Kobe Bryant started 2006 not with a fadeaway jumper or a spectacular dunk, but rather a suspension.
The Lakers star was forced into the first two games of the New Year after nudging Grizzlies goalie Mike Miller in a loss to Los Angeles on Dec. 30, 2005. Bryant was “shocked” by NBA decision and noted that opposing players had already struck. him with glaring faults but avoided punishment.
“I wish I could go back in time and take that foul back knowing what I know now, getting two games for it,” Bryant said. “But in my mind, I didn’t think it was going to be a suspension for something like that. No way.”
Maybe that suspension gave Bryant some extra motivation because, man, he made up for lost time. Bryant returned to the ground on Jan.6, scoring 48 effective points in a win over the 76ers – and that was just the start.
In 13 games in January 2006, Bryant averaged 43.4 points per game, scoring the best rating month of his illustrious career. Only four players in NBA history have averaged more than 40 points per game for an entire month (minimum of 10 games played): Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, James Harden and Elgin Baylor.
The outstanding performance came on January 22 when Bryant torched the Raptors for 81 points, the second-highest individual total of all time behind only 100 Chamberlain point explosion. The box score is astounding, but that’s how Bryant did it that was so impressive.
“Everyone wants to talk about numbers. He could have had 71. He could have had 91 ”, Former Raptors guard Jalen Rose told ESPN’s Jorge Sedano. “The main thing I want everyone to take away from this game is the discipline of this man, the concentration of this man. So as a professional from another team, Jorge, you know what to do? have to accept it.
“And that’s why when people try to tease me, I’m like, uh, we held it under 100. What do you mean? What are you talking about? This is the Michael Jordan remix. .. This game embodies its all – the grandeur of time for sure. “
But Kobe’s mad rush was much more than the famous 81.
Bryant drained all seven of his three points against Philadelphia to start the month. He lost 50 points to the Clippers and 51 to the Kings. He has played five straight games without missing a free kick. He scored at least 30 points in 12 of 13 games and 40 or more in seven of those contests.
|Game||Points||Help||Rebounds||FG / FGA||3PT FG / 3PT FGA||FT / FTA||More / Minus|
|January 12||27||2||2||9-21||1 to 5||8-8||-2|
|January 14||38||seven||seven||13-28||1 to 5||11-11||+4|
The Lakers went 9-4 in January and 45-37 overall in 2005-06, relying heavily on Bryant to simply lead them to victory. The Hall of Fame averaged 35.4 points per game, a career-high that season. Los Angeles’ second-best scorer Lamar Odom was more than 20 points behind him at 14.8.
Kobe, 2005-2006. My favorite season in Kobe. He averages a ridiculous 35.4 points per game.
He scored 2,832 points, the 7th most in a season in NBA history.
The only players with more are Wilt Chamberlain (4x) and Michael Jordan (2x) pic.twitter.com/1liwnZhPKr
– Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) January 26, 2021
A lack of depth ultimately doomed the Lakers, who fell to the Suns in the first round of the 2006 NBA Playoffs. Los Angeles had a 3-1 lead after Bryant. hit multiple clutch shots in a match 4 win, but Phoenix took the final three games of the series to advance to the Western Conference semifinals.
Anything less than a championship was unacceptable to Bryant, so he probably didn’t look back on this campaign fondly. Still, this stretch – and this entire season – showed the kind of heights Kobe could reach.
It also marked the end of an era. Bryant went from No.8 to No.24 for the 2006-07 season and wore this jersey for the rest of his NBA days.
“When I first got there at 8 am I was really trying to ‘plant your flag’,” Bryant told ESPN’s Baxter Holmes in 2017. “I have to prove that I belong here in this league. I have to prove that I am one of the best in this league. You chase them. It’s non-stop energy and aggression etc.”
Not only has Bryant proven himself to be one of the best in the league, he has also proven himself to be in the discussion of the best to ever hit the pitch. He has an elite basketball resume, but Kobe’s excellence can be explained in a month.
Now imagine if he hadn’t been suspended for two games.