Phil Jackson had seen enough. He had watched Kobe Bryant take plenty of highlight-reel shots for one night, so with the game against the Raptors in hand late in the fourth quarter he turned to assistant coach Frank Hamblen, who was keeping stats on his clipboard. "I think I better take him out now," Jackson told Hamblen. "I don't think you can," Hamblen said. "He has 77 points."
With that, Jackson, who had benched Bryant for six minutes in the second quarter as the Lakers fell behind by 14 points, kept his superstar in the game a little bit longer. "We stayed with it until he hit 80," said Jackson, who finally pulled Bryant with 4.2 seconds left and gave him a hug as Bryant walked toward the bench and raised his right hand to the sold-out Staples Center crowd, which gave him a standing ovation.
"I couldn't even dream of this when I was a kid, not even in my dreams," said Bryant, moments after getting a congratulatory call from Magic Johnson. "It's tough to explain, it just happened man."
Anyone who watched the game will agree that Bryant's historic night sort of just happened. It seemed like any other game as the Lakers trailed 63-49 at the half. It was a situation that Bryant, who scored 26 points in the first half, knew he needed to reverse if the Lakers were to break their two-game skid and win for the first time since defeating Shaq and the Heat last week. "We have four days off coming up here and I would have been sick as a dog if we'd lost this game," Bryant said. "I just wanted to step up and inspire them to play a better game, and it turned into something pretty special."
It wasn't until Bryant scored 27 points in the third quarter that this night was anything special, and it wasn't until Bryant dropped 28 points in the fourth quarter that it became legendary. Bryant's 55-point second half was not only more than the entire Raptors team, which scored 41, but also it was the most anyone had scored over two quarters in the NBA outside of Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point night on March 2, 1962, when he dropped 59 points in the second half.
Bryant's performance immediately brought comparisons to Chamberlain's historic game in Hershey, Pa. After all, before Sunday no one other than Chamberlain had scored more than 73 points in a game, and only four players had hit the 70-point mark. And it didn't take long for the question to be asked: "Could Kobe ever hit 100?"
"I don't know," Bryant said with a laugh. "That's unthinkable."