That infamous January 2006 game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors where the late great Kobe Bryant scored 81 points, could have been even more special according to John Salley. The former Lakers center was a guest on Shannon Sharpe’s “Club Shay Shay” podcats, where he claimed that then-Lakers head coach Phil Jackson benched Kobe so he wouldn’t break Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 100 points in a game.
“I didn’t agree with something Phil Jackson said to me,” Salley began. “I said, ‘Phil, Kobe had 81. No matter what you do, he was about to get 104.’ They would’ve kept feeding him the ball. The other side would’ve been like, ‘Don’t hurt him.’ But, there would’ve been clearouts, and Kobe would’ve got 104. He goes, ‘Well, some records need to stand.’ And I was like, ‘Wow.’ He goes, ‘He’s No. 2. He doesn’t need to be No. 1.'”
.@thejohnsalley says LeBron won’t pass Kareem as the All-Time Leading Scorer 👀
“You’re going to be really mad…Phil Jackson once told me: ‘Some records need to stand.’” pic.twitter.com/jYGvVRimGg
— Club Shay Shay (@ClubShayShay) November 7, 2022
Looking back at the box score from that game, Bryant played 41 of a possible 48 minutes and all but four seconds of the fourth quarter, during which he scored 28 points. Only Lamar Odom played more minutes that game (42). It’s possible Jackson did pull Bryant early while he was cooking to play mind games. Jackson was always doing that sort of thing, especially with Bryant.
This was the 2005-06 season. Bryant had run Shaquille O’Neal out of town the season prior and was scoring a ton of points on low efficiency and the Lakers weren’t contenders. Jackson and Bryant would butt heads about the latter’s leadership.
“One of the biggest differences between the two stars from my perspective was Michael’s superior skills as a leader,” Jackson said. “Though at times he could be hard on his teammates, Michael was masterful at controlling the emotional climate of the team with the power of his presence. Kobe had a long way to go before he could make that claim. He talked a good game, but he’d yet to experience the cold truth of leadership in his bones, as Michael had.”
Bryant eventually learned the art of leadership, and he and Jackson led the Lakers to back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010.
If what Salley alleges is true, Lakers fans and particularly “Kobe stans” will likely be irate. As they love nothing more than proving to anyone who will listen that their guy is the GOAT. Ultimately, does it really matter?
Bryant is one of the greatest players ever, likely in the 12-14 range. In a league that has been around since 1946 and the plethora of talent that has come through, being 12th best all-time is not disrespect.
Adding the single game scoring record wouldn’t have done anything to change that. An excellent accomplishment to add to a collection of many, but it wouldn’t have changed the overall arc of his career.
At his apex, Bryant was a scoring dynamo capable of taking and making the most wildly difficult shots. An inefficient volume scorer however, with a career 48.2 eFG% and 55 TS%. A wildly competitive alpha male who would do anything to win, whose impact metrics are just below the all-time greats.
Again, no shame in that. Legendary career.
But for Bryant and his fans getting that record would have been a special moment.