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Hall of Fame selection puts exclamation point on Tim Duncan's stellar career

Spurs icon, late Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett headline Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame's Class of 2020, which was announced Saturday.

SAN ANTONIO — It should go without saying that Tim Duncan, the late Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett were locks for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame long before they ended their outstanding careers.

While a foregone conclusion, the election of Duncan, Bryant and Garnett to the Hall became official Saturday when the Class of 2020 was announced on TV by ESPN.

Duncan, Bryant and Garnett left indelible marks on the game, combining for 11 NBA championships, 48 All-Star selections and 86,210 regular-season points.

Given its star power and production, the Class of 2020 is arguably the best in the long history of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. 

"This is the end of the journey here," Duncan told ESPN's Rece Davis and Jay Bilas in a live interview from San Antonio. "It was an incredible career that I enjoyed so much. To call it a dream come true doesn't even do it any justice. I never dreamt that I'd be at this point."

Duncan's voice cracked with emotion as he continued.

"I played the game, enjoyed the game, loved what I did," Duncan said. "To be here now (with) the guys I'm going to be put in the hall of fame with is an amazing class."

All eight finalists for the Hall, including former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich, made the cut. Late FIBA executive Patrick Baumann was elected as a contributor, bringing the Class of 2020 to nine.

The constant on all five of the Spurs' championship teams, Duncan was selected by San Antonio with the No. 1 overall pick of the NBA Draft in 1997 after an All-America career at Wake Forest. A two-time league MVP and three-time Finals MVP, Duncan retired in the summer of 2016 and returned to the Silver and Black as an assistant coach before the 2019-20 season.

Duncan, 43, will join three other Spurs in the Hall who played for San Antonio at least five seasons: George Gervin, David Robinson and Artis Gilmore.

Duncan played four seasons at Wake Forest and was college basketball’s player of the year as a senior (1996-97). Given today’s times, Duncan probably will be the last basketball star to stay in college for four seasons before going on to become a franchise player in the NBA.

Bilas asked Duncan how important completing his college career was in his development as an NBA player.

"It was a huge part for me," said Duncan, who also graduated from Wake Forest in four years. "I started basketball late and I didn't play on the highest level to start, so the development at every stage was huge for me. Staying four years in college was huge for me. I had a great coach (Dave Odom), I had a great team, a great experience there and was happy to be there. and learn through that process.

"Same thing with the Spurs and every year I was there. I walked into a situation where I got to learn from some of the best. I got to learn from a David Robinson, Sean Elliotts, the Avery Johnsons, the Vinny Del Negros. I had a great teammates.

"I had an opportunity to grow while not being counted on as much as the No. 1 pick usually is," Duncan said. "So, I was blessed with every situation I was in and I was happy to be there. I took my time and enjoyed the journey." 

The Hall announcement is normally made during the NCAA men's basketball Final Four, which was scheduled to start Saturday in Atlanta. But the global outbreak of the coronavirus caused the cancellation of the entire tournament.

The Hall's enshrinement ceremony is scheduled for Aug. 29 in Springfield, Mass., but could be moved depending on where the country is in its battle against the coronavirus.

Credit: KENS 5
Lakers star Kobe Bryant, sharing a moment with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich after a game in San Antonio, was killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.

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Duncan, Bryant, Garnett and former WNBA star Tamika Catchings were all first-time finalists. Nominees must receive at least 18 votes from the 24 electors to be inducted.

Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others on Jan. 26. He was 41.

"When you look at it, as much as I battled against Kobe, as much as I battled against Timmy (Duncan), it's only right that we all kind of share the stage together," Garnett said in mid-February during a news conference to announce the eight finalists for the Class of 2020. "I'm more than happy to not only represent us, but be up here as one of them."

An 18-time All-Star and five-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant was the league MVP for the 2007-08 season and won the scoring title twice. He is the NBA's fourth all-time leading scorer and made the All-Defensive team 12 times. 

The three other members of the Hall's Class of 2020 are Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, five-time WBCA Division II National Coach of the year Barbara Stevens and former college coach Eddie Sutton.

Garnett, 43, was a 15-time All-Star and won an NBA title with the Boston Celtics in 2007-08. League MVP for the 2003-04 season, Garnett played 14 seasons with Minnesota before getting traded to Boston in July 2007.

When Minnesota selected him with the No. 5 overall pick in 1995, Garnett became the first high school player taken in the NBA draft since 1975. Garnett was league MVP in 2004 and made the All-Defensive first team nine times.

Garnett was the first player in league history to record at least 25,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists, 1,500 steals, and 1,500 blocks. 

Tomjanovich, 71, coached the Houston Rockets to NBA titles in 1994 and 1995. "Rudy T," as he is known in the basketball world, was a finalist for the Hall in 2017 and 2018.

Credit: Photo by Antonio Morano bit.ly/XR79FT / Special to KENS5.com
Tim Duncan, going through his pregame ritual of cradling the ball before the tipoff of a game, was a two-time NBA MVP and three-time Finals MVP in 19 seasons.

Sutton, 84, was a finalist for the seventh time. A four-time National Coach of the Year, Sutton won 806 games at Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma State and San Francisco in 37 seasons. He reached the Final Four three times, and ranks No. 11 among major-college men's basketball coaches in career victories.

Catchings, 40, played 15 seasons with the WNBA's Indiana Fever. A 10-time All-Star, she was MVP of the WNBA Finals in 2012 when the Fever won the league crown. She was league MVP in 2011 and was a five-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year.

Mulkey, 57, led Baylor to national championships in 2004, 2012 and 2019 and was named USBWA National Coach of the Year in 2011, 2012 and 2019. Mulkey was enshrined in the Naismith Hall as a player in 2000.

Stevens, 65, is a five-time WBCA Division II National Coach of the Year. She has recorded a total of 1,039 victories at three Massachusetts schools. She guided Bentley to the Division II title in 2014.

The greatest player in Spurs history, Duncan is the franchise's all-time leader in points (26,496), rebounds (15,091), blocks (3,020), minutes (47,368) and games (1,392). In league history, he’s fifth in double-doubles (841) and blocks, sixth in rebounding and 14th in scoring.

Duncan’s understated manner on and off the court defined him and reflected the Silver and Black’s culture. Nicknamed "The Big Fundamental" by Shaquille O'Neal, Duncan wore down opponents by just sticking to the basics of the game. Above all, he preferred substance over style. 

Asked by ESPN's Davis if he ever felt his greatness was underappreciated, Duncan said: "Never, no, no. I had a great situation, a bunch of great teammates. We had a singular goal. We wanted to be the best team we could be.

"Whatever that meant, whatever that meant being, a game-winning shot, the man of that game, that season, that series, whatever it may be. We just wanted to win with that singular goal. I never felt underappreciated, no."

Duncan was a 15-time All-NBA selection, tied for most all-time with Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James, and a 15-time All-Star. Duncan also made the All-Defensive Team a record 15 times. He averaged 19.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.2 blocks and 34.0 minutes in the regular season during his career.

Duncan played in 251 playoff games, No. 2 all-time, and averaged 20.6 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 37.3 minutes.

A look back: Here's a special panel on what Tim Duncan represents to San Antonio that aired on KENS 5 after his retirement.