The Jan. 22, 2006 game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors was supposed to be just another routine, nondescript midseason contest that wouldn’t attract much, if any, attention nationwide.
The Lakers were 21-19 coming into the game, and Kobe Bryant was forced to do just about all the heavy lifting for a very anemic team just to give it a shot at returning to the playoffs.
As the game started, L.A. looked flat against a bad Raptors team that was 14-26. It fell behind 36-29 after one quarter and 63-49 at halftime, and although Bryant had 26 points already, there was no excitement inside of Staples Center.
But with the Lakers needing a big spark, he started to get hot in the third quarter. He hit jumper after jumper, and suddenly he had tallied 27 in the period on 11-of-15 shooting as the Lakers pulled to within four points.
Now everyone was taking notice, as they realized Bryant was in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime performance. He passed 60 points, then 70 points, as he established the Lakers franchise record for the highest-scoring game by any player.
His 81 points ensured a 122-104 win while leaving fans with vivid memories that would never fade. It was also the first step toward Bryant rehabilitating his tattered public image, and a step toward eventually getting the Lakers back into championship contention within a couple of years.