The historic Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2020 had its August induction ceremony postponed because of concerns surrounding the pandemic. In many ways, the Class of 2020 embodies the challenges and trauma basketball fans endured over the past 17 months. It all comes to a head today, when the inductees finally take their places in history.
The Class of 2020 includes three NBA players, former WNBA MVP Tamika Catchings, four basketball coaches, and FIBA executive Patrick Baumann. Kim Mulkey, Barbara Stevens, and Eddie Sutton represent the college ranks, while two-time NBA Champion Rudy Tomjanovich is the only professional coach.
However, the NBA players make this class arguably the greatest of all time. Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett represent one of the best collections of NBA talent ever inducted. The three former MVPs combined for 11 NBA Championships and 48 All-Star selections during their 60 collective seasons.
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame chairman Jerry Colangelo believes this year’s class and ceremony deserve a spot among the greatest of all time.
“We knew that this class was going to be something very, very special. The comparison always is the Michael Jordan induction. That particular induction set all kinds of records in terms of attendance and the money raised for the Hall of Fame,” Colangelo told reporters. “But we felt this class, despite the tragedy that took place, had great opportunity to exceed that.”
Jordan entered the Hall of Fame in 2009 alongside fellow Dream Team members David Robinson and John Stockton. No list of the top 30 players in league history is complete without those three first-year inductees. That class also included Jerry Sloan, who had the third-most wins in history when he retired.
Bryant, Duncan, and Garnett are three of the 20 best players in NBA history. Fans regularly throw Bryant and Duncan around in top-ten discussions, while Garnett’s defensive prowess rightfully earned him a spot among the best power forwards of all time. The Class of 2020’s 39 All-NBA selections are the most in history.
Unfortunately, Bryant doesn’t have the chance to give his Hall of Fame speech. The legendary Laker, who earned a worldwide following perhaps only comparable to Jordan among basketball players, died in a helicopter crash in January 2020. Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other individuals passed away in the accident.
Jordan, a mentor and friend of the Black Mamba, will present Bryant while his widow, Vanessa, gives the induction speech. While Robinson’s presentation of Duncan and Isiah Thomas’ presentation of Garnett should captivate basketball fans, everyone knows this evening revolves around honoring Bryant.
Garnett addressed Bryant’s absence on Friday, recalling his bond with the Lower Merion product.
“We’d crack a lot of jokes with each other, but at the end we was two very fierce competitors. There was our parallel,” Garnett said. “As much as he wanted to win, I wanted to win. As much as he thought he was the best, I thought I was the best. I’d always crack on him and tell him he was too small to play. He’d always crack on me and tell me I was too small to guard him. It was great conversation, great back and forth, and great competition.”
“I don’t think I’m the only one in here that thinks Kobe Bryant is fairly missed. [I] miss him every day. Not just what he brought to the game of basketball, but to sports period.”
Duncan also reflected on his matchups against Bryant.
“The greatest competition brings the best out of you, and that’s what he always did,” The Big Fundamental said. “You always had to be at your best and bring your best from start to finish if you were playing against him or any of his teams. I think that’s what I appreciate about remembering playing against him and being on the court with him.”
“[He was] a fierce competitor and always demanding more of his team and his teammates than probably was possible, but he wanted to win that much. He wanted it that much. It was an honor to share the court with him.”
Not to be overlooked, Catchings carries her vaunted legacy to Springfield.
The third overall pick in 2001, Catchings won the 2011 WNBA MVP and made ten All-Star appearances during her 15-year career. She was the Defensive Player of the Year a record five times and earned seven All-WNBA 1st Team selections. Catchings won an NCAA National Championship at Tennessee, a Finals Championship, Finals MVP, and four Olympic medals.
The induction ceremony goes live on ESPN at 5:30 p.m. ET later today.