81 points. It's one of the indisputable trump cards (along with the ring count) that any Laker fan can play when others try to compare other players to Kobe. Was it the greatest single game performance of all time?
I can't tell you how many times I've watched the youtube clips of that game. It was simply amazing. But with Kobe getting older and winning a couple more championships, it seems that the significance of the performance has been somewhat forgotten. ESPN has been remedying this a little by running several pieces commemorating the 5th anniversary of the game.
Let me just get it out there: Kobe's 81 beats Wilt's 100 hands down.
I know a lot of Laker diehards don't like John Hollinger. They think he's a Kobe-hater. I don't think that's right. His problem is that sometimes he's not able to look past the numbers and see the players on the court (and it's also for this reason that I think he's not capable of hating a player). As many on these forums have pointed out, there's much about advanced statistics that don't quite capture exactly what Kobe brings to the court. Nevertheless, I encourage everybody to read Hollinger's article from back in '06 on Kobe's 81. He is adamant that Kobe's performance crushes Wilt's 100. Basically, he argues that if you account for two factors (the pace of the game is much slower now than in Wilt's time; Kobe played several minutes less than Wilt), then you could extrapolate Kobe's points to be equivalent to 135 points in Wilt's era.
I think most would agree that we'll never see somebody score 100 in a game again. But what about 81? Kobe's not going to do it again (his team is too good; he's slowed down a step). Is there anybody else in the league right now capable of putting up 81? Even when Bron was in Cleveland, I don't think he could have done it. Certainly, not now. Wade is capable of brilliance, but I don't think he has the consistent outside shot necessary. Durantula? Can't see it. Maybe 60+, but not 70 or 80. Rose? No way. Griffen? Interesting thought, but he has a long way to go yet. Plus, I'm not sure if an interior player could reach that high given today's rules.
Though there's no way to know, I think 81 is going to stand for a long time as the standard by which great offensive outbursts are judged.
UPDATE: if you don't have ESPN Insider, here is an alternative link to the article.