberlain, San Francisco
at New York, Nov. 16, 1962.
* 73 -- Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia
vs. Chicago, Jan. 13, 1962.
* 72 -- Wilt Chamberlain, San Francisco
at Lakers, Nov. 3, 1962.
* 71 -- David Robinson, San Antonio
at Clippers, April 24, 1994.
* 71 -- Elgin Baylor, Lakers
at New York, Nov. 15, 1960.
* 70 -- Wilt Chamberlain, San Francisco
vs. Syracuse, March 10, 1963.
BRYANT BY QUARTERS
Bryant outscored the Raptors, 55-42, in the second half:
*--* QTR FG-A 3P-A FT-A FG% PTS 1st 5-9 0-1 4-4 55.5 14 2nd 5-7 1-1 1-2 71.4 12 3rd 11-15 4-4 1-1 73.3 27 4th 7-15 2-7 12-13 46.7 28 Totals 28-46 7-13 18-20 60.9 81