King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

Kobe Bryant's 81-point game: Mad egomania or thrilling achievement? Either way, let's have more.


Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game Sunday is the NBA version of the Rorschach test. Everybody sees something different in it.

But the reactions can be dropped broadly into a few groups: If you like Kobe Bryant, you see a magnificent individual performance, a night when opportunity met ability, when everything came together for one of the game’s greatest players.

If you don’t like Kobe Bryant, you see the ultimate act of selfishness and megalomania, a guy, as Ian O’Connor put it in USA Today, “reducing his teammates to transfixed moviegoers watching a science fiction film through 3-D glasses, waiting for Kobe to butter their popcorn.”

If you’re old school and think Bryant can’t touch Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in March 1962, or even the Los Angeles Lakers franchise record that Bryant broke, Elgin Baylor’s 71 in November 1960, you’ll hasten to point out that Chamberlain and Baylor didn’t have the 3-point shot to boost their point totals, even though Bryant still would have scored 74 without the 3-point line Sunday.

Or maybe you see it as a mockery of the game. Guard Mike James of the Toronto Raptors, Bryant’s victims Sunday, criticized his teammates and coaching staff in a Sirius Radio interview Monday, saying the coaches should have ordered double- and triple-teams on Bryant, and the interior defense should have stopped his drives to the basket.

“I think some of the guys found themselves watching also and I think even the coaching staff almost got mesmerized by it because after a while it just became a fiasco,” James said. “It became like a little sideshow.”

What do I see? The greatest scoring performance in NBA history. Playing a premodern game, Chamberlain enjoyed a dominant physical advantage over his ordinary-guy foes. Also, his Philadelphia Warriors teammates were in on the game, passing up open shots and fouling New York Knicks players to stop the clock despite the Warriors’ lead because the team had decided to help the Big Dipper get 100 points that night in Hershey, Pa.

Bryant plays against the greatest athletes in the world, and there was no such plan. I don’t know exactly how the conversion chart ought to read, but I think 81 points in 2006 is better than 100 in 1962.

I also see something I wonder why isn’t more common.

As I may have mentioned a few thousand times, individual NBA regular-season games aren’t terribly important for most teams. By this point in most seasons the playoff picture is already becoming clear, with a handful of clubs in each conference on the bubble, but most knowing they either will or won’t make the playoffs.

Ironically, this isn’t most years, and almost everybody’s on the playoff bubble. So maybe this isn’t the year for oddball strategy, at least at this point. On the other hand this has been a year of individual scoring feats around the league, with eight 50-point games already, matching all of last season.

But for most teams, for most of most years, losing one regular-season game doesn’t make a lot of difference. And even if it did, for a mediocre team with a great scorer, cutting him loose might not be a bad idea.

Bryant’s team won. So did Chamberlain’s the night he scored 100. In the 10 NBA games when a player has scored 70 points — Chamberlain did it six times, and the others were Baylor, David Robinson and David Thompson — that player’s team has gone 6-4, and one of those losses was in triple overtime.

So let your team’s big scorer try to go off, score 70, 80, 90 — dare we think about 100? — points in a night. It might not be the best team-basketball strategy, but it also might not be the worst, and it seems like a pretty good stunt. There are probably a dozen guys in the league who are capable of monster point totals if given the chance.

Even if you lose the game, what’s one game in a long regular season for most teams? Not much, usually, though again: This year is an exception.

A player scoring so many points is exciting. The NBA is still chattering over Bryant’s 81 two days later, and the buzz looks like it has legs for a few more days. It breaks up the monotony of the season. I, for one, usually don’t spend a lot of time writing about the NBA in January, and lookee here.

A high-scoring game also brings attention to the team and sells tickets and merchandise. You don’t think a few more No. 8 Lakers jerseys went home this Monday than last?

It also sends a message to other teams that your big scorer, whether it’s Bryant, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter or whoever, is capable of running wild if you don’t pay extra attention to him, which frees up your other scorers, if you have any.

Commentators are quick to point out that a player has to have a massive ego, like Bryant does, to take over a game the way he did Sunday and try to beat an opponent single-handedly. Is there any doubt that there are sufficient egos among the top scorers in the league?

The next guy who wants to shoot for 100 points, long thought to be one of the most untouchable records in sports, has my blessing. Kobe? Vince? I see you over there in the corner, Ray Allen. Let ‘em fly.

Previous column: NFL championship games

- – - – - – - – - – - -

  • Bookmark to get the new Kaufman column every day.
  • Discuss this column and the sports news of the day in Table Talk.
  • To receive the Sports Daily Newsletter, send an e-mail to

  • More Related Stories

    Featured Slide Shows

    • Share on Twitter
    • Share on Facebook
    • 1 of 11
    • Close
    • Fullscreen
    • Thumbnails

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
      Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
      Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Here by Richard McGuire
      A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
      The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
      This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
      For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Over Easy by Mimi Pond
      When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
      You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Shoplifter by Michael Cho
      Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
      This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

    • Recent Slide Shows



    Comment Preview

    Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

    You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>