By Earl Heath, Contributing Sports Writer
We all knew it was coming but we didn’t know the particulars on the day. The enshrinement of Kobe into the basketball Hall of Fame. Bryant and his daughter Gigi passed away in a helicopter crash last year shortly after he had already been selected to join this year’s HOF class which includes some of his contemporaries like Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. They were competitors on the court but were relatable off the court.
After being escorted to the podium by Michael Jordan, Vanessa Bryant stood before thousands wearing a purple Laker colored dress at the Mohegan Sun Arena in in picturesque Uncasville, Connecticut.
“If my husband were here tonight he’d have along list of people to thank that helped inspire him and equip him to be in the Hall Of Fame,” said Vanessa.
“Right now he’s probably laughing in heaven because I’m about to praise him in public,” she added. And praise she did. She took us behind the scenes of a superstar and his family. She took us beyond the jump shots and slam dunks.
Bryant not only was a five-time NBA Champion, an 18-time All-star, he also was League MVP while he and Laker Legend Bob Pettit are the only players to be All-Star game MVP four times. He also was the first NBA player to win an Academy Award.
“Thank you for getting up at 4am, thank you for putting our family first, thank you for your sense of humor,” she stated. “There will never be another Kobe, he was humble off the court, but bigger than life.”
“You always told me if you’re going to bet on someone, bet on yourself. You’re a true champ You did it, your in the Hall of Fame, your not just an MVP you’re an all-time great. I love you forever and always Kobe Bean Bryant.” On the previous day his oldest daughter Natalia was presented his Hall of Fame jacket by Vanessa. She wore it proudly. She was accompanied by her sisters Bianka and Capri. There were moments when Vanessa became emotional during the speech, but she made it through.
She received a rousing ovation and many in the Crowd shouted, ”KOBE, KOBE, KOBE.” Jordan gave her a kiss on the forehead then escorted her off stage.
“It was a beautiful thing to see Vanessa put the jacket on their daughter,” said LeBron James.
Duncan, Garnett, and Bryant were joined in the class by two-time NBA Champion Coach Rudy Tomjonavich, four-time Olympic Gold medalist Tamica Catchings, three-time Final Four coach Eddie Sutton, 1,000-win coach Barbara Stevens of Bentley College, and FIBA Secretary General Patrick Bowman.
Duncan a multi Champion had Head Coach Greg Popovich present and missing a game to see Tim get this honor.
“This is the most nervous I’ve been in my life,” said Duncan. “Been through Finals, game sevens, this is officially the most nervous I’ve been in my life. I’ve been pacing my room all-day so let’s see what we get.”
Three-time NCAA champion coach Kim Mulkey is the only person male or female to win College Championships as a player, assistant coach, and head coach.
Mulkey with her kids McKenzie and Kramer present, said one of the most interesting lines of the night.
“As a coach,” said Mulkey. “You can’t promise them they’ll be drafted, you can’t promise them a Championship but the one thing you can promise them when you sit in their home is they will walk away with a degree in their hand.”
Michael Wilbon received the Curt Gowdy Award for Print Media. Mike Breen (Electronic inside) and Jim Grey also were recipients. Wilbon spent 20 years as a journalist for the Washington Post.
He’s now known for his ESPN PTI (Pardon The Interruption) with co-host Tony Kornheiser.
In para phrasing Kornheiser, Wilbon stated: “Basketball of all the sports may be the closest thing in society to a true meritocracy where a person of color can go from playing to coaching to being hired again to having a valued voice on a platform. It’s fitting that men and women of this particular sport are leading this social revolution.
“In recent months the game has lost men that have meant so much to my development as a sportswriter- Gale Sayers and Bobby Mitchell, are Hall of Famers from other sports but several belong to this group (Basketball) John Chaney, John Thompson, Wes Unseld, Elgin Baylor and Kobe Bryant who we honor this weekend.”
In a year of oddities and unexpected things it’s good to see some normalcy come back to the world by way of the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. When able everyone should make it a point to visit.