Bidding Basketball: Gifts Suited For A Scoring Legend

Last Tuesday, Jack Taylor of Grinnell College sent shockwaves through the basketball world when he set an NCAA single-game scoring record with 138 points. This week in Bidding Basketball we scavenge eBay’s “infinite inventory of NBA junk” for rare, memorable and/or quirky basketball memorabilia from the three NBA players who hold their own scoring records in the NBA: David Thompson, Kobe Bryant and Wilt Chamberlain.

David Thompson, 73 points vs. Detroit Pistons on April 9, 1978
Live Auction: David Thompson Denver Nuggets Bobblehead NBA Basketball SGA Stadium Giveaway Lot
Buy It Now: $16.19, plus shipping
The professional career of Thompson was, in many ways, symptomatic of the era in which he played. Alcohol and drug abuse was rampant among basketball pros during the 1970s, and many suffered from debilitating addictions to these substances — Thompson included. As a consequence for such excess, the 6-4 guard never really lived up to the potential he displayed as a collegian at North Carolina State, averaging a respectable — albeit consistent — 22.7 PPG, 4.1 RPG, and 3.3 APG in the NBA. But when “Skywalker” was on, boy, was he on.

Never was this more apparent than on April 6, 1978. Thompson entered the final game of the ’78 season against Detroit in a tight race with George Gervin for the league scoring title. Though not intending to score so much, Thompson got off to a hot start. He shot 13-of-14 from the field and 6-of-6 from the foul line, racking up 32 points in the first quarter. (His shooting performance in that first quarter still holds the NBA record for most field goals made in a quarter.) Thompson’s streak continued in the second period as he netted another 21 points (on 7-of-9 shooting), bringing his halftime total to 53 points.

During the break, his Denver Nuggets teammates apparently encouraged Thompson to shoot more in the second half in order to break Chamberlain’s single-game points record, but he declined. According to head coach Larry Brown, “He just wanted to play the game.”

The Pistons attempted to shut Thompson down for the rest of the game, sending double and triple-teams at him throughout. To their credit, the Pistons held him to 20 second-half points. Thompson’s 73-point total briefly put him ahead of Gervin in the scoring contest until The Iceman scored 63 points of his own later that day; ultimately edging Thompson out by .07 points. Still, Thompson’s performance that afternoon is one of the most impressive in NBA history, and ranks as the fourth most points scored by a player in a single NBA game (As Thompson later mused, imagine if he had the benefit of the three-point line?). Maybe more importantly, though, he has exercised his demons and is more than 20 years sober. NBA fans can commemorate his career with this Nuggets bobblehead.

Kobe Bryant, 81 points vs. Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006
Buy It Now: $249.99, plus shipping

When Kobe Bryant learned of Jack Taylor‘s 138-point game last week, his apparent reaction as so: “That’s amazing. He must have been wearing the Mambas, man. Only Mambas have no conscience to shoot the ball like that.”

Indeed, the Black Mamba is no stranger to unconscious shooting performances. Kobe has demonstrated an otherworldly ability to score throughout his career, evidenced by two scoring titles, 25.4 PPG career scoring rate, nearly 30,000 total points, and the record for the second-most points in a single game.

Bryant, in contrast to David Thompson, was relatively quiet in the first half of his record-setting game. At halftime he had 26 points (remarkable by any other standard), but the Lakers still trailed Toronto by 15.

Taking it upon himself to make-up the deficit, Bryant exploded in the second half. He scorched the Raps for 27 in the third quarter, and as if that wasn’t enough, poured in another 28 in the final stanza. Bryant finished with 55 in the second half, scoring all but 18 of his team’s points during that time, and of course, 81 points altogether in the game. His final offensive statline was: 28-of-46 FGs, 7-of-13 from three and 18-of-20 FTs in nearly 42 minutes. The Lakers won, 122-104.

The performance was—and in many ways, still is—hard to put into words.

“That was something that just happened. It’s tough to explain. It’s just one of those things,” Kobe explained after the game. “It really hasn’t, like, set in for me. It’s about the ‘W,’ that’s why I turned it on. It turned into something special. To sit here and say I grasp what happened, that would be lying.”

On Bryant’s feet during the historic 81-point game were his first Nike signature shoes, the Zoom Kobe I. Although the white/purple joints he wore on that day are scarce online, other colorways are still available, such as this black and gold pair. Because, as Bryant stated, you can only shoot unconsciously when you’re wearing Mambas.

Wilt Chamberlain, 100 points vs. New York Knicks on March 2, 1962
Live Auction: Wilt Chamberlain 100 Point Game Used Floor Court 76ers
Price: $179.00, plus shipping

There are only five players in NBA history to score 70 or more points in a single game: David Robinson, Elgin Baylor, Thompson, Bryant, and Chamberlain. Each have hit the mark once—except Chamberlain. He did it six (!!!) times in his career. The 7-foot center dominated the league during the 1960s, punishing smaller defenders with strong low-post moves (he was one the first players to perfect the fadeaway) and powerful slams (known as the Dipper Dunk). The most impressive of the Dipper’s 70-plus nights came on March 2, 1962 against the New York Knicks when he scored 100 points.

Details of Wilt’s 100 are rather sketchy as no video footage of the game exists, only a portion of the game was broadcast on radio, no national media were present, and only 4,124 spectators were in attendance at Hershey Sports Arena in Hershey, Penn. But based on what has been reported (compiled superbly in Wilt, 1962 by Gary M. Pomerantz), it was a wonky affair.

During the first quarter of the game, Chamberlain scored 23 points. This by itself was not all that remarkable for Chamberlain, who often had high scoring quarters; what was striking was Wilt’s free-throw shooting. Despite being a notoriously poor foul shooter at 51 percent for his career, The Dipper was surprisingly effective from the charity stripe this night, hitting all nine of his first-quarter FTs. He added 18 more points (4-of-5 from the line) in the second quarter.

At halftime, Chamberlain had 41. However, the Philadelphia Warriors decided in the locker room that 41 wasn’t enough: they’d try to see how many more points their teammate could score. According to Pomerantz, Warriors guard Guy Rodgers said, “Let’s get the ball to Dip. Let’s see how many he can get.”

And so, they fed Chamberlain some more. The Dipper scored another 28 points in the third, and again, was perfect from the line. He was at 69 points.

Realizing the potential for history to be made, both sides changed their strategy completely in the fourth quarter. It hardly resembled basketball. The Warriors essentially stopped playing, and did everything they could to pad Chamberlain’s statline. They passed to him almost every possession — even when he was quintuple-teamed by Knicks defenders (“Wilt hasn’t gotten one cheap basket tonight, [Paul] Arizin thought. Every last one he’s earned,” writes Pomerantz in Wilt, 1962).

Conversely, the frustrated Knicks began to intentionally foul other players on the Warriors to prevent Chamberlain from scoring. In response, the Warriors began fouling the Knicks to extend the game. For their part, the fans only exacerbated the spectacle, crowding the court screaming, “Give it to Wilt! Give it to Wilt!”

With 61 seconds remaining, the Dipper had scored 98 points. After the Knicks’ Richie Guerin made a penalty free throw, Rodgers immediately lobbed the in-bound pass down the length of the court to Chamberlain. Chamberlain missed two consecutive shots, but both were rebounded by the Warriors. Finally, the clock ticking down to 46 seconds, Jeff Ruklick found Chamberlain beneath the basket, who flushed his 99th and 100th points with a patented Dipper Dunk.

The crowd at the Hershey Arena rushed the floor to celebrate Chamberlain’s record-setting game. 100 points! Now, through the magic of the Internet, you can own a piece of that Hershey hardwood from Wilt’s magical night in 1962 (and yet we still can’t find proper audio of the game?). It’s a piece of history that is unlikely to ever be repeated … unless Jack Taylor happens to be drafted by an NBA team.

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