By Earl Heath, Contributing Sports Writer
Laker Legend Kobe Bryant recently earned one of the highest honors any athlete could receive. He and other greats including Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Tamika Catchings were resented electing to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Bryant spent all 20 seasons of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers and helped lead the team to five NBA Championships throughout his career. Named NBA Most Valuable Player following the 2007-08 season, Bryant averaged 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.4 steals in 1,346 games with Los Angeles. The league’s fourth all-time leading scorer earned All-NBA honors 15 times, was named to the NBA All-Defensive Team 12 times and was named an NBA All-Star 18 times in his career.
The annual induction is scheduled for August 29th in Springfield, Mass. Soon after the announcement Garnett and Duncan spoke to ESPN about their careers. Vanessa Bryant and daughter Natalia spoke for Kobe.
“It an incredible accomplishment and honor. We are really proud of him. Obviously we wish that he was here with us to celebrate,” said Vanessa Bryant. “It’s definitely the peak of his NBA career and every accomplishment that he had as an athlete was a steppingstone to be here. We’re incredibly proud of him. There is some solace in knowing that he was going to be part of the 2020 Hall of Fame class.”
On January 26th Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among nine victims killed in a helicopter crash.
Duncan (Spurs) and Bryant (Lakers) squared off seven times in the play-offs from 1999 to 2013. The Lakers won four of the series. Garnett came directly out of high school to the NBA and the next year Bryant did the same. They met in the finals twice and split titles. Catchings and Bryant met while in Italy as they both had parents involved in basketball working there.
“I can guarantee you neither one of us thought that our careers and all these things happening in our lives would happen the way they did,” Catchings said. “Man this is just the perfect ending to a book.”
Catchings and Bryant won gold medals in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
Former Laker coach and long-time Houston Rocket coach Rudy Tomjanovich is one of four coaches to enter the class of 2020.
He’s joined by three-time NCAA women’s Champion Kim Mulkey and five-time Division II champion Barbara Stevens. Also four-time college Coach of the year Eddie Sutton is in the group.
Bryant is one of the biggest names in this year’s class, having a 20 year career, 16 time All-Star, an MVP and five-time champion.
Laker owner Jeanie Buss released a statement: “No amount of words can fully describe what Kobe Bryant meant to the Los Angeles Lakers,” said Lakers 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.”
Lakers General manager Rob Pelinka also said in a statement: “Kobe was always one to downplay his professional accomplishments – MVPs, NBA championships, gold medals, Oscars, and on and on and on,” said Lakers Vice President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Rob Pelinka. “But all of us can trust that this Basketball Hall of Fame honor is one Kobe would, and will, deeply appreciate. The highest of congratulations to you, dear friend. This one is so well deserved — for all the hard work, sweat and toil. Now, a part of you will live in the Hall with the rest of the all-time greats, where your legend and spirit will continue to grow forever.”