Last week, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame announced their 2020 class and it features many legendary names from the sport.
Along with championship coach Rudy Tomjanovich, WNBA legend Tamika Catchings, and four others, the class features two of the top ten NBA players and three of the top 25 ever.
Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and the late Kobe Bryant dominated the NBA from the late-1990s through the mid-2010s and were clear hall of famers everytime they stepped on the floor.
The greatest of the three is Kobe Bryant. He averaged 25 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.4 steals per game over his twenty seasons, all of which were spent with the Los Angeles Lakers.
His list of accolades is astounding: 18-time All-Star, 15-time All-NBA, 12-time All-Defensive, 4-time All-Star MVP, 2-time Finals MVP, 2008 NBA MVP, and 5-time NBA Champion. It is not hard to see why Kobe is considered one of the top five players ever.
The Black Mamba was also responsible for some of the most memorable teams and moments in NBA history. He and Shaquille O’Neal were one of the most dominant duos in NBA history and led the Lakers to three consecutive championships from 2000-2002.
Bryant scored an unbelievable 81 points against the Toronto Raptors during the 2005-06 season. This performance established him as arguably the best player in the NBA.
A few years later, he led the Lakers to back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010. In 2010, Kobe helped Los Angeles overcome a 3-2 series deficit to defeat the rival Boston Celtics in a thrilling seven game series. The championships legitimized Kobe as his own star, capable of winning without Shaq.
Near the end of the 2012-13 season, Bryant suffered a ruptured achilles against the Golden State Warriors. Despite barely being able to walk, he calmly stepped to the line and drained both free throws. The scene was a testament to the toughness and competitiveness that defined Kobe’s career.
Bryant saved his best performance for last, however. In the final game of his career, he scored 60 points against the Utah Jazz and led the Lakers to victory. Following the contest, he delivered the greatest send-off in history, simply saying, “Mamba out.”
Sadly, Kobe’s election to the hall is somewhat overshadowed by his sudden passing in January of this year. Despite his death, his election along with the impact he left both on and off the court will ensure his legacy will never be forgotten.
Although Bryant is widely considered to be the best player in this class, Tim Duncan makes a legitimate case against this notion.
Duncan is the best power forward in NBA history and has a resume that is equally as impressive as Kobe’s. The Big Fundamental averaged 19 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2.2 blocks over his 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs.
His list of accomplishments is as follows: 15-time All-Star, 15-time All-NBA, 15-time All-Defensive, 1997-98 Rookie of the Year, 2-time NBA MVP, 3-time Finals MVP, and 5-time NBA Champion.
Although Duncan’s stats easily make him a top ten player of all time, he does not get the amount of recognition that flashier players like Kobe receive because of his unassuming personality and style of play. He is one of the most humble players to ever play and preferred the quietness of San Antonio rather than the glamor of Los Angeles.
Despite the lack of media coverage, Duncan was a force on both sides of the floor. He had a dominant post game and a killer bank shot on the offensive end while being an elite rebounder and shot blocker on the defensive side of the ball.
Most importantly, Duncan was the head of one of the greatest dynasties in all of sports. The Spurs made the playoffs every season of his 19-year career. Their streak of 22 consecutive playoff appearances is still active today and is tied with the Syracuse Nationals and Philadelphia 76ers for the longest in NBA history.
In addition, Duncan and the Spurs won five championships between 1999 and 2014. Success sustained for that long is almost unprecedented in the NBA, but is relatively easy when the team has as steady of a leader like the Big Fundamental. He was willing to sacrifice individual stats and accolades to help San Antonio reach their ultimate goal.
Today, Duncan serves as an assistant coach for the Spurs and seems poised to replace legendary head coach Gregg Popovich once he retires. As one of the greatest players, leaders, and winners the NBA has ever seen, it is likely Duncan will again lead San Antonio to the promised land.
The fact that Kevin Garnett is easily the worst player in this year’s class speaks volumes to how legendary this trio of players is. If it were any other year, KG would easily be considered the best player in his class.
Although he was not as successful as Bryant or Duncan, the Big Ticket is one of the top five power forwards in league history. Over 21 seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Boston Celtics, and Brooklyn Nets, Garnett averaged 17.8 points, 10 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.4 blocks per game.
His list of accolades is even more impressive: 15-time All-Star, 9-time All-NBA, 12-time All-Defensive, 2003 All-Star MVP, 2004 NBA MVP, 2008 Defensive Player of the Year, and 2008 NBA Champion.
Garnett’s counting stats were negatively impacted by his final few seasons in Brooklyn and Minnesota, which causes some fans to forget how dominant a player he was in his prime.
Throughout the late-1990s and 2000s, Garnett was arguably the best player on both sides of the floor. He was explosive offensively, throwing down thunderous dunks, having a dominant post game, and a quality jump shot. He was even better on defense as he often guarded the opposing team’s best player, limiting them nearly every time. He was also an elite rebounder and shot blocker.
Similar to his style of play, KG had an explosive personality. He was loud, talked a lot of trash, and often got into the opposing team’s heads. Garnett was also one of the most competitive players in the league and wanted to win at all costs. He was an effective leader, positively impacting the culture on every team he played for.
Prior to his arrival, the Timberwolves were an afterthought and did not even dream of competing for a championship. Once KG broke out onto the scene, he changed the culture and Minnesota steadily improved. This led to the 2003-04 season, when Garnett led the Timberwolves to the Western Conference Finals and nearly knocked off the Lakers to reach the NBA Finals.
Unfortunately, Minnesota never again came close to a championship and KG was traded to the Celtics prior to the 2007-08. Once in Boston, Garnett joined Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and the superstar trio led the team to the 2008 championship.
Garnett proved how great of a team player he was while playing for the Celtics, sacrificing his offensive stats for the betterment of the team. Regardless, he continued to be a force on the defensive end, winning the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year and consistently being in MVP consideration.
Following the championship, Garnett helped the Celtics to be one of the best teams in the league for the remainder of his time in the green and white. Boston returned to the Finals in 2010 and nearly made it again in 2012, but were dethroned by LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
To finish out his career, KG was traded to the Nets and played in Brooklyn for two seasons before returning to Minnesota for his final season.
There have been many great hall of fame classes. Most recently, the 2018 class of Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Grant Hill, and Ray Allen and the 2016 class of Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Yao Ming were stacked with amazing players. The 2009 class of Michael Jordan, John Stockton, and David Robinson will forever be considered one of the best as well.
None of these classes, however, contain the amount of depth, impact, and success that the 2020 class of the Black Mamba, the Big Fundamental, and the Big Ticket has. Kobe, Duncan, and KG are three of the greatest players to ever lace them up and their enshrinement only adds to their already endless list of accomplishments.