The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame enshrined a nine-person class on Saturday night, headlined by the late Kobe Bryant. Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Tamika Catchings, Kim Mulkey, Barbara Stevens, Eddie Sutton, Rudy Tomjanovich, and Patrick Baumann were also inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Bryant was presented by Michael Jordan, but the Chicago Bulls legend did not speak at the ceremony. Instead, Jordan walked Bryant’s widow Vanessa Bryant to the podium as she delivered an emotional tribute to her husband. “I don’t have a speech prepared by my husband because he winged every single speech,” she said.
You can watch Vanessa Bryant’s full speech here:
“I used to always avoid praising my husband to public, because I felt like he got enough praise from his fans around the world and someone had to bring him back to reality,” Bryant said. “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 shit.’”
Here are some other highlights of Bryant’s Hall of Fame speech:
I wish my husband was here to accept this incredible award. He and Gigi deserve to be here to witness this. Gigi would be so proud to watch her daddy get enshrined into the basketball Hall of Fame. I know he was really looking forward to being here. He asked the Hall of Fame to specifically add a sixth ticket for Capri. He was so happy.
Kobe was one of a kind. He was special. He was humble, off the court, but bigger than life.
Kobe played through injury after injury. To name a few, he had IVs administered during halftimes to play with food poisoning and the flu. He played with a broken nose. He had a broken finger and had it snap back in place, just enough to finish the game. He also taught himself how to use his left hand to play the rest of the season while his finger healed. He even switched to free throws, with a torn Achilles and walked off the court, on his own.
I’ll never forget the look he gave me as he walked off the court that game. I knew it was bad. The crowd was cheering, and I was reassuring Natalia and Giana that daddy would be OK, just like any other injury.
Thank you for never missing a birthday, a dance recital, a school award show, show and tell, or any games our daughters played and your schedule permitted. Thank you for putting your love for our family first. Thank you for bringing so much joy to our lives, and joy to the people around the world. Thank you for inspiring us to be better than we were the day before. Thank you for teaching me and all of us to put someone else’s joy before our own. Thank you for being so selfless and loving with a heart of gold. Thank you for never taking yourself too seriously. Thank you for your sense of humor. Thank you for your wit.
Thank you for never telling me no, and always letting me have my way, most of the time. Thank you for being patient and easy-going. Thank you for letting me burst your bubble every chance I got. Thank you for graciously taking all my harsh comebacks. Thank you for dishing them back.
Bryant’s eldest daughter Natalia wore his enshrinement jacket after the speech.
Tim Duncan’s Hall of Fame speech thanked Gregg Popovich and more
Duncan is a five-time NBA champion and two-time MVP who helped turn the San Antonio Spurs into one of the league’s most consistent winners.
Duncan talked about how he aspired to compete in the Olympics as a swimmer until an category five hurricane rocked his native Virgin Islands. Duncan instead picked up basketball as a 14-year-old and impressed the Wake Forest staff during a pickup game.
“I have no idea how I played, but I played well enough that he offered me a scholarship,” Duncan said. “He saw something in me, and he took a chance on this kid from the [U.S. Virgin] Islands. Thank you, Coach O, thank you for seeing something in me that I didn’t see at the time.”
You can watch Duncan’s full speech here:
Duncan also joked that Gregg Popovich, his legendary coach with the Spurs, would be upset if he was thanked at all during the speech. Duncan did it anyway.
“You showed up after I got drafted, you came to my island, you sat with my friends, my family, you talked with my dad,” Duncan said of Popovich. “I thought that was normal. It’s not. You’re an exceptional person.
“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.”
Kevin Garnett’s Hall of Fame speech thanked those who came before him
Kevin Garnett was the first member of the Hall of Fame class to be inducted. Garnett said he requested to go first because “I wanted Bill Russell to hear my speech before y’all fell asleep.”
Garnett thanked Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan for inspiring him as a young player in South Carolina. He thanked Isiah Thomas for helping convince him to enter the 1995 NBA Draft out of high school as one of the first major prep-to-pro players of his era.
You can watch Garnett’s full speech here:
Garnett also thanked Duncan, who he competed against throughout his career.
“It was nothing but epic when we battled,” Garnett said of Duncan. “I look forward to all the battles. Seriously. And I thank you for taking me to another level, you and Rasheed Wallace.”
Garnett did not thank Ray Allen, who famously left the Celtics for the Miami Heat during Garnett’s days with the team. He also didn’t thank Glen Taylor, the former Minnesota Timberwolves owner who he has criticized over his career. You can watch our “Beef History” episode on KG and Taylor here:
Tamika Catchings’ Hall of Fame speech thanked the people who inspired her career
Catchings is one of the most accomplished players of her generation as a four-time Olympic gold medalist, a 12-time All-WNBA selection, a WNBA MVP, and WNBA champion.
Catchings thanked Alonzo Mourning and Dawn Staley for helping inspire her career.
Next year’s Hall of Fame class will be headlined by Ben Wallace, Paul Pierce, and Chris Webber.