Kobe Bryant’s resume has yet another entry to validate his greatness: He’s now, ofﬁcially, a Hall of Famer.
And he’s got plenty of elite company in the 2020 class, one that may be as glitzy as any.
Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, and fellow NBA greats Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett headlined a nine-person group announced Saturday as this year’s class of enshrinees into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“An amazing class,” Duncan said.
They all got into the Hall in their ﬁrst year as ﬁnalists, as did WNBA great Tamika Catchings. Others had to wait a bit longer for the good news: Two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich ﬁnally got his call, as did longtime Baylor women’s coach Kim Mulkey, 1,000-game winner Barbara Stevens of Bentley and three-time Final Four coach Eddie Sutton.
They were the eight ﬁnalists who were announced in February, and the panel of 24 voters who were tasked to decide who merited selection wound up choosing them all. Also headed to the Hall this year: former FIBA Secretary General Patrick Baumann, selected as a direct-elect by the international committee.
“He was the head of FIBA and this was a way to honor him,” Hall of Fame Chairman and enshrinee Jerry Colangelo said. “It was a special thing done through that committee.”
NEVER A DOUBT
Bryant died about three weeks before the Hall of Fame said – as if there was going to be any doubt – that he was a ﬁnalist. Duncan and Garnett were also widely perceived to be locks to be part of this class; they were both 15-time NBA All-Stars, and Bryant was an 18time selection.
Bryant’s death has been part of a jarring start of the year for basketball: Commissioner Emeritus David Stern died on Jan. 1, Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among nine who died in the crash in late January, and the NBA shut down March 11 as the coronavirus pandemic began to grip the U.S.
“Obviously, we wish that he was here with us to celebrate,” Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife, said on the ESPN broadcast of the class announcement. “But it’s deﬁnitely the peak of his NBA career and every accomplishment that he had as an athlete was a steppingstone to be here. So we’re incredibly proud of him.”
WHY WE DO IT
Bryant was also a ﬁve-time champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, just as Duncan was with the San Antonio Spurs.
Garnett is the only player in NBA history with at least 25,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists, 1,500 blocks and 1,500 steals. He also was part of Boston’s 2008 NBA title.
“This is the culmination,” Garnett said. “All those hours … this is what you do it for, right here. To be able to be called ‘Hall of Famer’ is everything.” Duncan spent the entirety of his career with the Spurs, and is now back with the team as an assistant coach under Gregg Popovich.
“It’s kind of the end of the journey here,” Duncan, on the broadcast, said of his enshrinement. “It was an incredible career that I enjoyed so much. To call it a dream come true isn’t even doing any justice to it. I never dreamt I’d be at this point.”
Duncan, Garnett and Bryant were similar in many ways as players: The longevity of their careers, the eye-popping numbers, almost perennial inclusion on award lists. They also shared a dislike for touting personal accomplishments.
But even the Hall would have touched Bryant, those closest to him said. “No one deserves it more,” Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss said.
Added Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, Bryant’s former agent: “All of us can trust that this Basketball Hall of Fame honor is one Kobe would, and will, deeply appreciate.”
Catchings was a 10-time WNBA AllStar and four-time Olympic gold medalist. Tomjanovich, who had overwhelming support from NBA peers who couldn’t understand why it took so long for his selection, was a ﬁve-time AllStar as a player, guided Houston to back-to-back titles and took the 2000 U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal.
The enshrinement ceremony in Springﬁeld, Massachusetts, is scheduled for Aug. 29. Should the pandemic force a delay, there is a tentative plan for an October ceremony as well.