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It’s the Basketball Hall of Fame class no player wanted a part of, and that was before tragedy turned it into an even more exclusive class.
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame will open its doors to arguably the most talented player class in its history when Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant (posthumously) will be enshrined and lead a class of nine into the Hall. Three sure-fire no doubters, leaving the rest of the retired NBA talent pool either waiting or delaying.
Paul Pierce has publicly admitted he played another season just to avoid being denied first-time honours with this trio. He almost definitely will go in next year, along with the a class that could include any of one-time Raptor Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Webber, Chauncey Billups, and Tim Hardaway, to list just a handful.
All three of this year’s NBA talents going in were 100% Hall of Fame locks, according to Basketball Reference’s unique Hall of Fame probability formula.
To put that in perspective, only three current NBA players — LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul — share that distinction of being 100% locks.
Even before that tragic helicopter crash claimed the lives of Bryant, his daughter Gigi and seven others, it was roundly accepted that his class would be a little more exclusive than any other.
When that helicopter went down January 26 and the NBA world stopped, steps were taken almost immediately to make this year’s enshrinement class even more select.
Upon convening, the selection committee made the decision to keep the list short this year. So the direct-elect categories that send one person each straight to the Hall was suspended. That included the men’s and women’s veterans committees, the early African-American committee, and the contributor committee. The one exception this year was the international committee, which elected long-time FIBA member Patrick Baumann of Switzerland.
Instead of the 12 of 13 of years past, only nine go in this year.
Here’s a breakdown of those nine:
THE NBA PLAYERS
The Mamba will go in less than seven months after the world mourned his passing.
It was the perfect blend of competitive nature, hard work, and an unwavering self-belief that push Bryant to be one of the greatest the basketball world has ever seen.
His premature passing, even coming after his retirement from the game as it did, affected people the world over, whether they were fans of the game or not.
His reach was that extensive.
Bryant won five NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers, was named league MVP once, and over 20 seasons averaged 25 points per game, 5.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists.
He was an all-star 18 times, won two scoring championships, was a 12-time all-defensive honoree as well as 15 times All-NBA.
He dominated right to the very end, never giving an inch.
He scored 81 points in a game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006, outscoring the entire Raptors team in the second half by himself by a 55-41 score.
Timmy, or the Big Fundamental if that naked plainness is bothersome, was not flashy or boastful at all like his fellow inductees in this stunning 2020 class.
He was as workmanlike and efficient as any player who has ever worn an NBA jersey.
Duncan spent his 19 seasons in the NBA avoiding the spotlight and that was no easy feat, considering the numbers he put up and the titles he helped bring to San Antonio.
Duncan abhorred individual recognition. His team-first, last and only attitude would have made him an honorary Spaniard were it not for his U.S. Virgin Islands roots.
His patient game in the paint with his clinical footwork made him almost unguardable once the Spurs got the ball inside to him.
Through 19 seasons, he averaged 19 points, 10.8 rebounds and three assists a game.
He helped bring five NBA titles to San Antonio, and was named league MVP twice. Fifteen times he was All-NBA and All-Defensive. He was a 15-time all-star and won rookie of the year honours in 1997-98.
The Big Ticket is very much in appropriate company in this class. Like Bryant and Duncan, he was, by himself, a reason to buy a ticket to the game. The ultimate showman who entertained with his game as much as he did with his antics.
Garnett had the ability to make NBA opponents, 450 members of the best in the world at their craft, doubt themselves and visibly cower in his presence.
He could talk the talk and he could walk the walk, and he could beat you either way.
Also like his two fellows NBA classmen in his prestigious Hall of Fame group, Garnett knew the value of defence, and pity the teammate who shirked his duties on that end of the floor. Garnett would lay into a teammate for defensive indifference with the same passion he used to intimidate opponents.
Unlike Bryant and Duncan, Garnett’s career took him to three different homes, starting in Minnesota, with six career-altering years in Boston and a pitstop in Brooklyn thrown in, before he returned to Minnesota.
Over 21 seasons, he averaged 17.8 points per game, 10 rebounds and 3.7 assists. His lone NBA title came with the Celtics while his lone MVP season came in 2003-04 while in Minnesota.
He was a 15-time all-star and was all-defensive NBA in nine seasons. Nine times he was named All-NBA.
Also enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this August will be four-time National Coach of the Year Eddie Sutton, two-time NBA Champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich, 10-time WNBA All-Star and four-time Olympic gold medalist Tamika Catchings, three-time NCAA National Championship coach Kim Mulkey, five-time Division II National Coach of the Year Barbara Stevens, and Baumann.
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