In his first year of eligibility, late Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant is a finalist (and nearly a sure thing) to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, it was announced on Friday. Joining Bryant among the nominees for the 2020 induction class will be Tim Duncan (NBA), Kevin Garnett (NBA), Tamika Catchings (WNBA), Kim Mulkey (college), Rudy Tomjanovich (NBA), Barbara Stevens (college) and Eddie Sutton (college).
Getting into the Hall of Fame feels like a foregone conclusion for Bryant, one of the greatest players to ever wear not just a Lakers uniform, but an NBA jersey, period. The fourth-leading scorer in the history of the league, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, one-time league MVP and — most importantly to Bryant — five-time champion, Bryant had one of the most incredible career arcs the NBA has ever seen. From his beginnings as a rookie that was probably too cocky to becoming a force of nature who warranted nearly every bit of that confidence, whether an NBA fan liked or disliked Bryant, he was going to make sure they always remembered him.
That drive to be great caused some of the greatest failures and friction of Bryant’s basketball career. The postseason airballs in Utah. Shaquille O’Neal wanting out. Ending up with more missed field goals than any player to ever play in the NBA.
But it was also Bryant’s willingness to fail that made him such a success. His flop in the postseason against the Jazz were evidence of the confidence and desire to win that would fuel his greatest victories. His dispute with Shaq was caused by the exacting standards that drove countless other teammates to get the best out of their own games. Bryant would never have gotten to miss so many shots if he wasn’t transcendent enough to be allowed to take them. And with five rings in a league where so many greats never even get one, it’s hard to argue with the results of his approach.
But when he does get voted in — probably unanimously — this isn’t all going to be the heartfelt looks down memory lane we all thought about at the beginning of the year when reminded that Bryant was eligible for induction for the first time.
Tragically, Bryant — along with his daughter Gianna and seven others — died in a helicopter crash last month, so his eventual entry to the Hall will be posthumous.
That is a shame for literally thousands of reasons far more pressing than the Hall of Fame, but in terms of this specific moment, it does feel incredibly sad that we’ll never get to hear whatever speech that Kobe would have prepared. As a self-proclaimed storyteller who retired from basketball and immediately won an Oscar by showcasing his narrative-building talents, his remarks likely would have been a wild ride full of emotion, humor and open love for the game, touching on his championships, the years the team wasn’t as good and how they got back, his retirement, family life and more.
Or maybe he would have just walked on stage and said “You’re Welcome” like he was back in his iconic Kobe System commercials. That would have been just as legendary as anything he could have said. Either way, I’m just sad we’ll never get to hear it.