The Class of 2020 will arguably be the most star-studded in the history of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
All eight finalists — led by the late Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett — were selected Saturday for enshrinement and will be inducted Aug. 29 in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Bryant, Duncan and Garnett will be 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, a two-time title winner.
In addition to the finalists, longtime FIBA executive Patrick Baumann was selected as an inductee, bringing the Class of 2020 to nine.
From the moment they were eligible, it was assured Duncan, Garnett and Bryant would gain entry into the Hall of Fame. But a pall was cast over what should have been a celebratory moment.
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among nine people who died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26. Longtime NBA commissioner David Stern died Jan. 1 after suffering a brain hemorrhage weeks earlier.
“It’s definitely the peak of his NBA career, and every accomplishment that he had as an athlete was a steppingstone to be here,” Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, told ESPN in a video interview Saturday.
The announcement of this year’s class — which usually takes place during Final Four weekend — was made during a stoppage in the sports world due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, Saturday’s announcement was memorable, thanks to the accolades credited to this year’s Hall class.
- Duncan was a five-time champion, a two-time MVP and both a 15-time All-Star and All-NBA selection who played his entire 19-year career for the San Antonio Spurs.
“It’s kind of the end of the journey here,” Duncan told ESPN, with his voice breaking at times. “It was an incredible career that I enjoyed so much. To call it a dream come true isn’t doing it any justice, because I never dreamt I would be at this point. I played the game, enjoyed the game, loved what I did, and to be here now with the guys I will be put in the Hall of Fame with is just an amazing class.”
Tim Duncan says he never dreamed he’d be at this point after being elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
- Garnett won a title and an MVP award, was named to 15 All-Star teams and earned nine All-NBA honors during his 21 seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets.
“It’s the culmination,” Garnett told ESPN during Saturday’s broadcast. “It’s the culmination, man. You put countless hours into this. You dedicate yourself to a craft. You take no days off. You play through injuries. You play through demise. You play through obstacles. You give no excuses for anything. You learn, you build.
“This is the culmination. All those hours … this is what you do it for, right here. For me, to be called a Hall of Famer, is everything.”
- Bryant was a five-time champion, also won an MVP and was an 18-time All-Star and a 15-time All-NBA selection during his 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“No amount of words can fully describe what Kobe Bryant meant to the Los Angeles Lakers,” Lakers controlling owner and president Jeanie Buss said in a statement. “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.”
- Catchings ranks first in WNBA history in steals and is third in points and rebounds. She also won a national title at Tennessee in 1998.
“I think honestly just what [coach] Pat [Summit] has meant,” Catchings said on being the first player in the storied history of the Lady Vols to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. “To be able to follow her lead and follow in her footsteps. One of the main reasons I wanted to go to the University of Tennessee was to play for the best coach and play alongside some amazing players. … I’m just really thankful and grateful that I got the chance to go to the University of Tennessee and to be the first [Hall of Famer].”
- In addition to winning an NCAA title as a player, Mulkey has won 600 games during her 20 seasons leading the Baylor Bears, including a perfect 40-0 season in 2013.
“You’ll meet people in your life, and you’re like, ‘I want to be on their team because they absolutely hate to lose.’ I’ve always been that way,” Mulkey told ESPN. “I hated to lose as a player. I hate to lose as a coach. It’s just a competitive thing that, honestly, I think you’re born with. And then you put yourself in position to play with players who appreciate you, understand you, and then work with coaches who have that same personality.” On Saturday, a parade of fans drove past Mulkey’s home to celebrate her selection.
- Stevens has won over 1,000 games — and a Division II championship in 2014 — across more than 40 years as a head coach at Bentley, in Waltham, Massachusetts.
“I am so honored, I am so humbled to be included in this unbelievable class of inductees into the Hall of Fame,” Stevens said. “This is something that is overwhelming. The incredible emotions that I felt after receiving the call from the Hall of Fame on Friday afternoon, I can’t even put into words.”
- Sutton, one of 10 Division I coaches to win 800 games, made the Final Four three times and was the first coach to lead four different schools (Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State) to the NCAA tournament.
“This is a very special and exciting day for our family. My dad was so honored and humbled earlier today to receive a phone call from the Naismith Hall of Fame that he was going to be inducted in the 2020 class,” said Steve Sutton, Eddie’s son. “My dad loved teaching the game of basketball. He had so much respect for the tradition of the game. He loved the relationships he built with his players, and would be the first to tell you so much of the success in his career was due to the outstanding players he coached and the great assistant coaches he had on his staff.”
Sutton, 84, has dealt with health issues in recent years. He now struggles to speak, per Chris Hunt, a filmmaker who recently completed a documentary, “Eddie: The Costs of Greatness,” about Sutton’s life.
- Tomjanovich was both a star player, earning five All-Star berths, and an excellent coach who piloted Houston to titles in both 1994 and ’95 with Hakeem Olajuwon as the team’s star.
“It was a very suspenseful day because I’ve been in this position before and I got the ‘Sorry, not this year’ response,” said Tomjanovich, who was also a finalist in 2017 and ’18. “… The first thing that happened [upon learning that he had made it into the Hall] was an unbelievable sigh of relief and then slowly — but very powerfully — complete jubilation. We’re going to Springfield!”
- Baumann was the former FIBA secretary general. He died from a heart attack in October 2018.
This year’s class was unique in that it was limited to only eight finalists. On a one-year trial basis, there were no direct-elect selections from subcommittees.
Jerry Colangelo, the chairman of the Hall of Fame’s nominating committee, said in February that the reason behind those changes was to avoid lesser-known honorees being lost amid the star power of this year’s headliners.
“[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.”