In his 40 years in basketball, nothing Chuck Swirksy has seen compared to Kobe Bryant’s performance against the Toronto Raptors.
The broadcaster reminisced about Bryant’s 81-point game against the Raptors on Sunday, shortly after the news broke that the Los Angeles Lakers great had died in a helicopter crash at the age of 41.
Bryant’s scoring against visiting Toronto on Jan. 22, 2006 stands as the second most in NBA history, second only to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 on March 2, 1962.
“It was really the most remarkable event I’ve ever called, to see one man take on five players,” said Swirsky, who was the play-by-play announcer for the Raptors at the time. “That’s exactly what it was on that Sunday night at Staples Centre in Los Angeles. Kobe Bryant was a one-man wrecking crew.
“He did it at the foul line, he did it on three-point shots, he did it on drives to the rim. He was on a mission.”
Bryant was an 18-time NBA all-star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Lakers.
He retired in 2016 as the third-leading scorer in NBA history, finishing two decades in Los Angeles as a prolific scorer with a sublime all-around game and a relentless competitive ethic. He held that spot in the league scoring ranks until Saturday night, when the Lakers’ LeBron James passed him for third place during a game in Philadelphia, Bryant’s hometown.
For Swirsky, Bryant’s legendary performance against the Raptors was a seminal moment in an all-time career.
“He was not a big man. He was not Wilt Chamberlain, who was seven-feet tall, who scored 100 which is crazy to begin with, and total respect to Wilt Chamberlain, but we’re talking about a man that was 6-6, 6-7, maybe,” said Swirsky, who is now an announcer for the Chicago Bulls. “It was just a remarkable achievement.”
Bryant had one of the greatest careers in recent NBA history and became one of the game’s most popular players as the face of the 16-time NBA champion Lakers franchise. He was the league MVP in 2008 and a two-time NBA scoring champion, and he earned 12 selections to the NBA’s All-Defensive teams.
The worlds of sports and entertainment mourned Bryant’s death on Sunday. A moment of silence was observed at a pre-broadcast portion of the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.