Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett are officially headed to Springfield, Massachusetts.
In a long-anticipated move, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced Saturday that the NBA legends, who combined for 11 championships and four MVP awards, will be inducted together as first-ballot selections in the 2020 class. The class also includes women's star Tamika Catchings and coaches Kim Mulkey, Barbara Stevens, Eddie Sutton and Rudy Tomjanovich. Patrick Baumann, the former secretary general of FIBA, was also inducted as a contributor.
The Hall of Fame's annual announcement of inductees was scheduled to be made at the NCAA's Final Four weekend in Atlanta, but the novel coronavirus pandemic prompted the tournament's cancellation and the selections were made public on an ESPN special. Despite uncertainty about the public health crisis, tickets to the Aug. 29 enshrinement ceremony remain on sale at the Hall of Fame's website. The televised festivities, typically held in a large symphony hall in front of a crowd filled with basketball greats, have yet to be postponed or canceled.
Bryant's selection comes less than three months after his death in a helicopter crash at 41. A five-time NBA champion during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant earned 18 all-star selections, was named 2007-08 MVP and twice led the league in scoring. He entered the NBA straight out of high school as a 1996 lottery pick and retired in 2016, closing his career with a memorable 60-point game against the Utah Jazz. A 6-foot-6 shooting guard who modeled his game after Michael Jordan's, Bryant ultimately surpassed his hero on the NBA's all-time scoring list. Jordan paid tribute to Bryant during a public memorial in February, referring to him as a "dear friend" and a "little brother." The Lakers retired both of his jersey numbers - 8 and 24 - in 2017.
"It's an incredible accomplishment and honor and we're extremely proud of [Kobe]," Vanessa Bryant, Bryant's widow, told ESPN. "Obviously we wish he was here with us to celebrate. It's definitely the peak of his NBA career and every accomplishment he had as an athlete was a steppingstone to be here. We're incredibly proud of him."
Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka, Bryant's longtime agent and close friend, said in a statement that Bryant would have cherished his induction even though he "was always one to downplay his professional accomplishments"
"All of us can trust that this Basketball Hall of Fame honor is one Kobe would, and will, deeply appreciate," Pelinka said. "The highest of congratulations to you, dear friend. This one is so well deserved - for all the hard work, sweat and toil. Now, a part of you will live in the Hall with the rest of the all-time greats, where your legend and spirit will continue to grow forever."
Duncan, 43, captured five titles, earned 15 all-star selections and twice won MVP honors, establishing himself as a model of consistency and reliability. After being chosen as the top pick of the 1997 draft out of Wake Forest, the stoic, 6-11 big man led the Spurs to the playoffs in 19 straight seasons before retiring in 2016. He returned to the franchise in 2019 as an assistant coach on Gregg Popovich's staff.
"The end of the journey," Duncan said during ESPN's announcement show. "It was an incredible career. To call it a dream come true isn't even doing it justice because I never dreamed I'd be here."
Garnett, a wiry, 6-foot-11 forward, entered the NBA out of high school and was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the fifth pick in 1995. After 12 seasons in Minnesota, Garnett was traded to the Boston Celtics, where he immediately won his first title in 2008.
"You put countless hours into this, you dedicate yourself to a craft, you take no days off, you play through injury, play through demise, play through obstacles, give no excuses for anything, you learn and build," Garnett told ESPN. "This is the culmination. This is what you do it for. To be called a Hall of Famer is everything."
A fierce competitor known for his fiery trash talk and intense on-court demeanor, Garnett earned 15 all-star selections and was named 2003-04 MVP and 2007-08 Defensive Player of the Year. His 21-year career included a stop with the Brooklyn Nets and a brief return to Minnesota, where he retired in 2016. Since then, the 43-year-old has worked as a commentator for TNT.
"From the day we drafted [Garnett] in 1995, we knew there was something special about him that Minnesota had never experienced before," Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said in a statement. "I've watched Kevin grow on and off the court and will forever be grateful for his contributions to the Timberwolves organization. He was beloved by our fans in a way that only few players experience and will always have a place at Target Center."
The three greats' careers often intertwined. Bryant's Lakers and Duncan's Spurs met in the playoffs six times, with the winner going on to claim the championship four times. Bryant's Lakers faced Garnett's Celtics in the NBA Finals in 2008 and 2010, with each team winning once. Duncan's Spurs eliminated Garnett's Timberwolves from the playoffs in 1999 and 2001.
The Hall of Fame announced in February that Bryant, Duncan and Garnett were among the group of Class of 2020 finalists.
Other traditional avenues for induction, including veterans committee selections and the Early African American Pioneer Committee, were postponed until 2021. The Hall of Fame attributed that decision to the "magnitude and the unique circumstances" surrounding this year's class, noting that it wanted to "provide each enshrinee with the recognition and notoriety he or she deserves upon election."
This article was written by Ben Golliver, a reporter for The Washington Post.