CHICAGO – The list of finalists for the Basketball Hall of Fame is considerably shorter than usual.
The voters really didn't need this year anymore.
Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett – 48 all-star nods between them – led the class of eight finalists announced by the Hall of Fame on Friday. Everyone has to collect 18 votes from a panel of 24 before officially becoming the Hall of Famers, which is certainly just a formality at this point.
Around 13 people have been finalists in recent years. But the star power at the top forced the hall to change their minds this year, a decision made before Bryant died unexpectedly in a southern California helicopter crash on January 26.
"We did it because Kobe, Duncan, and Garnett did a tremendous amount before Kobe's death," said Jerry Colangelo, chair of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. "We have never had such a strong class at the top. And then, of course, with Kobe's death, it added more focus."
Bryant, Duncan, Garnett and ten-time WNBA All-Star and four-time Olympic gold medalist Tamika Catchings are all first-time finalists. The other finalists were all on this point before: Baylor women's trainer Kim Mulkey, former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich, five-time Division II female coach of the year Barbara Stevens of Bentley, and four-time national men's college coach of the year Eddie Sutton ,
This year's anchorage class will be announced on April 4 at the College College Basketball Final Four in Atlanta. The launch ceremony in Springfield, Massachusetts will take place on August 29.
"Hall of Famer is something you don't really think about, that you don't really dream of," Garnett said. "It just happens. This is one of the most overwhelming situations I've ever been in."
Bryant was an 18-time all-star and five-time NBA champion during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and is the fourth-best scorer in league history. He died with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others when the group was heading to a basketball tournament last month.
The hall hopes to find a way this year to achieve completely different tones: it celebrates the new Hall of Famers and at the same time recognizes the giants of the game who have died in the past few weeks – Bryant, the former NBA commissioner David Stern and the legendary high school trainer Morgan Wootten among them.
"There's a lot of sensitivity … but it's done right," said Colangelo.
Catchings is also a former WNBA MVP, won a national championship under coach Pat Summitt in Tennessee and was four-time All-American with the Lady Vols.
"I'm just so blessed," said Catchings. "I am so grateful."
The hall also announced the Curt Gowdy Media Award recipients for this year: sports journalist and commentator Michael Wilbon, who has spent three decades with the Washington Post and is now at ESPN, and longtime NBA commentator Mike Breen – the voice of NBA finals.