'Well, there goes the assist title."
That's what a friend said after Kobe Bryant dropped a surreal 81 points on Toronto Sunday night.
Not, "Did you see him, falling into the Raptors' bench twice after he made those two deep threes in the fourth?"
Or, "The man brought his team back from 18 points down in the third quarter. Did Wilt Chamberlain do that when he scored 100?"
Nope. Just, "There goes Kobe, not giving it up again."
The day after an NBA player scored more points in a game than anyone in almost 44 years, let's do away with the double-standard. Let's start appreciating Kobe Bryant for who he is as a player and stop moaning about what he is not.
Bryant is still perceived in many quarters as a selfish ball hog, which is why his grand accomplishment is not celebrated today like it would if you-know-who seized a game the way Bryant did at the Staples Center. The revisionist historians argue Michael Jordan would not have taken 46 shots and 13 three-pointers -- even though Bryant made more than half of his field goals and three-point attempts.
They won't remember the rest of Bryant's supporting cast, which shot a combined 14 of 42 in a game they were about to give away, or how lackadaisical Lamar Odom looked (0 for 4, one rebound in the first half).
All they'll say is, "Michael would have passed more."
"I wish it would just stop," Bryant said when asked of the Jordan comparison after the game. "MJ is MJ. I'm Kobe. I think people should just let it go. It annoys me.
"Michael is probably the greatest player of all time. It's not fair to compare me, or LeBron or whoever comes along to him. We can't be compared to them. We're not from their era. I think people should just sit back and enjoy what we do."
Whether you enjoy his levitation and competitiveness or you think he is part of what's wrong with the modern game, Kobe Bryant is going to score 100 points in an NBA contest. He's that good and that indefensible.
He's playing on an average NBA team that needs him to put up huge numbers every game. Which is why his one-time harshest critic, Phil Jackson, has not said boo about Bryant averaging 45.5 points the last 10 games.
Jackson knows: If Bryant doesn't detonate for more than 30, the Lakers probably lose.
"He's going to get 100-plus any day now," Bill Walton said, adding, "particularly if they keep playing Toronto."
"Forget the level of skill to get to that point, the level of physical fitness to keep going like that, to be in such a zone, is just unreal," the Hall of Fame center and NBA analyst said from his home in San Diego.
"It was like a game down at the rec center during the summer. That's what he turned it into. And he made everybody else look like a junior high school player."
Jerry West was mesmerized, too. The Memphis team president, who while with the Lakers made a draft day trade for Bryant in 1996, watched all of Bryant's 55-point second half.
"I don't know if anyone could have stopped him last night," West said by telephone. "It's so senseless to me to say he shouldn't take over like that. You give the same amount of shots to everybody else and they're not making that many, I know it."
Yes, Bryant's point-to-assist ratio (40.5 to 1) on Sunday will not excite either Shaquille O'Neal or John Wooden. But West is right: The NBA is not an equal-opportunity league. Kevin Garnett's team was up by 19 points on Philadelphia on Sunday and lost. You know how many shots Garnett took in the final quarter? One. Would the purists be happier if Bryant, Chris Mihm and Smush Parker all took 20 shots?
Bryant scored more in two quarters than Allen Iverson totaled in four on his way to a season-high of 53 points in a game last month. Eighty-eight times this season NBA teams failed to score more than 80. Think about that: Bryant outscored 88 entire rosters.
"Players are jealous of greatness," West added. "Kobe is a unique talent and a unique person. His belief that he can jump to the moon is never going to change. But I admire him, what he's been able to overcome. You would think he would be a fair-haired man of the NBA with what's he's already done. But he's taken a fairly good battering."
After Bryant was booed at the 2002 All-Star Game in his home town of Philadelphia, Kobe-hatin' became a national fad. On the court, he always straddled the barrier between selfish and brilliant, which about killed his relationship with O'Neal. In the summer of 2003, the anti-Kobe contingent had more ammo -- Bryant's out-of-control personal life.
He tearfully admitted to adultery on national television but pleaded innocent to a sexual-assault charge, which was later dropped. (Bryant eventually settled out of the court with the woman in a civil trial.) Bryant also had a major falling-out with his parents over the marriage to his wife, Vanessa, whom he dated while she was still in high school. On the personal drama went.
Then Jackson excoriated Bryant in his tell-all book. When O'Neal was finally traded to Miami after the 2003-04 season, Bryant received more blame than anyone for jettisoning the game's most dominant force. Walton and other veteran players still talk about the Kobe-Shaq breakup as an awful event in league history.
"It was just so disappointing, a failure of the human spirit," Walton said. "To see what they did to themselves, the self-inflicted wounds. It would be akin to Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson or me thinking, 'Gosh, we hope that Larry Bird has a bad game today so one of us could go out and have a good game today.' "
"Kobe is an incredible player," he added, "but he's also a polarizing figure."
Maybe that's what happens when you go from wunderkind teen to cautionary tale before the age of 25. Maybe Kobe Bryant need not apologize for his introversion or arrogance because we've all added to his legend as a loner, deciding for ourselves who Bryant will be forevermore at, what, 27?
Either way, anyone who has ever knocked down a number of jump shots in a row in a gymnasium can, on an infinitely smaller level, start to feel what Bryant felt, that oneness with yourself and the game. Bryant went to some other place on Sunday night, and he will go there again.
Wherever Chamberlain is, the Big Dipper should be worried. One hundred will fall.
Not because the incomparable Laker guard is selfish. No, because Kobe Bryant is just plain good.