S otheby’s is proud to present “81” a special single-lot auction to commemorate Kobe Bryant’s astonishing 81 point performance featuring a shooting shirt worn the afternoon of his 81 point triumph as well as a unique one-of-one NFT designed by Karvin Cheung, the creator behind the highly coveted Upper Deck Exquisite Collection Basketball. The NFT is Mr. Cheung’s first, and is part of a planned series of offerings of Mr. Cheung’s designs. Sotheby’s is proud to accept cryptocurrency as a form of payment in this auction, the first time Sotheby’s will accept this type of payment for sports memorabilia as well as the first time Sotheby’s has paired sports memorabilia with an accompanying NFT.
"I think that game is a testament to what happens when you put no ceiling to what you're capable of doing."
Through his five NBA championships, seven NBA Finals appearances, fifteen postseason trips, and a plethora of individual accolades, many consider the 81 point performance by Kobe Bryant to be the benchmark for one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
In an interview with ESPN about the game, Bryant said “There’s a lot of players who come up now who don’t think 80 points is possible. You think 50, and if you’re really hot – 60. I never had that limit. Ever. I never, ever thought that way. I always thought 80 was possible. I thought 90 was possible. I thought 100 was possible. Always. I think that game is a testament to what happens when you put no ceiling to what you’re capable of doing.”
“I should have had 90 points or more.”
Extensive photomatching work has been completed by The MeiGray Group, pinpointing the shooting shirt to several key dates. In total MeiGray discovered that Kobe wore the shooting shirt on at least 6 dates, including in the months following the 81-point performance including Game 4 of the Western Conference First Round in April of 2006.
Kobe was quoted in an ESPN article saying, “The Hall of Fame requested my uniform and shoes, and I was going to send it to them because I said, ’This is pretty cool that a player who is still playing has stuff in the Hall of Fame… But my wife was like: ‘No, listen, we’re keeping the uniform. You can send the shoes if you really want, but the uniform is not going anywhere.’ So the uniform is framed and up in the gym in our house.” The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has additionally shown images of the shoes from the 81 point game in their social media posts.
To Sotheby’s knowledge, this is the only Kobe Bryant worn artifact from the 81 point game to surface at auction, making this a rare find for the collecting community.
The NFT incorporates inspiration from Mr. Cheung’s Chinese heritage, and plays on the significance of the number 8 in Chinese culture, as well as the importance of the Lucky Envelope. Reflecting on the design Mr. Cheung commented, “The red and gold color pattern is inspired by the Lucky Envelope. Lucky Envelopes are a tradition with any celebration including birthdays, marriages, or the birth of a child. It’s universal amongst all Chinese people for the Chinese New Year. The 8 represents fortune (prosper) thus it’s a reason why many people want the number to be part of their everyday life.” These two concepts intertwine in the NFT, which plays on these themes as well as Mr. Cheung’s new company – The Infinite – logo and of course the number ‘81’.
Roughly a month before the 81 point performance, The Lakers played the Dallas Mavericks. In that game, Kobe outscored the entire Mavericks team through 3 quarters. Kobe: 62, Dallas Mavericks: 61. Kobe sat the rest of the game, locking in his highest point performance to date in just 33 minutes of the contest, although not by any decision other than his own.
After the third quarter, Kobe was asked by Phil Jackson and Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw, if he wanted to re-enter the blowout game to score 70, then come back and sit. Looking up at the scoreboard, Kobe replied: “Nah, I’ll get it another time…I’ll do it when we really need it. I’ll get it when it really matters.” About a month later, 81 points were scored in a single game
IMAGE OF THE MEIGRAY GROUP CERTIFICATE, INCLUDED WITH THE ITEM & NFT.
On paper January 22, 2006, was supposed to be a day for the NFL in the sports community. It was conference championship Sunday, featuring games that would decide who faced off in Super Bowl XL.
“There's a lot of players who come up now who don't think 80 points is possible. You think 50, and if you're really hot – 60. I never had that limit. Ever. I never, ever thought that way."
Kobe was nursing a tight knee, describing the early moments of the game, he was “tiptoeing” through his movements. The Lakers' play was described as sluggish in the early minutes of the game, Kobe felt due to this, and with the Raptors sitting back in zone defense, he had the opportunity and the responsibility to control the game. Kobe ended the first half with 26 points, and by the end of the game he was responsible for 81 points.
Kobe's performance was nothing short of spectacular and era defining. The tally was a new career-high for Bryant, a new Lakers record, and the second-highest single-game point performance in NBA history. To this day, the performance is still widely considered one of the greatest in sports history.
Influential as the performance was, Kobe is quoted as saying “I should have had 90 points or more.”