Kobe Bryant may go down in NBA lore and remembered all around these parts in souvenir T-shirt lore straight from the Team LA stores for the night he dropped 81 on the, ahem, Toronto Raptors in a game at Staples Center three years ago. You got one of ‘em, right? Good times.
Put it away. The 61 he had last night at Madison Square Garden is much more historic, important … for the ages.
Staples Center is the La Brea Tar Pits stumbling into the Laugh Factory; Madison Square Garden is the Guggenheim taking a horse-drawn carriage through Central Park to meet Carnegie Hall.
And how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice your cross-over dribble, 3-point shot and free throws.
When the KCAL-Channel 9 broadcast started to put up graphics in the third quarter showing the all-time Knicks opponents’ record for points scored in MSG, the name at the top: Michael Jordan, 55. Jordan was also at 50.
As soon as John Ireland interviewed Spike Lee, who reminded everyone of the historic importance established by Jordan dropping “double nickels” on his Knicks (that was in 1995), you could sense the buzz that, in a New York minute, something special was happening.
But then, after Bryant passed 55 and headed into the fast lane, there was some confusion: Who had the highest scoring game in the fabled arena’s history? Patrick Ewing? Walt Frazier? Meadowlark Lemon from the Harlem Globetrotters?
Bernard King was king of the Garden, with a mere 60 on Christmas Day, 1984. Of course, the Knicks lost that one, too.
So even after Kobe blazed past Jordan, there was more work to do. The stars were aligned — Andrew Bynum was out, it was a key game in a six-game road trip, the Knicks love to run with the new system put in by new coach Mike D’Antoni. Spike Lee, Mariano Rivera, John McEnroe were there. The greatest stage in basketball was set.
And Kobe, who even sat out his customary few minutes of the fourth quarter, making it seemingly possible that he wouldn’t return to the game because the Lakers had a double-digit lead, added to the drama by returning and then going after the mark.
Note, this version of Madison Square Garden — No. 4 if you’re counting — has only been open since 1968. It’s the oldest building left in the NBA since everyone’s scrambling to find bigger and better facilities. It smells of history, no matter how ’68 seems like only yesterday to some of us. It was unbelieveable.
And do you believe him when, after being asked by Ireland if he knew he surpassed the MSG record, that Bryant said he didn’t know all those standards fell because of his night? You gotta believe someone (like Phil Jackson, the former Knick and Jordan’s former coach) knew. That’s all that mattered.
Sixty one in New York. That used to mean Roger Maris’ single-season home run record. Now it means the night Kobe Bryant lit up the Knicks.
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