Starting at $200,000, the warm-up top worn by the Mamba in his infamous 2006 scoring explosion against the Toronto Raptors is up for auction with a corresponding NFT.
On Sunday morning, Jan. 22, 2006, Kobe Bryant woke up with sore knees and a stomach full of pizza.
As author Roland Lazenby recalls in his excellent Bryant biography, Showboat, the Laker legend was hosting his grandmother in Los Angeles and celebrating the third birthday of his daughter, Natalia. Leaning into the achy joints and family-friendly diet, Kobe broke habit and ate a hamburger and fries before hosting another set of out-of-towners in his second home of Staples Center.
Those visitors, the Toronto Raptors, would see significantly less hospitality.
Dismantling T. Dot’s dinosaurs, Kobe Bryant deep-fried the entire Raptor roster to the tune of 81 points. Decades later, it still stands as the second-highest single-game scoring output in an NBA game behind only Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point performance in 1962.
While the shoes Bryant wore — his Nike Zoom Kobe 1 signature sneaker — currently claim a home at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the shooting shirt he warmed up in seeks a new residence.
As legend has it, the Hall of Fame wanted all the 81-point game garb from his footwear to his jersey. Kobe was down, but his wife Vanessa urged him to keep the uniform and send only his shoes. To this day, Kobe’s game threads are said to hang framed inside the Bryant household.
But what remained in the wild from the epic game is the shooting shirt he donned before tip-off.
Historically, players are known to switch shoes each game and get fresh jerseys and shorts throughout the season. Conversely, items associated with warming up and cooling down go through the team laundry system and are recycled throughout the year. Because of this, Bryant’s 81-point game shooting shirt would’ve returned to the equipment room, ran through the wash, and come back to Bryant’s possession for pre and post-game activities later in the 2005-06 NBA Season.
This appears true for the item currently up for auction. According to photo matches, Bryant wore the shooting shirt before his 81-point performance, as well as before a 2006 postseason game against the Phoenix Suns. That year, the NBA was sponsored by Reebok — the last such season before swapping to Adidas — with the brand’s Vector logo appearing to the left of a quarter-length zipper. Also of note, the left sleeve sports an emblem with the No. 99 and a set of goggles as a nod to the great George Mikan.
For Kobe fans, any item worn by the man himself bears a special kind of worth. However, the significance of shooting shirts and the Laker legend goes deeper than most. In 1997, a teenage Kobe won the Slam Dunk Contest while wearing a Champion shooting shirt celebrating the NBA at 50. In seasons to follow when the Lakers were outfitted by Nike, a then Adidas-branded Bryant put a piece of tape over the Swoosh on his shooting shirt as solidarity to his sponsor. Teammate Shaquille O’Neal — famously a Reebok man — did the same.
A More Modern Mint
While Bryant finished his NBA career as a Nike athlete, this Reebok rarity is an interesting piece of history as far as the Mamba’s legacy is concerned.
Said to be the only artifact available at auction from his 81-point game, the shooting shirt is paired with a 1-of-1 NFT designed by Karvin Cheung, a celebrated figure in the collectibles industry also known as “The Architect.” While bidding for the lot starts at $200,000, cryptocurrency will also accepted as payment — a first for Sotheby’s as far as sports memorabilia is concerned.
Bidding is live now at Sotheby’s. The auction runs through next Tuesday, Feb. 22.