Kobe Bryant, with assist from widow Vanessa, is inducted into basketball Hall of Fame

·6 min read
The late Kobe Bryant is honored, as are others who have died, as Ne-Yo sings "Incredible" during the 2020 Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony Saturday, May 15, 2021, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kobe Bryant and other Hall of Famers who have died are honored as Ne-Yo sings "Incredible" during the Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony. (Kathy Willens / Associated Press)

His two-syllable name, the one synonymous with basketball fearlessness, determination and greatness, echoed throughout the arena. His uniforms and numbers dotted the nearby casino.

While highlights from his career played, everyone watched in complete silence.

Kobe Bryant’s basketball legacy reached its logical end place — immortalized among the game’s greats.

Built on the back of five NBA championships, 18 All-Star appearances and 33,643 points, the Lakers legend entered the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday night, highlighting a legendary class that included rivals Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett.

Vanessa Bryant, joined in the front row by friend La La Anthony and WNBA player Sabrina Ionescu, wore a Lakers purple dress. She closed the ceremony with her speech, delivered on behalf of her husband who died along with eight others, including daughter Gianna, in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020.

“I wish my husband was here to accept this incredible award,” she said.

As Vanessa spoke to a crowd of Hall of Famers and fans, she paused to take deep breaths to control her emotions. During every applause break, her 4-year-old daughter, Bianca, would clap with the crowd, celebrating her father’s career when she wasn’t kicking her legs or playing with her golden dress.

“If my husband were here tonight, he'd have a long list of people to thank that helped inspire him and equip him to be in the Hall of Fame — family, friends, mentors, the Lakers, teammates, muses and opponents. This is one of the many hard parts about not having him here. At the risk of leaving anyone out, I can only say thank you,” Vanessa said. “To all those who helped him get here, you know who you are, and I thank you on his behalf. I don't have a speech prepared by my husband because he winged every single speech. He was intelligent, eloquent and gifted at many things, including public speaking.

“However, I do know that he would thank everyone that helped him get here, including the people that doubted him and the people that worked against him and told him that he couldn't attain his goals. He would thank all of them for motivating him to be here. After all, he proved you wrong.”

Michael Jordan, who spoke at Kobe’s memorial service, presented him into the Hall of Fame, walking Vanessa onto stage. After her speech, she wrapped her arms around him.

Kobe's former teammate Pau Gasol sat directly behind Vanessa during the ceremony, one night after he escorted her and eldest daughter Natalia, who was wearing her father’s orange Hall of Fame blazer.

Vanessa Bryant presents daughter Natalia with Kobe Bryant's Hall of Fame jacket on Friday during a tipoff ceremony.
Vanessa Bryant presents daughter Natalia with Kobe Bryant's Hall of Fame jacket on Friday during a tipoff ceremony. (Kathy Willens / Associated Press)

Gasol greeted Vanessa with a hug after her speech. Following the ceremony, Vanessa, her youngest daughters, Ionescu, Russell and Ciara Wilson, and Gasol and his wife, Catherine, posed for photos on stage.

Lakers owner Jeanie Buss and Kobe’s former agent and friend, Rob Pelinka, attended Saturday’s ceremony, as did Magic Johnson.

With Kobe Bryant, Duncan and Garnett at the forefront, the 2020 Hall of Fame Class is regarded as one of the best in history.

“It’s probably one of the best classes that went in at the same time as far as individuals. I mean, that big three? I can’t think of a better big three that’s went into the Hall of Fame at the same time better than this one,” Lakers star LeBron James said after the Lakers’ win Saturday in Indiana. “You look at Kobe’s resume, KG’s resume and Timmy D’s resume. Three of the best players that ever played this game, three champions, three Hall of Famers, three, I mean, MVPs. They got everything that you could ever want in this league. They got everything.”

Duncan won five NBA titles and appeared in the playoffs 19 consecutive seasons. He was a 15-time All-NBA team member, a three-time Finals most valuable player and two-time regular season MVP.

“What an amazing class this is,” Duncan said, fighting off his acknowledged nerves. “I’m honored to be inducted with you. … I want to say thank you to the late, great Kobe Bryant, to KG. You guys demanded the best out of me and brought the best out of me.”

Garnett, who helped pave the prep-to-pro route Bryant took a year after him, is a former MVP and defensive player of the year who made 15 All-Star games and 12 All-Defensive teams.

“Timmy, thank you, man. Congratulations to you and Kob, seriously," Garnett said. "There was nothing [more] epic than when we battled, I looked forward to all the battles, seriously. And I thank you for taking you to another level, you and Rasheed [Wallace]. I appreciate you. It’s an honor to go in the Hall with you, bro, you and Kob. Congratulations, Vanessa, I love y’all.”

WNBA legend Tamika Catchings also was inducted into the Hall, serendipitously joining Bryant after becoming friends as children living in Italy, where both of their fathers played professionally.

Catchings became a 10-time WNBA All-Star and an MVP, overcoming a hearing disability to be regarded as one of the league’s best all-around players.

Former Houston Rockets and Lakers coach Rudy Tomjanovich, former Baylor coach Kim Mulkey and former Bentley University coach Barbara Stevens also were enshrined. Coach Eddie Sutton and international basketball executive Patrick Baumann also were enshrined posthumously.

“After today, I can say that my life turned out better than my wildest dreams,” Tomjanovich said fighting back tears.

Lakers legend Elgin Baylor, former USC star Paul Westphal and Bryant were among those honored during a musical tribute in remembrance of Hall of Famers who died since the last induction ceremony.

The 2021 Hall of Fame inductees will be announced Sunday at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Springfield, Mass., during the debut of the museum's $25-million renovation.

The night ended with Vanessa Bryant gracefully honoring her husband, speaking to him directly.

“Congratulations, baby. All of your hard work and sacrifice has paid off,” she said. “You once told me, ‘If you're going to bet on someone, bet on yourself.’ I'm glad you bet on yourself, you overachiever. You did it. You're in the Hall of Fame now. You're a true champ. You're not just an MVP. You're an all-time great.

“I'm so proud of you. I love you forever and always. Kobe. Bean. Bryant.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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