Wilt's night was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. He was dominant from the get-go, nailing 36 of 63 field goals overall, and knocking in a remarkable 28 of 32 freebies from the line. Chamberlain, a 51 percent free throw shooter on his career, made 61 percent of his free throws that season, alongside averages of 50.4 points per game and 25.7 rebounds per contest.
No doubt, the man was an absolute marvel. The complete package: massive mounts of skill, height, touch, smarts, and creativity. For all Wilt's accolades and achievements, both individual, team-orientated (and, um, personal); he might somehow still be underrated.
But what Kobe did was more impressive.
First, the context of the era: there were, way, way, way more possessions in an NBA game back in 1962. This was a running league, much more than any NBA-style track meet you may have seen in any of the last 30 years. Not only did Wilt's Philadelphia Warriors score 125.4 points per game, they gave up 122.7. A team featuring Wilt Chamberlain (50.6 on field goals) shoots 43.9 percent from the floor, and scored 125.4 points per game.
Think about that.
That's a pretty crummy shooting percentage for a team scoring 125 a game. Hence, there were a lot of shots to take, a lot of rebounds to grab, and a lot more chances to put shots up.
Now, when Kobe went for 81 points, there were 99 possessions in the game against the Raptors. And that's even a lot for this era: the league leader that year was the Phoenix Suns (95.1 a game), Denver leads the NBA with 97.5 a game this season, and the Lakers averaged 90.6 possessions per game in 2005-06. But it wasn't anywhere near the amount 4,126 spectators saw back on March 2nd, 1962.
The possession count in Wilt's game was in the 150-range. That mark takes on greater significance when you realize that the last six minutes of the contest, saw a foul-fest on both sides that saw both the Knicks try to foul the Warriors seconds into their possessions, and the Warriors try to get Wilt a shot with 20 seconds on the shot clock.
I read Gary M. Pomerantz' "Wilt, 1962". It details the ways in which a bemused Warrior squad tried to help Wilt pad his stats in blowout win: namely, they fouled the heck out of the Knicks in the game's final quarter in order to get the ball back in Wilt's hands.
Kobe's night was just as good. The Lakers were down 14 at the half, and were down by as many as 18 in the third quarter. Kobe scored 55 points in that second half, which went a long way toward the 18-point win Los Angeles enjoyed. Chris Mihm didn't have to intentionally foul anyone to get the ball back in Kobe's hands, either.
Wilt had more chances to score, by hook and by crook; and while we don't bemoan the Warriors for having a bit of fun, the facts remain: the Warriors spent about 30 minutes trying to win a game, and the final 18 trying to get Wilt to a hundred.
The Lakers spent nearly 30 minutes behind the Raptors, then spent the next 16 allowing their future Hall of Famer to spur a massive comeback, and then spent the last two minutes of the win with jaws agape, watching as Kobe threw in another three-pointer and few more free throws.
It doesn't mean one player was any better than the other. It just means that -- considering the context of the times, the circumstances behind the two particular games, and the production that followed -- Kobe Bryant's 81-point explosion was better Wilt's night, in spite of the actual difference in output.
(Also read: Better scoring night: Kobe's 81 or Wilt's 100?)