It may be the greatest Hall of Fame class in history.
There may not have been a lot of suspense — the shock would have been if these three did not get in on the first ballot — but Saturday it became official:
Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett are Hall of Famers.
They were elected on the first ballot in a deep class that also includes Tamika Catchings, Rudy Tomjanovic, Kim Mulkey, Barbara Stevens, Eddie Sutton, and longtime FIBA executive Patrick Baumann.
It is Kobe’s election, months after his tragic death in a helicopter accident, that draws the most emotion.
“Obviously, we wish he was here with us to celebrate, but it’s definitely the peak of his NBA career,” Kobe’s widow Vanessa Bryant said on the broadcast announcing Kobe’s enshrinement. “Every accomplishment he had as an athlete was a stepping stone to be here.”
“No amount of words can fully describe what Kobe Bryant meant to the Los Angeles Lakers,” said Lakers co-owner and governor Jeanie Buss. “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.”
Kobe’s resume was nearly unparalleled: Five-time NBA champion, two-time Finals MVP, 18-time NBA All-Star, 11-time All-NBA First Team, the 2008 NBA MVP, nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team member, he is fourth on the NBA All-Time scoring list, plus Bryant earned two Olympic gold medals.
One of the few guys who can put up a resume anywhere close to that is Tim Duncan, the face of a two-decade San Antonio Spurs dynasty. He is a five-time NBA champion and three-time Finals MVP, two-time NBA MVP, he was a 15-time NBA All-Star, an eight-time NBA All-Defensive First Team member, Rookie of the Year, and Duncan is the only player in NBA history with 1,000 or more wins with one team. At Wake Forest, he was a three-time First Team All-American and won the AP College Player of the Year award.
There also was never any doubt about the resume of Garnett: An NBA champion, NBA MVP, 15-time All-Star, nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team selection, Defensive Player of the Year, and he has an Olympic gold medal.
“It’s just the culmination, just the culmination,” Garnett said on the broadcast of the announcement. “You put countless hours into this, you dedicate yourself to the craft, you take no days off, you play through injuries, you play through demise, you play through obstacles, give no excuses for anything, you learn, you build, this is the culmination.”
“This is an honor so well deserved. We congratulate Kevin on being selected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame,” Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said. “From the day we drafted him in 1995, we knew there was something special about him that Minnesota had never experienced before. I’ve watched Kevin grow on and off the court and will forever be grateful for his contributions to the Timberwolves organization. He was beloved by our fans in a way that only few players experience and will always have a place at Target Center.”
Those three alone make this an insanely good and distinguished class, but it goes beyond them into other deserving people. Also elected to the Hall of Fame are:
• Tamika Catchings. A WNBA MVP and champion, she is a 10-time WNBA All-Star and won four gold medals with Team USA.
• Rudy Tomjanovic. A legend of the Houston Rockets, he is the only person in NBA history to score 10,000 points as a player and win 500 career games with two championships as a coach. He coached two Rockets teams to titles and the 2000 Olympic team in Sydney to gold.
“Congratulations to Rudy T on his well-deserved and long overdue selection to the Hall of Fame,” said Rockets owner Tilman J. Fertitta. “As a longtime Rockets fan, I admired Rudy’s tenacity as a player and loved watching his attention to detail in coaching the back-to-back championship teams in the 90’s. Heart of a champion! This is an exciting day not only for Rudy and his family, but for Rockets fans everywhere.”
• Kim Mulkey. She coached the Baylor Bears to three national titles, and she won one herself as a player.
• Barbara Stevens. The coach of Division II powerhouse Bentley University, she is the fifth coach in NCAA women’s basketball history to reach 1,000 career wins.
• Eddie Sutton. He coached four schools to NCAA Tournament and won more than 800 games as a college coach.