Kobe, Duncan, KG lead star-studded HOF class

The Class of 2020 will arguably be the most star-studded in the history of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

All eight finalists — led by Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett — were selected on Saturday for enshrinement and will be inducted Aug. 29 in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Bryant, Duncan and Garnett will be joined by 10-time WNBA All-Star Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever; coach Kim Mulkey of three-time women’s NCAA champion Baylor; five-time Division II coach of the year Barbara Stevens of Bentley University; four-time NCAA coach of the year Eddie Sutton; and former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich, a two-time NBA title winner.

In addition to the finalists, longtime FIBA executive Patrick Baumann was selected as an inductee, bringing the Class of 2020 to nine.

From the moment they were eligible, it was assured Duncan, Garnett and Bryant would gain entry into the Hall of Fame. However, what should have been a celebratory moment instead has a pall cast over it.

There was the sudden and tragic passing of Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26. Longtime NBA commissioner David Stern died Jan. 1 after he had suffered a brain hemorrhage weeks earlier.

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,” Bryant’s widow Vanessa told ESPN in a video interview Saturday.

In addition, the announcement of this year’s class — which usually takes place during Final Four weekend — was made amid a stoppage in the sports world due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, Saturday’s unveiling was a memorable event, thanks to the accolades credited to this year’s Hall class.

  • Duncan was a five-time champion, a two-time MVP and both a 15-time All-Star and All-NBA selection who played his entire 19-year career for the San Antonio Spurs.

  • Garnett won a title and an MVP award, was named to 15 All-Star teams and earned nine All-NBA honors during his 21 seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets.

  • Bryant was a five-time champion, also won an MVP and was an 18-time All-Star and a 15-time All-NBA selection during his 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers.

  • Catchings is widely considered one of the greatest women’s basketball players of all time, a 10-time WNBA All-Star who ranks first in league history in steals and third in points and rebounds. She also won a national title at Tennessee in 1998.

  • In addition to winning an NCAA title as a player, Mulkey has won 600 games and three national championships in her 20 seasons leading the Baylor Bears, including a perfect 40-0 season in 2013.

  • Stevens has won over 1,000 games — and a Division II championship in 2014 — across more than 40 years as a head coach at Bentley University.

  • Sutton, one of 10 Division I coaches ever to win 800 games, made the Final Four three times and was the first coach to lead four different schools (Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State) to the NCAA tournament.

  • Tomjanovich was both a star player, earning five All-Star berths and getting his number retired by the Rockets, and an excellent coach who piloted Houston to titles in both 1994 and ’95 behind Hakeem Olajuwon.

  • Baumann was the former FIBA secretary general who died from a heart attack in October of 2018.

This year’s class was unique in that it was limited to only eight finalists. On a one-year trial basis, there were no direct-elect selections from subcommittees.

Jerry Colangelo, the chairman of the Hall of Fame’s nominating committee, said in February that the reason behind those changes was to avoid lesser-known honorees being lost amid the star-power of this year’s headliners.

“[That’s] because of the enormity — even before Kobe’s death — that we think Kobe and Duncan and Garnett bring to it,” Colangelo said. “We’ve never had a class that strong at the top. And of course with Kobe’s death, it added more focus.

“We thought the way of dealing with it was eliminating some direct-elects on a one-year basis. We have that flexibility, fortunately, to do it because some people could get lost in the shuffle, really, in terms of getting their due.”

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