- The late Kobe Bryant was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday night.
- His widow, Vanessa Bryant, accepted the honor on behalf of her husband.
- Also inducted into the Hall of Fame were Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.
When Los Angeles Lakers’ legend Kobe Bryant retired it was inevitable that he would wind up in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. What wasn’t foreseen were the tragic circumstances that would put him there so quickly. Bryant was tragically killed in a helicopter crash along with his daughter, Gianna, and seven others on January 26, 2020. Even with this tragic backstory the mood was anything but somber at Bryant’s induction into the Hall of Fame on Saturday night along with NBA legends Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.
Vanessa Bryant shared a funny anecdote about how she avoided praising her husband in public:
“I used to always avoid praising my husband in public because I felt like he got enough praise from his fans around the world and someone had to bring him back to reality. Right now, I’m sure he’s laughing in heaven because I’m about to praise him in public for his accomplishments on one of the most public stages. I can see him now, arms folded, with a huge grin saying, ‘Isn’t this some s—?’
“He’s still winning.”
Bryant also noted that Kobe’s gift for improvisation extended well beyond the basketball court:
“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.”
Bryant was joined by NBA legend Michael Jordan in inducting Kobe. She talked about what an influence MJ was on her husband:
“People don’t know this, but one of the reasons my husband played through injuries and pain was because he said he remembered being a little kid, sitting in the nosebleeds with his dad to watch his favorite player play. He could recall the car ride, the convos and the excitement of being lucky enough to have a seat in the arena. Kobe didn’t want to disappoint his fans, especially the ones in the 300 section that saved up to watch him play, the kids with the same excitement he once had.”
“I remember asking him why he just couldn’t sit a game out because he was hurting. He said, ‘What about the fans who saved up to watch me play just once?’ He never forgot about his fans. If he could help it, he would play every minute of every game. He loved you all so much.”
Vanessa Bryant ended her speech with a lengthy address to Kobe thanking him for being among other things ‘the best husband and father you could possibly be’. She concluded by congratulating Kobe on becoming an all time great:
“Congratulations, baby. All of your hard work and sacrifice has paid off. 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.”
The other inductees were obviously overshadowed by Bryant. Kevin Garnett spoke of his passion for the game:
“I played the game hard. I played the game with a passion.”
He finished his speech with a nod to Duncan and thanked him for making him a better player:
“It was nothing but epic when we battled. I look forward to all the battles. Seriously. And I thank you for taking me to another level, you and Rasheed [Wallace].”
Tim Duncan was joined by longtime teammate David Robinson and coach Greg Popovich. He said he was very nervous:
“I will try to get through this. This is the most nervous I have ever been in my life. I’ve been through Finals, through Game 7s, and this officially is the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve been pacing in my room all day, so let’s see what we get.”
Duncan’s career saw him put up legendary numbers as he earned a reputation for being a ‘quiet superstar’: 15-time All-Star, 15-time All-Defensive Team and 15-time All-NBA. He also thanked David Robinson for his contributions to his career:
“People always ask, ‘What did he tell you? What did he show you?. I don’t remember one thing we sat down and talked about specifically.”
“But what he did was he was a consummate pro, he was an incredible father, he was an incredible person, and he showed me how to be a good teammate, a great person to the community, all those things. Not by sitting there and telling me how to do it, but by being that.”
He saved his most glowing praise for longtime Spurs coach Greg Popovich:
“Thank you for teaching me about basketball but, beyond that, teaching me that it’s not all about basketball. It’s about what’s going on in the world, your family … just, for everything. Thank you for being the amazing human being that you are.”