Jan. 22, 2006, was one of the truly special nights in NBA history. In just under 42 minutes of playing time, Kobe Bryant put on one of the greatest offensive displays professional basketball has ever seen, pouring in 81 points on 46 shots against the Toronto Raptors to key the Los Angeles Lakers to an 18-point win. It was the second-highest single-game point total ever scored in the NBA, behind only Wilt Chamberlain's legendary 100-point game against the New York Knicks in 1962. No one who caught it is likely to forget just how amazing Bryant was that night — every weapon in his Hall of Fame arsenal was on display, much to the chagrin of Raptors fans. (Sorry, Raptors fans.)
But what led to Kobe's scorching shooting and deft driving? What, on that night in particular, made him the most dominant offensive player in the world? As it turns out, it was the same thing that leads to most great nights in a young man's life.
In a guest column on healthy living written for Village.com — which is being guest-edited this week by first lady Michelle Obama, a noted supporter of both physical fitness and the U.S. men's national basketball team — Bryant revealed the secret to his record-setting performance:
I only started really focusing on my nutrition a few years ago. I started experiencing low energy and was feeling bloated. Then it hit me: 'Kobe you're not 25 anymore' (I once had pepperoni pizza before scoring 81 points).
A brief fact check: Kobe was 27 when he popped for 81. A brief laugh: Kobe says he "once had pepperoni pizza before scoring 81 points" like he has to clarify which 81-point performance he's talking about, like there's been more than one. A brief dap: It's great to hear that Kobe is, or at least was, a proud member of #TeamPizza. We are many; we are legion.
It's admirable that Kobe's begun taking better care of his body over the past few years, even dropping 16 pounds before the 2012 Summer Olympics to better prepare himself for the rigors of heading right into the NBA season after a summer of international ball. Players talk all the time about changing their eating habits to ensure that their bodies are burning cleaner fuel with fewer harmful deposits, with pros like Steve Nash, Dwyane Wade and Jared Dudley attributing improved energy, quickness and stamina, in part, to their revamped dietary regimens; for someone as pathologically competitive as Bryant, even the slightest potential benefit of cutting out junk foods totally justifies the more ascetic approach.
That said ... we might be missing the forest for the trees here, Kobe.
Remember how good you were that night? Allow me to remind you: You were "28 for 46 from the floor, 7 for 13 from long range and 18 for 20 from the line" good. You were "scoring 158 points per 100 possessions" good. You were "money from damn near everywhere on the court" good.
You were pepperoni pizza good, Kobe. And if you'll just let up the reins on this "healthy living" talk, you can be that good again. Just give your man Hedo a call. He's still got the hook-up.
best worst part of it all? The Raptors cracked the century mark in the 122-104 loss, meaning that if the game had been held at the Air Canada Centre rather than at the Staples Center, Bryant's pizza-fueled game would also have entitled each attendee to one free slice of cheese or pepperoni pizza at a participating Pizza Pizza location. Pizza for one man before the game; pizza for all afterward. Even Stan Van Gundy couldn't have been mad at such perfect symmetry. (Kudos to Raptors.com's Jay Satur for catching my geographic error.)
Now that we've spent all this time talking about it, let's relive the 81-point game in this three-minute supercut of all Bryant's buckets:
Happy 34th birthday, Kobe. If he'd known about the pizza thing, Pau Gasol probably wouldn't have baked a cake.
Hat-tip to I Am A GM.