Sharing a birthday with one of Kobe’s greatest moments united us forever
Kobe Bryant scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on my 12th birthday, Jan. 22, 2006.
That game felt surreal to me then and even moreso now. It was the second-most points in a single game by any player in the history of the NBA. This all occurred in 2006 when Bryant had a historic stretch. By this point, it was no secret how impressive his work ethic was. The myth behind his legendary status was growing at lightning speed. He would trash talk, spend obscene hours at the Staples Centre and he was consistently throwing down some performances that looked like they came out of a video game.
He had four straight 40-point games two weeks earlier, and just a few games before that, he scored 62 points in just 32 minutes against the Dallas Mavericks. He felt like a real-life superhero, jumping all over the court, hitting fade-away after fade-away.
Unlike a superhero, Bryant’s heroics didn’t always equal a victory. Leading up to that special night, the Lakers had lost their last two. But even in those games, the Black Mamba dropped 51 and 37 points, respectively. He had not missed a free throw in five games; he was 50 for 50 heading into the Toronto game.
Toronto was not even kind of good at this time. Definitely no Kawhi Leonard. No DeMar DeRozan. No Kyle Lowry. More like prime Mike James, young Chris Bosh and old Jalen Rose.
I was the only person eyeing this game on the schedule. “Lakers play the Raps on my birthday, say less!” I told myself. I thought that was notable: my two teams playing on my birthday. Neither had any chance of winning the championship, but this was a cool coincidence.
The game was so meaningless I didn’t even watch it. I woke up the next day feeling like I missed an explosion. Eighty-one points? Are we sure that’s not a typo?
I watched the highlights in the morning and couldn’t believe what I saw. The Raptors were actually leading by 15 at halftime and somehow managed to give up the lead, lose by 18, and get 81 points scored on them by just one guy.
Every year, I would look forward to that anniversary highlight package circling the internet. Especially at the end of his career, when Kobe refused to lose a standoff with father time.
I am still numb to the idea that Bryant is gone. To me, he’s not dead. I won’t let him die. He is the personification of hard work. Kobe Bryant was my favourite player of all time. When he retired in 2016, I had no favourite player.
This whole time since his death has been like a really bad dream; his death just won’t sink in for me. To me, he’s still alive, we just won’t ever hear from him again. Instagram has been taken over by his smile, fist pump and videos of grown men crying. Men who have been on TV for decades struggling to get a sentence out.
He left us with his lessons. His work ethic, his focus, his dedication. The only way to respect his legacy is to embody that.
Last September, Bryant was on the Knuckleheads Podcast with former NBA players Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles. He explained the significance of wearing No. 24 this way: “Philosophically for me, it carried a significance because it was about approaching every day as if it was my last.”
With his attention to detail — the way he never wasted a second on the court — Bryant really did seem to approach every day like it was his last. We would never have imagined that day would come so soon.
That historic night against the Raptors makes me feel forever connected to Kobe. Every year my birthday isn’t just important to me but to Kobe and his fans.
It is one day that will always be significant for all of us.