Philly favorite Kobe Bryant heads 2020 Basketball Hall of Fame class

On April 4th, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced nine new members for 2020.  This year’s class will be inducted in Springfield, Massachusetts, the “Birthplace of Basketball,” on Saturday, August 29, 2020. 

This year’s class was elected under different rules due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Direct election was suspended and voting was done by Hall of Fame committees. Three NBA stars, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and Tim Duncan, as well as NCAA coach Eddie Sutton and NBA coach Rudy Tomjanovich, were elected by the North American Committee.  The Women’s Committee elected WNBA player Tamika Catchings, NCAA coach Kim Mulkey, and NCAA Division II coach Barbara Stevens. The International Committee elected Patrick Baumann, Fédération Internationale de Basketball executive. 

List of the 2020 Basketball Hall of Fame Inductees, created by Leo Melancon.

“The class of 2020 is undoubtedly one of the most historic of all time, and the talent and social influence of these nine honorees is beyond measure,” John L. Doleva, president of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, said at the press conference announcing the honorees. 

Many fans agree with Doleva that this might be one of the best Hall of Fame classes in its history.  Bryant, Garnett and Duncan are NBA legends (see player comparison chart). Bryant was a five-time NBA champion and 18-time NBA All-Star in his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. Garnett was a 15-time NBA All-Star over 21 seasons spanning three different teams, most notably the Boston Celtics.  Duncan was a 15-time All-Star and three-time MVP in the NBA Finals who also won five NBA championships in his 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs.  

“Garnett won one title with Boston and was an amazing power forward with both Boston and Minnesota,” Kevin McLaughlin, Cabrini sophomore digital communications major, said. “I love Kobe and Tim Duncan, but I’d give the edge to Duncan. He ran the system for nearly two decades in San Antonio and was one of the best postseason performers of all time.”

“Garnett on the Celtics was one of the reasons LeBron James went to the Heat as a part of a super team, which changed the shape of the NBA,”  Drew Melancon, Raritan Valley Community College psychology major, said. “If Garnett wasn’t a part of the super successful Celtics, there probably wouldn’t be super teams now.”

Bryant’s selection is especially bittersweet, coming only three months after his death in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles.  Bryant is beloved in the Philadelphia area, having begun his stellar career at Lower Merion High School, where his 2,883 career points helped the school win its first championship in over 50 years and helped launch his NBA career.

“Kobe Bryant won more rings than anyone else on the list, but his work ethic inspired numerous athletes across every sport,”

Comparison between Bryant, Duncan, Garnett and Catchings’ stats. Chart created by Leo Melancon.

Melancon said. “He worked tirelessly during his career to be the best player he could be, and then continued that work on himself as a person after his career. Few athletes have or will ever accomplish what he did as a player.”

The other six inductees may be less well-known, but made significant contributions to basketball.

Tamika Catchings  is a 10-time WNBA All-Star who was league MVP and won a championship in 15 seasons with the Indiana Fever.  Her career numbers stack up well against the male players in the 2020 class, though many people may never have heard her name before.

“I believe the WNBA doesn’t get enough public acknowledgement for the women on these teams to even be recognized,” Melancon said. “However, that’s not limited to basketball, as all sports typically only broadcast the men playing, outside of the Olympics.”

Coaches, as well as players, can be elected to the Hall of Fame.  This year’s class includes four:  Tomjanovich, Sutton, Mulkey and Stevens (see coach comparison chart).  

Comparison of Sutton, Tomjanovich, Mulkey and Stevens’ coaching stats.
Chart by Leo Melancon.

“I think coaches play one of, if not the biggest role, in team success, so they do belong in the Hall of Fame,” said McLaughlin.

Tomjanovich coached the Houston Rockets to two NBA championships; he is the only person to score 10,000 career points as a player and win 500 career games as a coach–for the same team.  Sutton, whose career lasted 37 years, is the only NCAA coach to take four different teams to the tournament. Mulkey, women’s basketball coach for Baylor for 19 years, is the only person to have won national championships as both a player and coach.  Stevens has coached the Bentley Division II women’s team to a national championship, as well, and has over 1,000 career wins in 34 seasons there. 

The ninth member of 2020’s class is an executive, Baumann, who died of a heart attack in 2018. A former FIBA Secretary General and member of the International Olympic Committee, Baumann was committed to expanding youth basketball globally. He worked to advance 3-on-3 basketball, which will be featured in the Olympics for the first time at Tokyo in 2021, in the games postponed due to COVID -19.  

“In 2020, the basketball community has suffered the unimaginable loss of iconic figures Commissioner David Stern and Kobe Bryant, as well as the game itself due to COVID-19,” Doleva said. “We have also banded together like never before in appreciation of the game and those who have made it the uniting force it is today.”