This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! In this feature, we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in some nostalgia. Check in every Wednesday for retrospectives and other features on older versions of NBA Live, NBA 2K, and old school basketball video games in general. You’ll also find old NLSC editorials re-published with added commentary, and other flashback content. This week, I’m aiming to replicate Kobe Bryant’s 81 point game in NBA Live 06.
Monday marked the twelfth anniversary of Kobe Bryant’s career high 81 point game against the Toronto Raptors. The Los Angeles Lakers legend’s torching of Toronto put him in second place behind Wilt Chamberlain for the most points scored in a single NBA game. It was a spectacular feat, and I remember my jaw actually dropping when I checked the scores that day. Between Shaquille O’Neal’s departure and the arrival of Pau Gasol, the Lakers languished in relative mediocrity in terms of the standings, but Kobe was putting up some numbers for the ages.
After his legendary 81 point game, NBA.com threw down a challenge for basketball gamers to try and replicate Kobe Bryant’s performance in either NBA Live 06 or NBA 2K6. For this week’s Wayback Wednesday, I decided that I’d dust off NBA Live 06 PC – one of my all-time favourite basketball games – and give it a shot myself, over a decade later. 81 points seems like something out of a video game, but just how easily can it be done on the virtual hardwood? Let’s take a look back…way back…
In the interest of fairness and authenticity, I decided that it would be best to play with the default sliders, art, rosters, and AIACT file. I also opted for Superstar difficulty, and twelve minute quarters. Looking back at the gamers who did undertake the challenge twelve years ago, several actually managed to top 100 points, often in less than thirty minutes. Mind you, many played on Starter difficulty; combined with Freestyle Superstars, it would have made the challenge a whole lot easier. I also noticed that some gamers attempted over 100 shots with Kobe. My aim was to hit at least 81 in a win against the Raptors on Superstar, while shooting at a decent clip.
Having once scored 92 points with Ben Gordon on Superstar difficulty, I entered the game feeling rather confident that I could match Kobe Bryant’s real life feat. It’s been some time since I played NBA Live 06 regularly however, and the 2006 Lakers are not a squad I played with very often. Whenever you’re aiming for a statistical goal in a video game, there’s also a tendency to try to force things, and that’s certainly what happened. After picking up a foul with him seven seconds into the game, and then a turnover fourteen seconds later, I got Kobe his first basket at the 11:17 mark. His first three came with 6:44 remaining, and the points began to stack up.
Kobe ended up scoring the first 27 points for the Lakers, before a dunk by Andrew Bynum broke the streak and ensured a 29-28 lead at quarter time. With Kobe on the bench early on in the second, the Raptors pulled ahead. The ’06 Lakers were not a deep squad, and I couldn’t get anything going at either end. I brought Kobe back in around the nine minute mark, but it was still a struggle. I couldn’t hit a free throw – my beloved T-Meter was very unkind on Superstar difficulty – and so the Lakers still trailed 67-60 at the half, though Kobe was more than halfway to his goal with 43 points on 20-for-39 shooting. I still felt reasonably confident.
Although Kobe’s Outside Scorer Freestyle Superstars abilities did help a little, they hadn’t exactly been overpowering. The CPU had still managed to block or alter quite a few of his layup attempts, so I wasn’t going to be able to cheese my way to 81 points. I did get into a groove in the third quarter though, as I started knocking down some jumpshots, including a few threes. With a dunk, Kobe hit the 64 point mark and tied the game at 83. I got him to 70 points with 4:32 left, and decided to take him out so that he’d be fresh enough to play the entire fourth quarter. I had an 89-85 lead at the time, and I figured that I could hold on while the starters caught their breath.
As it turned out, I probably should’ve kept him on at least a couple of minutes longer, and tried to extend the lead. I held a 103-101 lead heading into the fourth, but the Raptors had me reeling early on in the final period. The comeback logic was in full force, which meant Jalen Rose, Rafer Alston, and Morris Peterson nailed contested jumpshot after contested jumpshot, while I found myself missing dunks and layups. Kobe hit a three to reach 81 points with 5:36 remaining, and tie the game at 120. After a back and forth battle, another three from Kobe (now sitting on 90 points) put LA up 136-134. After Peterson hit a long two with 12.8 left, it was Mamba Time.
It wasn’t to be. As I wound down the clock, Alston swiped the ball from Kobe, and raced up court. I managed to force a miss as time expired, but I’d now have to get the job done in overtime. Unfortunately, Kobe had gone ice cold; Freestyle Superstars wasn’t helping, as I shot just 8-for-22 with him in the fourth quarter after shooting 11-for-15 in the third. In overtime, he couldn’t buy a basket. He was just 1-for-8 to finish with 92 points, and the Raptors ended up out-gunning me. Alston finished with 27 points, Rose had 29, and Peterson scored a team high 33 as Toronto rewrote history themselves and picked up the overtime win, 149-142.
Naturally, I was disappointed. Although I’d equalled and then exceeded Kobe’s 81 point barrage, he ended up shooting 40-for-84 from the field. I’d misjudged how out of practice I was using the old T-Meter, and shot very poorly from the line as a result. Bottom line, I’d failed to win the game as the real Lakers had done. Although I did manage to score 81 points with Kobe on Superstar difficulty – plus eleven more – I don’t feel as though I really completed the challenge, having not picked up the victory as well. Rust was certainly a factor, but I unquestionably made a mistake when I passed up the opportunity to extend my lead late in the third quarter.
Still, it was fun to go back to an old favourite, and challenge myself to match Kobe Bryant’s incredible game from all those years ago. Again, performances like that are often compared to video games, but even on the virtual hardwood, they’re difficult to replicate. I found that out when I was finishing the Jordan Challenge in NBA 2K11, and it was just as tough to tackle this self-imposed challenge in NBA Live 06. Hats off to everyone who was able to do it back in 2006! As for Kobe Bryant, with both of his jersey numbers taking their rightful place in the rafters of the Staples Center, the next step is obviously the Hall of Fame in Springfield, in just a few more years.