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Taking a shot at history

Bryant vs. Wilt points to changes in today's NBA

The object of the game is to put the ball through the orange rim. That's the fun. No one starts playing basketball with the intention of becoming the next great defensive stopper. Ninety-nine times out of 100, show me a so-called defensive stopper and I'll show you someone who can't shoot. (The 100th guy is named Michael Jordan.)

I believe I speak for millions when I say that scoring is the fun of the game. That's why so many of us love three-on-three, winners out. Score enough and we never have to play defense. Ever.

Coaches hate this talk. Coaches -- most of them, anyway -- love defense. Some of them are happy when their team doesn't have the ball. These guys ought to ask themselves why they fell in love with basketball in the first place. I guarantee you it wasn't because they wanted to shut someone down. It's because they wanted to see the ball go through the hoop. But somewhere along the line, they get this defense religion and they wind up taking all the fun out of the game.

Fans get a little swept up by this boring defense mentality if the team they support is successful, but they always know something is missing in their life. Then a guy comes along to score 81 points and we all can't stop talking about it because there are few things on earth we wish we could do more than be the guy who gets 81 points in an NBA game.

Fifty? Cool. 60? Majestic. 70? Awesome, baby! 80? Unimaginable.

I mean, this wasn't 81 points in a YMCA game. This was 81 points in the World's Greatest Basketball League.

And there was something else about it. This wasn't 81 points of glorified garbage time. This was 81 points in a game where the man's team was trailing by 18 with 8:53 left in the third quarter. This was about a guy scoring 51 of his team's final 69 points as his club was going from 18 down to as many as 20 ahead. Kobe Bryant scored 51 points against the Toronto Raptors in the span of 20 minutes 10 seconds. Even Michael would have to be impressed.

Is it not also time to conduct a séance to see what Wilt Chamberlain is thinking? Surely the Big Dipper must have a thought or two on the subject of a major scoring binge, the likes of which only he could relate to.

The Wilt 100-point game vs. the Kobe 81-point game is certainly a juicy topic for hoop junkies. But anyone entering into the discussion must understand that we are talking about two vastly different worlds.

Start with the settings. They couldn't be more different. Kobe scored his 81 points before a full house of 18,897 in a 21st-century state-of-the-art arena in downtown Los Angeles. Wilt scored his 100 points against the New York Knicks before an announced crowd of 4,124 people in a dingy arena in Hershey, Pa., the Philadelphia Warriors' home-away-from-home for many years.

News of Kobe's achievement was flashed to the world as it was transpiring. Everyone who cares has seen a video highlight. You can get the full play-by-play, and anything else you need, from the Internet at this instant. There is no video of Wilt's game. There is only a partial tape of Bill Campbell's radio play-by-play. There were Philadelphia writers in attendance -- including current New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, then a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Bulletin -- but no New York writers made the trip. The only postgame photo of Chamberlain was made by an AP photographer who had attended the game as a fan.

Kobe neither sought, nor needed, much help from his teammates. He is a guard. He can bring the ball up and then decide whether or not he's going to give it up. In that 62-point game he had earlier this season, he had no assists. In this game, he had two. It is not an exaggeration to say that he can get a shot off any time he wishes, and that on this occasion he wished to do so about 99 percent of the time, at least in the second half.

Wilt was a center. He could do little to help himself aside from grab an offensive rebound. He was dependent on the kindness of his friends, most notably Guy Rodgers, who had 20 assists that evening (eight shy of his career high). The Warriors assisted on 62 percent (39 of 63) of their baskets in Wilt's game. The Lakers assisted on 43 percent of their baskets (18 of 42) in the Kobe game.

We don't know any field goal/assist breakdowns in the Wilt game, but we do know that assists were credited on just nine of Kobe's 28 baskets, and that six of those assists came on 3-pointers. The other three? A 20-footer, a 21-footer, and a dunk. So we have eight bogus modern assists. With all due respect to his mates, Kobe scored 26 of his 28 field goals on his own. For the record, in 1962 Rodgers wasn't getting credit for assists on 20-footers, and, of course, there was no NBA 3-point shot in those days.

Let's talk threes. Kobe did make seven threes, something unavailable to anyone in Wilt's day. Absent the three, Kobe doesn't break 80. But let the record show that 81 minus 7 is 74 and that still gives Kobe the non-Wilt, non-overtime NBA record for a game. Then again, the frustrated Raptors twice fouled Kobe while he was attempting, and missing, a three. Subtract those two bonus points and we're down to 72. Incidentally, you are allowed to daydream about what Pete Maravich might have done had the three come along in his prime rather than in his final year. The Pistol did drop 68 on the Knicks without benefit of the three. I just had to throw that in.

The game pace was different in the Wilt days. The final score of his 100-point game was Philadelphia 169, New York 147. The Warriors (it was their last year in Philly before moving to San Francisco) averaged 125.4 points per game that year, while putting up an average of 110 shots per game. The final score of Kobe's 81-point game was LA 122, Toronto 104. The Lakers are averaging 98.3 points per game while taking an average of 81 shots a game.

Wilt took 63 official shots from the floor while playing all 48 minutes and was a thoroughly aberrational 28 of 32 from the line. This is a man who holds the NBA record for most free throw misses in a game: 22 (even more astonishing, he still had 52 points that game). Kobe took 46 official shots from the floor while going 18 of 20 from the line. Factoring in an indeterminate number of non-shooting fouls, Wilt put the ball up more than 70 times in 48 minutes. Kobe put it up upward of 50 times in 42 minutes. Is it not reasonable to assume that in the course of an up-and-down 1962-style game a superbly conditioned Kobe might be capable of getting off many more shots?

What does all that mean? I'm not sure, but here's something that does mean something. Kobe's game was legit from start to finish. Remember that business about scoring 51 points in 20 minutes, starting with his team being 18 down (71-53). Wilt's game deteriorated into farce. With about six minutes remaining, the Knicks began fouling in the backcourt to keep the ball out of Wilt's hands. In response, Warriors coach Frank McGuire inserted three subs with a little over three minutes to go with instructions to foul every Knick they saw in order to get the ball back for Wilt.

Question: Both games are notable, but was either one more impressive than Kevin Porter getting 30 points and 25 assists against the Celtics on March 9, 1979? Just asking.

Sorry for the digression. We are talking about the thrill of scoring, and even without the 100-point game Wilt remains the gold standard. He did average 50.4 points per game that year, and entering his 100-pointer he was coming off games of 67, 65, and 61. That's 73 a game. Pretty good week.

Kobe next plays Friday night against Golden State. The wrist should be sufficiently rested.

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