Kobe Bryant will be posthumously inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, it was announced Saturday. The 2020 class also includes Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and WNBA star Tamika Catchings.
Bryant spent all 20 seasons of his career with the Lakers. He was a five-time NBA champion, a two-time Finals MVP, a one-time regular season MVP in 2008, an 18-time All-Star and was named to the NBA All-Defensive team 12 times.
Bryant, who retired in 2016, had career averages of 25 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.4 steals over 1,346 games.
“No amount of words can fully describe what Kobe Bryant meant to the Los Angeles Lakers,” Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss said Saturday in a statement. “Kobe was not only a proven winner and a champion, he gave everything he had to the game of basketball.”
Bryant died at age 41 in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people as he was headed to the Mamba Sports Academy, where he was going to coach Gianna in a youth basketball game.
In a television interview from her home, Bryant's wife Vanessa told ESPN that she wishes Bryant was here to celebrate the honor.
"It's definitely the peak of his NBA career," Vanessa said. "And every accomplishment that he had as an athlete was a stepping stone to be here, so we're incredibly proud of him."
Bryant is the Lakers' all-time leading scorer and the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history with 33,643 points. He scored at least 40 points in 122 games, had 176 double-doubles and 21 triple-doubles.
"The highest of congratulations to you, dear friend," Lakers general manager and vice president of basketball relations Rob Pelinka said Saturday in a statement. "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.”
Bryant was known for his tireless work ethic, often showing up to dark gyms before practices and staying late for marathon shooting sessions.
He famously scored 62 points in three quarters in a game against Dallas in 2005. He had a career-high 81 points in a game against Toronto in 2006. He had four consecutive games in 2007 in which he scored at least 50 points. And he made two free throws after sustaining a torn Achilles' tendon in a game against Golden State in 2013.
"He had zero flaws offensively, zero," LeBron James said of Bryant on Jan. 25. "You backed off of him, and he could shoot the three. You body him up a little bit, and he'd go around you. He could shoot the midrange, he could post, he could make free throws. He had zero flaws offensively. That's something I admired as well, just being at a point where the defense will always be at bay, where they can't guard you at all. We just felt like he was immortal offensively because of his skillset and his work ethic."
Many current and former NBA players attended Bryant's and Gianna's public memorial at Staples Center on Feb. 24. Bryant's childhood idol Michael Jordan was among the speakers.
"When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died," Jordan said as tears streamed down his cheeks. "And as I look in this arena and across the globe, a piece of you died or else you wouldn’t be here...I had a little brother that I tried to help in every way I could. Please rest in peace, little brother."
Bryant's former Laker teammate Shaquille O'Neal also spoke at his memorial. They had a complicated relationship when they played together, but they also won three NBA championships alongside one another in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
"Not unlike another leadership duo, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, whose creative rivalry led to some of the greatest music of all time, Kobe and I pushed one another to play some of the greatest basketball of all time," O'Neal said. "And I am proud that no other team has accomplished what the three-peat Lakers have done since the Shaq and Kobe Lakers did it."
O'Neal recalled one moment in particular when he really gained respect for Bryant. It happened after their teammates were complaining that Bryant wasn't passing enough, so O'Neal decided to have a chat with him.
"I said, 'Kobe, there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team,'" O'Neal said. "He said, 'I know, but there’s an ‘M-E’ in that, motherf—.'"
After retiring, Bryant poured himself into storytelling. He won an Oscar in 2018 for his short film "Dear Basketball." He also took great pleasure in reliving his love for basketball through Gianna's eyes. She wanted to play in the WNBA, so Bryant became her coach.
They were inseparable.
"God knew they couldn't be on this earth without each other," Vanessa said at the memorial. "He had to bring them home to heaven together."