The full names weren’t necessary. The first name, or even the initials, were enough. Such was the star power that Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett carried throughout their careers and still possess, all of them now five years removed from their final games as NBA greats. Each was an NBA champion, an MVP, an Olympic gold medalist, annual locks for All-Star and All-Defensive teams.
And now, the ultimate honor comes their way: On Saturday night in Uncasville, Connecticut, they all officially become members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“I like to think that all three of us pushed each other to be the best that we could be,” Garnett said last year, shortly after learning that he was part of the same class with Bryant and Duncan. “To be going in such a class like this, I’m more than honored.”
The combined numbers for the trio are impressive: 11 championships (with Bryant and Duncan getting five apiece), 48 All-Star nods, more than 86,000 career points, and roughly $900 million in NBA salaries — a figure that doesn’t take into account their off-court earnings. Bryant is the No. 4 scorer in NBA history, Duncan 15th, Garnett 18th.
Their star power is so bright that the Hall of Fame changed its rules for a year: For the 2020 class the electors enacted a one-year suspension of direct elections from the Veteran’s, Women’s Veteran’s, Early African-American Pioneers and Contributors categories.
The electors didn’t want any deserving nominee from those groups overlooked.
“When we selected this group for induction, we immediately knew that this would be, maybe, one of the great classes of all-time,” said Jerry Colangelo, the chairman of the Hall of Fame’s Board of Governors. “I mean, the people going in, the three headliners in Kobe and Garnett and Tim Duncan … that says it all.”
There are nine members of the class that will be enshrined Saturday: Alongside Bryant, Duncan and Garnett are new LSU women’s coach and former Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, former Bentley coach Barbara Stevens, four-time Olympic gold medalist Tamika Catchings, two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich, three-time Final Four coach Eddie Sutton and former FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann. Bryant, Sutton and Baumann will all be enshrined posthumously.
Duncan averaged 19.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.2 blocks per game in 19 NBA seasons with the San Antonio Spurs. He was the NCAA player of the year in 1997 at Wake Forest, the NBA’s rookie of the year the following year, a champion a year after that — and the accolades just kept coming.
“On a professional level, the most concise way to put it is, ‘No Duncan, no championships,’” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who coached Duncan for his entire career. “And on a personal level, I love the guy.”
Duncan never sought the spotlight as a player. Last season, when he returned to the Spurs as an assistant coach for a year, he shunned almost anything that would have brought attention his way. He prefers to keep things simple, and what made him click with the Spurs — and with Popovich — is a shared belief that the simple way isn’t an impediment to greatness.
Duncan’s formula for winning, he said in an interview with the Spurs ahead of this weekend’s ceremony, wasn’t that complicated. “I just loved playing, hated losing — that’s a big one, I don’t think it gets enough credit — and an organization kind of committed to putting the best things in place to give a city, a team, a player like myself an opportunity to win year-in and year-out,” Duncan said.
Garnett was different. Demonstrative, loud, trash-talking, he pushed opponents’ buttons with ease. Like Bryant, he went straight to the NBA out of high school and didn’t need much time before making an impact. He played 21 seasons for Minnesota, Boston and Brooklyn, averaging 17.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.
“I never accepted losing,” Garnett said.
Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers, Garnett’s longtime coach in Boston including for the 2008 title season, said the same thing in a different way.
“The thing about Kevin, he only wanted to win,” Rivers said.
Bryant averaged 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game in his 20 NBA seasons, all with the Los Angeles Lakers. He scored 81 points, the second-most for a game in NBA history, in 2016. He scored 60 points in his final NBA game — two years before winning an Academy Award, as his post-NBA passion for storytelling was becoming an instant success.
He was, and is, iconic. Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, an MVP candidate this season, said remembers the first NBA game he ever watched — and who starred in that game.
Here’s how much Embiid, in his formative years, was smitten with watching Bryant play: He would sometimes defy the 9 p.m. bedtime edict in his home, sneak into the TV room, turn on the tube and turn off the volume so he could watch his favorite player. And this, mind you, was before Embiid even started playing the game himself. Half a world away, Bryant was planting seeds for basketball greatness into the psyche of a kid who thought at that time his future might be in soccer.
“That was also when I fell in love with basketball and that’s why he became my favorite player,” Embiid said. “I mean, I would say that I am probably here because of him. … We miss him a lot. I miss him a lot. He was my favorite player. When you watch the way I play basketball and the moves that I’ve added, especially when it comes from fadeaways over both shoulders, that comes from a lot of tapes of Kobe’s games.
“I miss him a lot,” Embiid said. “I wish he was still here with us.”
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