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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Kobe Bryant Headlines the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2020 was announced in April 2020, but the induction ceremony was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic; the most recent Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Induction took place in September 2019. The Class of 2020 includes Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett

The Class of 2020 had been eagerly anticipated for several years, but the anticipation took a tragic turn with the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others in a January 2020 helicopter crash. We will never hear Bryant's acceptance speech. What tone would he have set? Would he have been serious, humorous, defiant, or some combination of all of the above? Michael Jordan, who was tapped by Bryant's widow Vanessa to be Bryant's Hall of Fame presenter, used his 2009 Hall of Fame acceptance speech as a platform to settle old scores, both real and imagined. Some people were offended, others were amused, but no one could deny that Jordan was displaying his authentic self.

We saw a different, softer side of Jordan when he spoke at Bryant's memorial service last year, but we will never know how Bryant would have handled his special Hall of Fame moment. However, Vanessa Bryant delivered a remarkably poised and thoughtful speech on behalf of her husband. How can someone who lost her husband and one of her daughters in such a sudden and shocking fashion not only keep her emotions together but speak so eloquently? I recall the snarky ways that many media members referred to her after she married Bryant, and I am reminded yet again why I do not trust what the media says unless those assertions are supported by significant and objective evidence.

Vanessa Bryant thanked Jordan for being Kobe Bryant's presenter: "Kobe admired you. This means so much to us." Then, Vanessa said, "I used to always avoid praising my husband in public, because I felt like he got enough praise from his fans around the world and someone had to bring him back to reality. Right now, I'm sure he's laughing in heaven because I'm about to praise him in public for his accomplishments on one of the most public stages." 

Vanessa provided some insight about how much Hall of Fame induction meant to Kobe: "He didn't really talk about upcoming awards, but he did mention this one a week before Gigi passed. My husband and I were sitting at our kitchen island, and he and I had a conversation about my mother- and father-in-law attending tonight's enshrinement. I invited my mother- and father-in-law to tonight's enshrinement to thank them for bringing one of the most amazing human beings into this world. Pam and Joe, thank you for raising Kobe to be exceptional. Thank you to all of Kobe's family. Sharia, you've gone above and beyond. I love you."

Vanessa added, "If my husband were here tonight, he would have a long list of people to thank that helped inspire him and equip him to be in the Hall of Fame. Family, friends, mentors, the Lakers, teammates, muses and opponents." 

She sounded most like Kobe when she also thanked the doubters and the critics for inspiring Kobe to prove them wrong: "I do know that he would thank everyone that helped him get here, including the people that doubted him and the people that worked against him and told him he couldn't attain his goals. He would thank all of them for motivating him to be here. After all, he proved you wrong."

Vanessa provided a short list of the many injuries that Kobe overcame during his career, and she explained why he regularly played through those injuries: "People don't know this, but one of the reasons my husband played through injuries and pain was because he said he remembered being a little kid sitting in the nosebleeds with his dad to watch his favorite player play. He could recall the car ride, the convos and the excitement of being lucky enough to have a seat in the arena. Kobe didn't want to disappoint his fans, especially the ones in the 300 sections that saved up to watch him play--the kids with the same excitement he once had." 

Kobe Bryant did not practice "load management," and the game would be much better off if that odious phrase disappeared from NBA life.

Vanessa concluded, "Congratulations baby. All of your hard work and sacrifice has paid off. You once told me, if you are going to bet on someone, bet on yourself. I'm glad you bet on yourself, you overachiever. You did it. You're in the Hall of Fame now. You are a true champ. You're not just an MVP. You're an all-time great. I'm so proud of you. I love you forever and always. Kobe. Bean. Bryant."

Bryant and Duncan are two of the four "modern" members of my Pantheon, along with Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James. Those four players collectively won 18 NBA championships, dominating the post-Michael Jordan era for two decades. Bryant's Lakers defeated Duncan's Spurs four times in six playoff series, winning 18 out of 30 playoff games. Bryant's Lakers also defeated Garnett's teams (Timberwolves/Celtics) three times in four playoff series, winning 14 out of 25 playoff games. Bryant won five championships--tied with Duncan for the most NBA titles won by a star player in the post-Jordan era--plus two Finals MVPs (2009-10), and one regular season MVP (2008). Bryant finished in the top five in regular season MVP voting 11 times, and a good argument can be made that he deserved to win multiple regular season MVPs.

Duncan was not flashy, but he was efficient, fundamentally sound, and durable. He won his first NBA title in 1999 (his second pro season), and he won his fifth NBA title in 2014. Other than free throw shooting, Duncan had no skill set weaknesses. Duncan won two regular season MVPs (2002-03) and three Finals MVPs (1999, 2003, 2005). Duncan is routinely--and correctly--called the greatest power forward of all-time, yet it seems that media members and fans tend to underrate him. I have not and will not select one player as the greatest player of all-time, but it is not clear why only LeBron James is widely touted for that distinction among the four best players of the post-Jordan era. O'Neal, Duncan, and Bryant (listed in chronological order) each posted better Finals winning percentages than James (4-2 for O'Neal, 5-1 for Duncan, 5-2 for Bryant, 4-6 for James). Finals winning percentage is not the only--or even necessarily the most important--measure of greatness, but it means something, particularly since James spent a good portion of his prime trying (and mostly failing) to win championships while Duncan and Bryant both added to their championship totals. James never faced Bryant in a playoff series, but James went just 1-2 versus Duncan in the NBA Finals. Asserting that James is somehow a superior winner to Jordan (who went 6-0 in the NBA Finals) is bizarre, and asserting that James is a superior winner to Bill Russell (who went 11-1 in the NBA Finals) is nonsensical, particularly when James has not even established himself as the greatest winner of the post-Jordan era. Long story short, Duncan deserves more praise and recognition than he receives, but he is not the type of player or person who would whine about being disrespected while he is being handed a Finals MVP award.

Duncan began his speech by mentioning that this is the most nervous he had ever been, including all of his appearances in the NBA Finals. Despite his evident discomfort with public speaking, he spoke articulately, and he lavished praise on those who helped him along the way, including his parents, his coaches, and his teammates. He did not pick up a basketball until he was 14--his goal to become an Olympic swimmer was thwarted when a hurricane destroyed the swimming pool where he trained--but less than a decade later he was an NBA champion and a Finals MVP.

Garnett was not as polished or as efficient as Duncan in terms of low post scoring, nor was Garnett as effective protecting the paint (even though Garnett had much greater leaping ability than Duncan). Except for the 2003-04 season when Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell handled the clutch scoring duties as the Timberwolves advanced to the Western Conference Finals, Garnett's Minnesota teams did not accomplish much in the playoffs; he won his only NBA title in 2008 with Paul Pierce capturing the Finals MVP, and with Pierce combining with Ray Allen to handle the clutch scoring responsibilities for the Boston Celtics. This may sound strange and it is not meant as a criticism but just as an accurate description: Garnett was a very high functioning role player. Make no mistake, he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame and he is included in my 50 Greatest Players List, but his value was most notable in terms of high energy, rebounding, defense, and setting screens. Garnett was not going to take over a game offensively down the stretch, and he could not have won a championship without playing alongside multiple Hall of Famers who could take over a game offensively down the stretch; in that sense, Garnett differed from Bryant, Duncan, James, and even O'Neal, who could take over games offensively down the stretch despite being a poor free throw shooter. 

Garnett volunteered to be the first Hall of Famer presented, joking that he wanted to get his speech in before the retired players fell asleep. Garnett graciously thanked Bill Willoughby, Darryl Dawkins, Moses Malone, and Spencer Haywood. In the 1970s, Willoughby, Dawkins, and Malone paved the way for high school players to jump directly to pro basketball without attending college, a path that no other player followed until Garnett accomplished this in 1995. Haywood won a U.S. Supreme Court case that resulted in the NBA instituting a "hardship" rule (now called "early entry") that benefited not only the high schoolers listed above, but also NBA legends who left college before their classes graduated, including Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, and Michael Jordan.

The other 2020 Basketball Hall of Fame inductees include Eddie Sutton, Tamika Catchings, Kim Mulkey, Barbara Stevens, and Patrick Baumann. All of the Hall of Famers have inspirational life stories, but in this space I focus primarily on the NBA; the fourth 2020 inductee with significant NBA connections is Rudy Tomjanovich. He coached Bryant briefly in the 2004-05 season before health issues compelled him to resign at the Lakers' coach, but Tomjanovich is being inducted as a coach primarily because he led the Houston Rockets to back to back titles in 1994-95. His Rockets had a never say die attitude, epitomized by his famous quote, "Don't ever underestimate the heart of a champion!" That championship success would be meaningful to anyone, but the special meaning for Tomjanovich is that he will no longer be most remembered as the victim of Kermit Washington's savage punch that nearly killed him. Tomjanovich was an All-Star for the Rockets before suffering serious injuries from that punch, and he recovered enough to make the All-Star team again, but he was never the same as a player. It is testament to his heart of a champion that he not only returned to the court successfully but that he became such a great and beloved coach. Tomjanovich thanked the many coaches and commentators who spoke up about his worthiness as a Hall of Famer, and he used the platform provided by his speech to make a passionate appeal that Robert Horry--who won two championships while playing for Tomjanovich en route to capturing seven NBA titles overall--deserves to be inducted.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:44 AM



At Sunday, May 16, 2021 12:39:00 PM, Blogger DDC said...

I haven't read your blog Ina long time as I haven't been as into the NBA as I once was.

It's just as great as I remember. Cheers to you sir.

At Monday, May 17, 2021 2:08:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you and welcome back!

At Monday, May 17, 2021 4:27:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


I wasnt a kobe fan for a long but i def liked him at the end and have the utmost respect for his career

He def top 3 to me all time

Lebron my fav player but for lebron first seven years the best player in the nba was kobe bean bryant

He had no weakness as a player

He could dribble shoot pass and play d

He also had a will to win that few have ever matched

I think he underrated by espn and basketball historians

He not in they top 5 all time he should be tho.

Kobe seem like a nice person

I wish he lived longer

41 to young to go

I remember me and u david had battles about kobe and lebron

But i think lebron myself or anyone wouldnt have no problem if u put kobe above him

He was a great great player

At Tuesday, May 18, 2021 1:42:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


It is almost a year and a half after Kobe died and it is still hard to believe/accept. I have such vivid memories not only of watching him on TV but of seeing him in person--including games against LeBron--and of speaking with him before and after those games. I saw him up close at several All-Star Weekends, including two of his record-tying four All-Star Game MVPs (2007, 2009). I saw his mangled index finger up close and I talked with him about how he changed his shooting motion to overcome the injury (a subject that he later wrote about in his book The Mamba Mentality). His pain tolerance and ability to adapt his game to injuries were incredible. Vanessa talked about how Kobe never wanted to miss a game, and I saw that determination up close when his body was quite visibly damaged; he was not one of these guys rolling off of the court in a wheelchair only to run back out a few minutes later to play hero: he played with real and obvious injuries that would cause most players to miss games, and he figured out how to play at a high level while doing that. I wish I could have seen even more, but I will never forget the sights and sounds that I experienced, and I am grateful for those opportunities.

I will never understand why some people (not you) stubbornly refuse to give him the credit he deserves, but his accomplishments transcend anything that his critics say. As Vanessa mentioned, the critics provided extra motivation, and in the end he proved them wrong.

At Tuesday, May 18, 2021 8:07:00 PM, Anonymous Michael said...

"Garnett was a very high functioning role player" is a perfectly fair and valid description of him. He is definitely a first-ballot Hall of Famer/Top 50 all-time but the "KG" hype was always a bit out of control.

I was just looking through a bunch of greatest of all-time rankings and the vast majority of them have Garnett ahead of Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk was a significantly superior playoff performer who single-handedly led a team to a championship over a heavily favored superteam. As you noted, Garnett wasn't capable of anything close to that and should not ever be ranked ahead of Nowitzki.

At Tuesday, May 18, 2021 9:03:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


A lot of the overhyping of KG began when some "stat gurus" insisted that he was the best all-around player in the NBA (which he never was). There are several players whose games I respect and to whom I have provided appropriate praise who subsequently became overhyped. KG is a classic example, as is Steve Nash.


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