Rob Vanstone: How I missed Kobe Bryant's 81-point game

Rob Vanstone still laments the fact that he missed an opportunity to see Kobe Bryant's 81-point game in person.


One fine day, I seized the opportunity to watch Kobe Bryant play for the Los Angeles Lakers.

It should have been two fine days.

The sad news that Bryant was among nine people who died in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash reminded me of my biggest regret as a sports fan.

My wife and I were in Los Angeles on Jan. 22, 2006, when Bryant erupted for 81 points — the second-highest total in NBA history — against the visiting Toronto Raptors.

In fact, we had visited the Staples Center three times during that weeklong trip, for the purpose of watching the Los Angeles Kings.

Before leaving for California, I had checked the Lakers’ website. Tickets were available for the game against the Raptors. At the time, I gave serious thought to purchasing seats, but decided against doing so because we already had three sporting events on our agenda.

Besides, the primary purpose of the trip was to ride bicycles up and down the coast. We even flew our own bikes to Los Angeles, in addition to renting a van so we could transport the two-wheelers to our no-star hotel in Santa Monica.

Once we got there, it felt like we were in a postcard.

I never gave Lakers versus Raptors a second thought.

On the day of the game, we rode our bikes, watched the sunset, sipped lemonade, strolled around the Santa Monica Pier, and concluded that life was just dandy.

For dinner, we visited a sidewalk café and marvelled at the picturesque setting.

Afterwards, we went for a leisurely walk, before returning to the hotel.

I flipped on the television just in time for the 10 o’clock news.

“Big news from the Staples Center!” I was informed. “Kobe Bryant scored 81 points as the …”

At that point, I may have uttered a word that is not suitable for publication in this fine journal.

Suddenly, I didn’t care about the palm trees, the sandy beaches, the lemonade, the delicious cheesecake I had Hoovered for dessert, bicycling …

I was furious with myself.

“Why didn’t we go to the Lakers game?” I warbled, incessantly.

Fast forward to 2013.

We planned a trip to Florida, the destinations being Miami (South Beach, more lemonade) and Orlando (home of Saskatchewan Roughriders legend Joey Walters).

The timing was fortuitous. The Miami Heat was at home for not one, not two, but THREE games during our stay.

And the visitors for the third such game were … wait for it … Kobe Bryant and the Lakers!

There was only one problem: The Heat-Lakers game was sold out far in advance.

A cursory check of the re-sale market revealed that seats were available, but at a stratospheric price.

The impulsive inclination was to simply skip the game. Then I reminded myself of Jan. 22, 2006.


Each ticket was $200-plus U.S. — and we sat about as far away from the court as two people could be.

I didn’t care. I felt like I had the best seat in the house. I was in the building. Nothing else mattered.

The game featured five future Hall of Famers — Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Ray Allen and former Regina resident Steve Nash.

One dunk by Wade — my second-favourite NBA player of all time, next to Denver Nuggets aerialist David Thompson — brought me out of my seat.

LeBron was slammin’ and jammin’ for most of the afternoon as the Heat won 107-97.

But, from the outset of the warm-up, I could not take my eyes off Bryant.

It was fascinating to watch him practising virtually any kind of shot that he would be called upon to attempt during the game.

Other players, LeBron in particular, dazzled the crowd with an array of pre-game dunks. Meanwhile, Bryant simply went about his business without any flashiness, making virtually every shot he attempted.

Once the game began, he was in fine form. He went 11-for-19 from the field en route to scoring 28 points, two of which resulted from an awe-inspiring, spinning move toward the basket.

As we left American Airlines Arena, I was still buzzing about Wade’s sensational slam, but there was also a quiet satisfaction over the fact that, at long last, I had seen Kobe Bryant in person.

Now, especially, I am glad I was there.

(Rob Vanstone is the Regina Leader-Post’s sports editor.)