Kobe Bryant, just over two months after his tragic death, headed a group of nine 2020 inductees into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Joining Bryant, an 18-time NBA All-Star, were Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Eddie Sutton, Rudy Tomjanovich, Tamika Catchings, Kim Mulkey, Barbara Stevens and Patrick Baumann.
The announcement was supposed to come at the NCAA Final Four on Saturday. But the coronavirus shutdown put an end to the NCAA Tournament before it ever started and instead left the announcement to come with interviews and congratulations via video feeds from the homes of the inductees.
The nine new Hall of Famers are scheduled to be enshrined at the Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, on Aug. 29.
“The Class of 2020 is undoubtedly one of the most historic of all time, and the talent and social influence of these nine honorees is beyond measure,” said John L. Doleva, president and CEO of the Hall of Fame.
“In 2020, the basketball community has suffered the unimaginable loss of iconic figures commissioner David Stern and Kobe Bryant, as well as the game itself due to COVID-19. We have also banded together like never before in appreciation of the game and those who have made it the uniting force it is today. Today we thank the Class of 2020 for all they have done for the game of basketball and we look forward to celebrating them at [the] enshrinement in August.”
Bryant — who died Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash — spent his entire career with the Los Angeles Lakers and was an 11-time All-NBA first-team selection and a five-time NBA champion.
“It’s an incredible accomplishment and honor,” Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, said in an interview on ESPN. “Obviously, we wish that he was here with us to celebrate, but it’s definitely the peak of his NBA career, and every accomplishment that he had as an athlete was a stepping-stone to be here. We’re incredibly proud of him.”
Duncan also spent his entire career with one team, guiding the San Antonio Spurs to five titles and becoming a 15-time All-Star. He was the 1998 NBA Rookie of the Year after four seasons at Wake Forest, where he was a two-time unanimous first-team All-American.
“Kind of the end of the journey here,” Duncan said. “It was an incredible career that I enjoyed so much. To call it a dream come true doesn’t do justice to it. I never dreamed I’d be here.”
Garnett also was a 15-time All-Star and won a championship in 2008 with the Boston Celtics after a long career with the Minnesota Timberwolves. A nine-time All-Defensive first-team selection, Garnett was the 2004 NBA MVP.
“It’s the culmination,” he said on ESPN. “You put countless hours into this, you dedicate yourself to a craft, you take no days off, you play through injuries, you play through demise, you give no excuses. This is the culmination. All those hours of everything you put up for, this is what you do it for. To be called a Hall of Famer is everything.”
Catchings is a 10-time WNBA All-Star and a four-time Olympic gold medalist. She was named the WNBA MVP and the Finals MVP with the Indiana Fever, with whom she spent all 14 seasons of her WNBA career. She was a four-time first-team All-American at Tennessee.
Tomjanovich, who spent 34 years with the Houston Rockets as a player and coach, had been passed over before. He said: “It was a very suspenseful day because I’ve been in this position before and got the ‘sorry, not this year’ response, so I was hanging on every word that John spoke. When he said, ‘you’re in,’ the first thing that happened was an unbelievable sigh of relief, then slowly but very powerfully complete jubilation.”
He was joined by longtime coaches in Sutton, who was a four-time national Coach of the Year; Mulkey, who led Baylor to three NCAA championships and ranks third among coaches in winning percentage, and Barbara Stevens, who has spent more than 40 years as a college coach, becoming only the fifth college coach to reach 1,000 career wins.
Baumann was recognized posthumously by the international committee for his work as a FIBA executive.