Where There’s Wilt ...
Thanks to Kobe Bryant you can add another item to the list of things that might happen in our lifetime, unlikely as they might be. All of a sudden another player scoring 100 points in an NBA game seems just inside the reality/fantasy border, like a female president, manned spaceflight to Mars or a hip-hop awards show without violence.
It might not happen any time soon, but ...
“We’ve got to say it’s possible,” said George Gervin, four-time scoring champion for the San Antonio Spurs. "[Bryant] proved that it’s possible.”
Since Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks on March 2, 1962, the closest anyone had come was the 73-point game Denver Nugget David Thompson produced in 1978. That left a gap of 27 points -- equivalent to Shaquille O’Neal’s career scoring average entering this season.
Then Bryant went for 81 against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night.
“He was only 19 from there and he played 42 [out of 48] minutes,” Gervin said. “Let’s be realistic. He got that close. You know how everybody says Wilt’s record will never be broken? He came close.”
Can Bryant do it? Put it this way: He has a better chance of scoring 100 than the Lakers do of winning a championship. None of the nine previous 70-point performances came for a team that won a championship that season. The fact that a team is so dependent on one player for scoring indicates a lack of balance.
But it could be a key element in the perfect combination it would take for a run at Chamberlain.
“For a player to score 100 points or 81 points in a game, his teammates have to be willing to go along with it,” said Gary Pomerantz, author of the book “Wilt, 1962,” which focuses on Chamberlain’s 100-point night.
That the Lakers thus far have been willing to go along for the ride speaks to “either their feelings for Kobe or their heightened sense of curiosity,” Pomerantz said.
The rest of the guys know the only way their names will be in the Hall of Fame is if they appear alongside Bryant’s in a historic box score. So they defer. Or Bryant takes the decision out of their hands and just shoots the ball.
That’s the advantage Bryant has as a guard. He doesn’t need anyone to pass him the ball in the frontcourt. He also can float around three-point territory, an option that didn’t exist for Chamberlain or any other NBA player before the 1979-80 season.
It’s also harder to double-team players on the perimeter. The help has to come from farther away, giving a guard -- especially one as savvy as Bryant -- more time to recognize it and find an escape route.
But Elgin Baylor, whose Laker record of 71 points fell by the wayside Sunday, once told me he thought a big man would be best suited to take on Chamberlain’s record.
“The thing about it [is], you’re going to have to get to the line a lot and you’re going to have to get some offensive rebounds, some put-backs in order for that to happen,” Baylor said. “A guy shooting a three-pointer is not that type of guy, who can score 100 points. Get to the line a lot and finish every time he gets the ball.”
He didn’t have the three-pointer, but Chamberlain tried just about every other kind of shot.
“He had fadeaway jumpers, dunks, layups, all that kind of stuff,” said Harvey Pollack, Philadelphia’s longtime director of statistical information who was in Hershey, Pa., for the historic game. “He was a mixture.”
Most notably, he cashed in at the line. Chamberlain attempted 32 free throws on the 100-point night and made 28, uncharacteristic for a 47% career free-throw shooter.
“They could have called a lot more fouls on the Knicks than they called,” Pollack said. “He shot 32, but he was fouled by these two, three guys guarding him constantly.”
Free throws stop the clock. And the clock is an even greater adversary than the defense.
To have a shot at 100, Bryant would have to play the full 48 minutes, as Chamberlain did in 1962. That was the season Chamberlain averaged 48.5 minutes a game. It’s doubtful Phil Jackson would wear out his star like that for a regular-season game, but perhaps if Bryant jumped out to a 25-point first quarter Jackson would recognize something special was happening and leave him in. The other option is overtime, which would give Bryant an extra five minutes to compensate for his usual rest time. And, yes, 100 points in OT would count. You don’t see an asterisk affixed to Michael Jordan’s 63-point playoff game in Boston Garden, and that went to overtime.
If the game didn’t go to overtime, it at least would have to be close. Otherwise Bryant could head to the bench, as he did after scoring 62 points through three quarters of a blowout against Dallas.
It will have to be an up-tempo game with more shots, which means more possessions. By my count the Lakers had 93 possessions against the Raptors. Bryant touched the ball on 65 of them and attempted a shot or free throw on 48 of them. (Multiple shots per possession or shots plus a free throw counted only once).
Can he score 100?
Bryant probably would have to match his career high of 12 made three-pointers in addition to making more than 20 free throws. And he’d have to hold up for those full 48 minutes. Bryant looked wiped out at the end of Sunday’s game.
“I got 63 in 33 minutes and I was exhausted,” Gervin said.
“He’s probably a better athlete than I was. I think it’s more mental than it was physical. ... The concentration, and the focus. It’s like high blood pressure.”
There’s one record Gervin already took from Chamberlain: the single-quarter record, which Gervin set at 33.
“I’m expecting that to be broken pretty soon,” Gervin said.
These days no number seems safe.
J.A. Adande can be reached at email@example.com. To read more by Adande go to latimes.com/adandeblog.
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Kobe vs. Wilt
Comparing Kobe Bryant’s 81-point performance Sunday to Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA record 100-point game against the New York Knicks on March 2, 1962:
*--* Category Kobe Wilt Points 81 100 Field goals 28 36 Field goal attempts 46 63 Three-pointers 7 0 Three-pt. attempts 13 *0 Free throws made 18 28 Free-throw attempts 20 32 Rebounds 6 25 Assists 2 2
*Note: There was no three-point line during Chamberlain’s career.
* Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points per game in 1962.
* Bryant is averaging 35.9 points per game through 39 games this season.
Kobe Bryant has scored 40 points or more 13 times this season, and his current scoring average of 35.9 would be seventh-best in league history (through Monday):
*--* Kobe Bryant 81 1-22 Toronto Kobe Bryant 62 12-20 Dallas LeBron James 52 12-10 at Milwaukee Allen Iverson 53 12-23 Atlanta LeBron James 51 1-21 at Utah Kobe Bryant 51 1-19 at Sacramento Vince Carter 51 12-23 at Miami Kobe Bryant 50 1-7 Clippers Kobe Bryant 48 1-6 Philadelphia Gilbert Arenas 47 12-30 Miami LeBron James 46 1-14 at Phoenix Allen Iverson 46 1-11 Utah Kobe Bryant 46 11-27 New Jersey Rashard Lewis 45 1-11 Orlando Kobe Bryant 45 1-9 Indiana Kobe Bryant 45 12-28 Memphis Carmelo Anthony 45 12-27 Philadelphia Allen Iverson 45 11-23 at Milwaukee Gilbert Arenas 44 1-3 Houston
*--* Tracy McGrady 43 1-22 at Detroit Carmelo Anthony 43 1-10 Phoenix Paul Pierce 43 12-26 Seattle Kobe Bryant 43 12-12 at Dallas Allen Iverson 43 12-9 Charlotte Paul Pierce 43 12-2 Chicago Kobe Bryant 43 11-20 Chicago Gilbert Arenas 43 11-12 San Antonio Ray Allen 42 1-22 at Phoenix Mike Bibby 42 1-15 Orlando Kobe Bryant 42 11-16 New York Vince Carter 42 1-8 at Toronto Carmelo Anthony 42 12-13 at Charlotte Tracy McGrady 41 1-23 at Milwaukee Kobe Bryant 41 1-11 at Portland Kobe Bryant 41 12-16 Washington Allen Iverson 41 1-9 Seattle Gilbert Arenas 41 12-23 at Phoenix Rashard Lewis 41 11-13 at Toronto Michael Redd 41 11-2 at New Jersey
Best scoring averages in league history:
*--* PLAYER PPG TEAM SEASON Wilt Chamberlain 50.4 Philadelphia 1961-62 Wilt Chamberlain 44.8 San Francisco 1962-63 Wilt Chamberlain 38.4 Philadelphia 1960-61 Wilt Chamberlain 37.6 Philadelphia 1959-60 Michael Jordan 37.1 Chicago 1986-87 Wilt Chamberlain 36.9 San Francisco 1963-64 Kobe Bryant 35.9 Lakers 2005-06 Rick Barry 35.6 San Francisco 1966-67 Michael Jordan 35.0 Chicago 1987-88 K. Abdul-Jabbar 34.8 Milwaukee 1971-72 Elgin Baylor 34.8 Lakers 1960-61
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PLAYERS WHO HAVE SCORED 70 OR MORE IN AN NBA GAME
March 2, 1962; vs. New York
Chamberlain made 36 of 63 shots from the field, was 28 for 32 from the free-throw line and played all 48 minutes. Chamberlain had 59 points in the second half -- the only player with more points in a half than Kobe Bryant’s 55 in the second half Sunday. Chamberlain also had five other games with 70 or more points.
Jan. 22, 2006; vs. Toronto
Bryant more than doubled the 34.8 points he had been averaging, making 28 of 46 shots (60.9%) and 18 of 20 free throws. He made seven of 13 three-point attempts and also had six rebounds and two assists. In December, Bryant had 62 points through three quarters but sat out the fourth because the game was one-sided.
April 9, 1978; vs. Detroit
Thompson and San Antonio’s George Gervin were battling for the scoring title on the final day of the season. Thompson scored 32 points in the first quarter on his way to 73. Thompson made 28 of 38 shots from the field and 17 of 20 from the free-throw line. Needing 58 points to win the scoring title, Gervin scored 63 points in a 153-132 loss to New Orleans.
Nov. 15, 1960; vs. New York
Or, as “Hot Rod” Hundley refers to it, “The night Elgin and I combined for 73 points.” Baylor held the Laker franchise record until Bryant broke it Sunday.
Baylor was 28 for 48 from the field and 15 for19 from the free-throw line. He also had 25 rebounds.
He ended the season with a 34.8 scoring average.
April 24, 1994; vs. Clippers
Another big game on the last day of the season. “The Admiral” was 26 for 41 from the field and 18 for 25 from the free-throw line.
Robinson had 24 points at halftime before scoring 19 points in the third quarter and 28 in the fourth quarter. His 71 points allowed him to edge Shaquille O’Neal for the scoring title.
-- Compiled by Houston Mitchell