CHICAGO — The star-studded Class of 2020 for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame took one step closer to induction as Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and the late Kobe Bryant were all officially named as finalists on Friday.
They were joined by 10-time WNBA All-Star Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever, coach Kim Mulkey of three-time women’s NCAA champion Baylor, five-time Division II coach of the year Barbara Stevens of Bentley University, four-time NCAA coach of the year Eddie Sutton and former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich, who won two NBA titles.
From the moment Garnett, Duncan and Bryant were all eligible to be inducted this year, there was no doubt all three — each among the greatest ever to play the sport — would be enshrined on Aug. 29 in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Being a lock as a finalist didn’t make the moment any less special for Garnett, who was on hand for the announcement in the same city where he spent his senior year of high school playing at Farragut Academy before being drafted fifth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1995.
“He’d probably think this is pretty awesome right here,” Garnett said with a smile when asked what the 18-year-old version of himself would’ve said back in 1995 about Friday’s announcement. “The Hall of Fame is something you don’t really think about. It just happens.”
The basketball world still is reeling from sudden and tragic losses.
Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others were killed Jan. 26 when the helicopter they were aboard crashed in Calabasas, California, as they were flying to a basketball tournament where Gianna was to play with her team.
In addition, David Stern, the NBA commissioner during the most successful period in league history, died Jan. 1 as a result of a brain hemorrhage. He was 77.
The combination of Bryant’s passing and the enormity of the three names atop the ballot caused the Hall’s nominating committee, led by chairman Jerry Colangelo, to change its rules this year by limiting the class to eight nominees to be voted upon and eliminating the direct-elect selections on a one-year trial basis.
The goal, Colangelo said, was to avoid the lesser-known honorees being lost amid the interest in the star names headlining this year’s event.
“[That’s] because of the enormity — even before Kobe’s death — that we think Kobe and Duncan and Garnett bring to it,” Colangelo said. “We’ve never had a class that strong at the top. And of course with Kobe’s death, it added more focus.
“We thought the way of dealing with it was eliminating some direct-elects on a one-year basis. We have that flexibility, fortunately, to do it because some people could get lost in the shuffle, really, in terms of getting their due.”
Colangelo also addressed the speculation that, in the wake of Bryant’s death, he would be enshrined in the Hall without a vote.
“No, no, no,” Colangelo said. “I have no idea where those things started. We have a process and you follow the process. When we met in Dallas after his death, we had to deal with that, and the way we dealt with it was we weren’t going to submit a lot of names. We were going to make it a small class.
“We want everyone to get their due. It’s important. It’s sensitive. We have a job to do between now and the end of August, that it is that kind of a program and production. As sad as it all is, we have to deal with all of that, and life goes on in the world of basketball and the Hall of Fame and we don’t want to take away from the people here who are the prospective inductees.”
ESPN’s Michael Wilbon and Mike Breen were elected into the Hall of Fame as recipients of the Curt Gowdy Media Award. The Hall also added a pair of media awards this season — the Curt Gowdy Insight Media Award and the Curt Gowdy Transformative Media Award — and those went to Jim Gray and TNT’s “Inside The NBA” program, respectively.
The Hall’s Class of 2020 will be announced during the NCAA Final Four in Atlanta on April 4. The Hall’s Honors Committee — made up of Hall of Famers, basketball executives, media members and others — will vote on the finalists, who must receive 18 of 24 votes to be enshrined.