Where There's Wilt ...
... There could be a way for Bryant to score 100. Anything seems possible now.
Thanks to Kobe Bryant you can add another item to the list of things that might happen in our lifetime, unlikely as they might be. All of a sudden another player scoring 100 points in an NBA game seems just inside the reality/fantasy border, like a female president, manned spaceflight to Mars or a hip-hop awards show without violence.
It might not happen any time soon, but …
"We've got to say it's possible," said George Gervin, four-time scoring champion for the San Antonio Spurs. "[Bryant] proved that it's possible."
Since Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks on March 2, 1962, the closest anyone had come was the 73-point game Denver Nugget David Thompson produced in 1978. That left a gap of 27 points — equivalent to Shaquille O'Neal's career scoring average entering this season.
Then Bryant went for 81 against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night.
"He was only 19 from there and he played 42 [out of 48] minutes," Gervin said. "Let's be realistic. He got that close. You know how everybody says Wilt's record will never be broken? He came close."
Can Bryant do it? Put it this way: He has a better chance of scoring 100 than the Lakers do of winning a championship. None of the nine previous 70-point performances came for a team that won a championship that season. The fact that a team is so dependent on one player for scoring indicates a lack of balance.
But it could be a key element in the perfect combination it would take for a run at Chamberlain.
"For a player to score 100 points or 81 points in a game, his teammates have to be willing to go along with it," said Gary Pomerantz, author of the book "Wilt, 1962," which focuses on Chamberlain's 100-point night.
That the Lakers thus far have been willing to go along for the ride speaks to "either their feelings for Kobe or their heightened sense of curiosity," Pomerantz said.
The rest of the guys know the only way their names will be in the Hall of Fame is if they appear alongside Bryant's in a historic box score. So they defer. Or Bryant takes the decision out of their hands and just shoots the ball.
That's the advantage Bryant has as a guard. He doesn't need anyone to pass him the ball in the frontcourt. He also can float around three-point territory, an option that didn't exist for Chamberlain or any other NBA player before the 1979-80 season.
It's also harder to double-team players on the perimeter. The help has to come from farther away, giving a guard — especially one as savvy as Bryant — more time to recognize it and find an escape route.
But Elgin Baylor, whose Laker record of 71 points fell by the wayside Sunday, once told me he thought a big man would be best suited to take on Chamberlain's record.
"The thing about it [is], you're going to have to get to the line a lot and you're going to have to get some offensive rebounds, some put-backs in order for that to happen," Baylor said. "A guy shooting a three-pointer is not that type of guy, who can score 100 points. Get to the line a lot and finish every time he gets the ball."
He didn't have the three-pointer, but Chamberlain tried just about every other kind of shot.
"He had fadeaway jumpers, dunks, layups, all that kind of stuff," said Harvey Pollack, Philadelphia's longtime director of statistical information who was in Hershey, Pa., for the historic game. "He was a mixture."
Most notably, he cashed in at the line. Chamberlain attempted 32 free throws on the 100-point night and made 28, uncharacteristic for a 47% career free-throw shooter.
"They could have called a lot more fouls on the Knicks than they called," Pollack said. "He shot 32, but he was fouled by these two, three guys guarding him constantly."
Free throws stop the clock. And the clock is an even greater adversary than the defense.
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