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Saturday, April 04, 2020

Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett Headline 2020 Basketball Hall of Fame Class

The annual announcement of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class is usually one of the highlights of Final Four weekend, as college basketball's best teams compete for the NCAA Championship.

This year is much different. There is no NCAA Championship, as just about every sport in the world--and most other businesses deemed non-essential--has been shut down in an attempt to "flatten the curve" of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have no idea when sports, or life in general, will ever return to normal; we don't even know IF life will return to normal, at least in terms of how "normal" was previously defined.

So, there was not a big Hall of Fame announcement ceremony, with most or all of the new Hall of Famers together on one stage. Instead, the announcement took place under the shadow of the ubiquitous rules of "social distancing." We do not know if the Hall of Fame Induction ceremony will take place as scheduled this fall.

Even before COVID-19 changed the world, we knew that this year's Basketball Hall of Fame announcement would be unlike any other, due to Kobe Bryant's death. Bryant, an elite performer for seven NBA Finalists and five NBA championship teams during an 11 year span, is the greatest NBA winner--along with Tim Duncan--of the post-Michael Jordan era. A strong argument could be made that Bryant is the greatest player of the post-Michael Jordan era as well. Bryant won two Finals MVPs (2009, 2010), and one regular season MVP (2008) while earning 11 All-NBA First Team selections, and nine All-Defensive First Team selections. Bryant tied Karl Malone's record for the most All-NBA First Team selections, a mark since broken by LeBron James. Bryant is tied with Michael Jordan, Gary Payton, and Kevin Garnett for the most All-Defensive First Team selections.

In Looking Back on the Kobe Bryant Era, I wrote:
There are so many statistics and facts that demonstrate Bryant's impact that it is difficult to know where to begin. Bryant will be most remembered for championships and scoring, so those are two good places to start. Bill Russell lapped the field with 11 NBA championships as a player and several of his teammates rank high on the list of most championships won, including Sam Jones (10) and John Havlicek (eight), who is tied with teammates Tommy Heinsohn, K.C. Jones and Satch Sanders. The player who won the most NBA titles without playing alongside Bill Russell is Robert Horry (seven), who was a superb role player for championship teams in Houston, L.A. and San Antonio. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen won six championships apiece. Then there is a 13 way tie among players who have won five championships; Bryant is in that group, which includes elite players such as George Mikan, Magic Johnson and Tim Duncan plus rebounder/defensive specialist Dennis Rodman and several high quality players who were not all-time greats. In terms of players who were the dominating forces on championship teams, only Russell, Abdul-Jabbar, Jordan and Pippen won more titles than Bryant. Sam Jones was a great--and underrated--player but he had just five All-Star selections scattered among his 10 championship seasons, while Havlicek was not an All-Star during his first three championship runs.
Duncan, the greatest power forward of all-time and a five-time NBA champion as well, joins Bryant in the Class of 2020. Duncan won three Finals MVPs (1999, 2003, 2005), and two regular season MVPs (2002, 2003) while also earning 10 All-NBA First Team selections, and eight All-Defensive First Team selections. Duncan finished in the top eight in regular season MVP voting in each of his first 11 seasons, including five top three finishes. He was a consummate professional, leader, and teammate.

Kevin Garnett played a key role for Boston's 2008 NBA championship team after spending the first portion of his career in Minnesota struggling to get past the first round of the playoffs. He won the 2004 regular season MVP, and he finished in the top five in MVP voting four other times. He made the All-NBA First Team four times, and he made the All-Defensive First Team nine times. Garnett could score, and pass, but he made his presence felt most with his rebounding--winning four straight rebounding titles (2004-07)--and his defense.

Duncan was the premier big man of the post-Michael Jordan era--Shaquille O'Neal was more physically dominant during his prime, but Duncan outlasted O'Neal as a top level performer--and Bryant was the premier perimeter player of the post-Michael Jordan era. Garnett did not match either of them in terms of individual statistical dominance, or team success; Garnett is not a Pantheon-level player--he is not in the conversation about the greatest basketball player of all-time--but he is worthy of first ballot Hall of Fame induction.

Bryant's Lakers defeated Duncan's Spurs four times in six playoff series, winning 18 out of 30 playoff games. Bryant's Lakers defeated Garnett's teams (Timberwolves/Celtics) three times in four playoff series, winning 14 out of 25 playoff games. Of course, Bryant rarely matched up one on one with either player. Duncan and Garnett faced each other in two playoff series, with Duncan's Spurs beating Garnett's Timberwolves 3-1 both times (1999, 2001).

All eight of the Hall of Fame Finalists will be inducted this year, which is somewhat unusual; last year, several of the Finalists did not make the cut, including retired NBA players Marques Johnson, Ben Wallace, and Chris Webber.

Patrick Baumann (FIBA executive) was directly elected posthumously by the Hall of Fame's International Committee; direct elections by other Hall of Fame committees were suspended this year due to all of the attention that will be focused on Bryant, Duncan, and Garnett, with the expectation that direct elections will resume next year.

The other 2020 Basketball Hall of Fame inductees are (in alphabetical order) Tamika Catchings (WNBA player), Kim Mulkey (NCAA coach), Barbara Stevens (NCAA coach), Eddie Sutton (NCAA coach), and Rudy Tomjanovich (NBA coach).

Tomjanovich is the only person who scored at least 10,000 points as an NBA player and won at least 500 regular season games plus at least two championships as an NBA coach. He also coached Team USA to a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics. He made the All-Star team five times during his playing career, including four straight selections before suffering serious head and facial injuries after Kermit Washington hit him during a game early in the 1977-78 season. Tomjanovich nearly died, and he missed the rest of that season before returning to All-Star form in 1978-79. Tomjanovich is perhaps best known for saying "Never underestimate the heart of a champion" while leading the Houston Rockets to back to back NBA titles in 1994-95.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:39 PM