BY DAN WOIKE
LOS ANGELES — Kevin Garnett called it the culmination of his career, the reward for the tireless intensity that he patrolled the court with. Tim Duncan called it the end of his journey as a basketball player. And Vanessa Bryant, pain still coating each of her words, called it an incredible honor for someone who she wishes was still here to celebrate.
On Saturday, the obvious became official, Kobe Bryant headlining one of the greatest Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame classes ever, joining Duncan and Garnett — two of the players with whom he defined a generation of basketball.
The induction ceremony is scheduled for Aug. 29 in Springfield, Mass.
While Duncan and Garnett spoke to ESPN on behalf of their careers after the announcement was made, Bryant’s widow and daughter Natalia had to speak for him.
“It’s an incredible accomplishment and honor. And we’re really proud of him. Obviously, we wish that he was here with us to celebrate,” Vanessa Bryant said. But it’s definitely the peak of his NBA career. And every accomplishment that he had as an athlete was a steppingstone to be here. We’re incredibly proud of him. There’s some solace in knowing he was probably going to be a part of the 2020 Hall of Fame class.”
Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among the nine victims of a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.
“Kobe was always one to downplay his professional accomplishments — MVPs, NBA championships, gold medals, Oscars, and on and on and on,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said in a statement. “But all of us can trust that this Basketball Hall of Fame honor is one Kobe would, and will, deeply appreciate. 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.”
Bryant, Duncan and Garnett scored 86,210 points over 60 combined NBA seasons, winning 11 NBA titles, four Most Valuable Player awards and 48 combined All-Star teams. Add in Tamika Catchings, a former WNBA MVP and 10-time All-Star, and no class of players has ever been more decorated.
And Bryant is a common thread through all of their careers.
‘PROVEN WINNER AND A CHAMPION’
Duncan’s Spurs and Bryant’s Lakers met seven times in the playoffs between 1999 and 2013, with the Lakers winning four of those series.
Bryant followed Garnett into the NBA, skipping college to play professionally right after high school one season apart. Later, they’d split a pair of NBA Finals in a three-season span in the most recent chapter of the Lakers-Celtics storied championship rivalry.
And Bryant and Catchings, one of the best ever in the WNBA, were longtime friends dating back to their childhoods in Italy, when they were the children of American professional basketball players working overseas.
“I can guarantee you neither one of us thought that our careers and all the things that happened in our lives would’ve happened the way that they did,” Catchings said on the announcement show. “… Man, this is just the perfect ending to a book. … Over the years, it’s crazy that if you look at both of our careers how many things overlap.”
Bryant and Catchings were also gold medalists in the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics.
Even longtime Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovic, one of four coaches in the 2020 class, worked with Bryant during a 43-game stint with the Lakers in 2005 before his retirement.
Tomjanovic is joined by four-time college coach of the year Eddie Sutton, three-time NCAA women’s champion Kim Mulkey and five-time Division II women’s national coach of the year Barbara Stevens.
FIBA executive Patrick Bauman, who died unexpectedly in 2018, also was elected by the international committee.
But no member of the class is bigger than Bryant, a legendary figure whose sudden death sent the basketball world into mourning.
From the on-court tributes in the immediate aftermath of his death, to an All-Star game with his fingerprints all over it to a star-filled memorial inside a packed Staples Center, Bryant’s legacy has been celebrated all year.
And come late August, it’ll be celebrated once again.
“No amount of words can fully describe what Kobe Bryant meant to the Los Angeles Lakers,” Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said in a statement.
“Kobe was not only a proven winner and a champion, he gave everything he had to the game of basketball. His fierce competitiveness, work ethic and drive were unmatched. Those qualities helped Kobe lead us to five titles — and have now brought him to the Hall of Fame, where he will be enshrined with the greatest to have ever played the game.
“No one deserves it more.”