The 2021 Naismith Hall of Fame ceremony will take place on Saturday, May 15. The class of ’20 inductees are headlined by Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. WNBA legend Tamika Catchings, FIBA executive Patrick Baumann and coaches Eddie Sutton, Rudy Tomjanovich, Kim Mulkey and Barbara Stevens round out this year’s class.
The Crossover staff picks one word to describe this iconic group.
Howard Beck: Eclectic
One word? Eclectic. If we’re just focusing on the NBA peers—Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan—I cannot imagine a more wildly diverse trio of personalities, styles and talents. Kobe was feisty, KG fiery, Duncan sedate. Kobe wanted to dazzle the world; Duncan just wanted to blend in. KG was a transformational figure—the first modern-day big man with guard skills, the first unicorn, the Big Ticket; Duncan was stubbornly conventional, a maestro in the low post, the Big Fundamental. Kobe, especially in his later years, was relentlessly chatty and open, often charming; KG was mostly guarded, picking his spots; Duncan said as little as possible. A relentless drive made them MVPs and champions. It’s the one thing they had in common.
Chris Herring: Comprehensive
If you take a step back, you realize this class will feature one of the more recent prep-to-pro pioneers in the bombastic Garnett. A glitzy, audacious high-schooler that came right behind him, in Bryant. A low-key superstar that played all four years of his college eligibility in Duncan. A man that won back-to-back championships in a city that hadn’t won any prior (or since) in Tomjanovich. And a pair of the more dominant, all-time winners on the women’s side in Catchings and coach Mulkey.
Much of the attention will be focused on the late Bryant, and understandably so. But this class has just about everything, and is well represented.
Michael Pina: Singular
There will never be another Kobe Bryant. There will never be another Tim Duncan. There will definitely never be another Kevin Garnett. The three legendary forces of nature who headline this year’s Hall of Fame induction class will ultimately be remembered as one-of-ones. Their respective skill sets might be comparable to players long gone or those who’ve yet to come, but there's no way anyone replicates any of their individual careers, the championships, awards or impacting legacy on the sport and NBA as an entertainment vehicle. The league is not where it is, culturally, socially or financially, if any one of Kobe, Timmy or KG didn’t exist. When the game’s history is written 100 years from now, these three will still deserve their own chapter.
Elizabeth Swinton: Triumphant
The induction of the 2020 class is a moment many have waited for, and it takes on a different meaning without Kobe Bryant being present for it. Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett all showed resilience and grit throughout their careers, making their induction a triumphant moment for those close to them and NBA fans alike. It will likely be an emotional night, but after the delay of the induction ceremony due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the celebration of all the inductees’ careers will make for a memorable evening of deserving figures in the sport.
Robin Lundberg: Generational
Every Hall of Fame class is made up of great players, but this year’s has several who were part of a small group that defined a generation of NBA basketball. Kevin Garnett was a versatile near-seven-footer who in many ways was ahead of his time. Tim Duncan anchored the Spurs’ run and is one of the best big men of all time. And the outpouring of love following his tragic death shows the impact that the late, great Kobe Bryant had, and forever will have. Together they help make up a historic, and generational, Hall of Fame class.
Ben Pickman: Preeminence
This group—which is headlined by Bryant, Duncan and Garnett—achieved a level of superiority in the sport that was oftentimes not just above many of their competitors but also pushed the sport of basketball in new directions. Whether it was the titles among them or the manner in which they competed, there was excellence in seemingly everything they did on the court. Let’s also not forget about Tamika Catchings, who herself was a 10-time All-Star and four-time Olympic gold medalist, and was a titan of the sport. In 2011 she was voted one of the top 15 players in WNBA history, but she’s also been a leader in basketball through her work as the president of the WNBPA and now as an executive with the Indiana Fever.
Michael Shapiro: Singular
It’s hard to find a Hall-of-Fame class both as decorated and as impactful on the game’s history as the 2021 edition. The trio of players entering Springfield this year were arguably the three defining players of the 2000s, with each shaping the league in their own unique manner. Tim Duncan served as the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of his generation, dominating opponents for nearly two decades with a metronome-like consistency. Kevin Garnett may be the most intense player in league history. As for Kobe Bryant, he surpassed even the highest expectations placed upon him as he racked up five championships and 15 All-NBA selections. You can't tell the story of the NBA in the 21st century without quickly mentioning Bryant, Garnett and Duncan. It's unlikely we'll ever see such a celebrated trio enter the Hall in the same year ever again.
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