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Kobe Byrant elected to 2020 Basketball Hall of Fame less than 3 months after death

2001: Kobe Bryant in his own words

 Kobe Bryant was already immortal. Now he's officially a Hall of Famer as well.

And he's got plenty of elite company in the 2020 class. Bryant, who died on Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash, and fellow NBA greats Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett headlined a nine-person group announced Saturday as this year's class of enshrinees into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

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Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, center, drives between San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan (21) and Bruce Bowen in the first half, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009, in Los Angeles. Bryant scored 22 points the Lakers beat the San Antonio Spurs 99-85. AP Photo/Ric Francis

They all got into the Hall in their first year of eligibility, as did WNBA great Tamika Catchings. Two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich finally got his call, as did longtime Baylor women's coach Kim Mulkey, 1,000-game winner Barbara Stevens of Bentley and three-time Final Four coach Eddie Sutton.

They were the eight finalists who were announced in February, and the panel of 24 voters who were tasked to decide who merited selection wound up choosing them all. Also headed to the Hall this year: former FIBA Secretary General Patrick Baumann, selected as a direct-elect by the international committee.

"He was the head of FIBA and this was a way to honor him," Colangelo said. "It was a special thing done through that committee."

Bryant died about three weeks before the Hall of Fame said - as if there was going to be any doubt - that he was a finalist. Duncan and Garnett were also widely perceived to be locks to be part of this class; they were both 15-time NBA All-Stars, and Bryant was an 18-time selection.

In an interview Saturday with ESPN, Bryant's widow Vanessa called the Hall of Fame election the "peak of his NBA career." The Los Angeles Lakers posted a video tribute to Bryant, showing his journey from teenage draft pick to NBA champion. 

Bryant was a five-time champ with the Lakers, just as Duncan was with the San Antonio Spurs.

"This is an incredibly special class, for many reasons," Hall of Fame Chairman and enshrinee Jerry Colangelo said.

Catchings was a 10-time WNBA All-Star and four-time Olympic gold medalist. Tomjanovich, who had overwhelming support from NBA peers who couldn't understand why it took so long for his selection, was a five-time All-Star as a player, guided Houston to back-to-back titles and took the 2000 U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal.

Mulkey has three NCAA titles as a coach, won two others as a player and had Baylor in position to vie for another championship this season had the global coronavirus pandemic not forced the shutdown of virtually every sport around the globe. Stevens has coached for 43 years and is a five-time Division II coach of the year. Sutton won more than 800 games in nearly four decades, and Baumann was one of the most powerful voices in international basketball until his death in 2018.

The enshrinement ceremony in Springfield, Massachusetts, is scheduled for Aug. 29. Should the pandemic force a delay, there is a tentative plan for an October ceremony as well.

For this year, largely because of the star power of this class, the Hall chose to enact a one-year suspension of direct elections from the Veteran's, Women's Veteran's, Early African-American Pioneers and Contributors categories.

"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," said John L. Doleva, President and CEO of the Naismith Memorial
Basketball Hall of Fame.

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