Kobe exhibit set for unveiling at Basketball HOF

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UNCASVILLE, Conn. — The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has created a special exhibit honoring the late Kobe Bryant, one that was toured by his wife, Vanessa, on Friday afternoon and that will become the “most talked about” exhibit in the Hall, according to John Doleva, its president and CEO.

“The family had a time to think about what they wanted to do,” Doleva said during Friday’s news conference for each of the 2020 inductees. “[It’s] about Kobe’s accomplishments, but also about what Kobe was after he left the Lakers, after he left basketball.”

Doleva said the exhibit was created from a collaboration of Vanessa Bryant and the trading card company Panini, among others.

“It almost feels to me like it is the what’s next, what could have been next, for Kobe,” Doleva said. “So it looks backward, looks at the present and has a hint of the future, which I think is fantastic.

“I think it’s going to be the most talked about and enjoyed exhibit at the Hall of Fame.”

Bryant was the only member of the star-studded 2020 class, which includes Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, who wasn’t represented at Friday’s news conference. Instead, Vanessa Bryant prepared a statement in lieu of answering any questions that was read by The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears, who hosted Friday’s event.

“Kobe is honored to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame,” Vanessa Bryant said in the statement. “I look forward to celebrating Kobe’s legacy and offering my remarks at the enshrinement ceremony tomorrow. On behalf of our family, we appreciate the continuous love and support from fans all over the world.”

Not surprisingly, much of the discussion Friday was about Bryant, who has a connection to several of the members of the class. Most prominent among them are Duncan and Garnett, two fellow first-ballot Hall of Famers who spent decades battling with Bryant throughout their careers. Both spoke of the admiration they had for their longtime nemesis on the court.

“Your greatest competition brings the best out of you,” Duncan said, “and that’s what he always did. You always had to be at your best and bring your best from start to finish if you were playing against him or any of his teams, and I think that’s what I appreciate about remembering playing against him and being on the court with him.

“[He was] a fierce competitor and always demanding more of him and his teammates than probably was possible. But he wanted to win that much, he wanted it that much, and it was an honor to share the court with him.”

Said Garnett: “You can go through the list of NBA greats, and I couldn’t pick two better players, not just that, but two better people, to go into the Hall with. Both of them are class acts and unbelievable players. I’m very privileged, if I’m being honest. Ever since I stepped in the league, it’s been like a dream, and this is no different. I’m honored.”

“It almost feels to me like it is the what’s next, what could have been next, for Kobe. So it looks backward, looks at the present and has a hint of the future, which I think is fantastic. I think it’s going to be the most talked about and enjoyed exhibit at the Hall of Fame.”

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame president and CEO John Doleva on the new Kobe Bryant exhibit

Duncan spent his entire career with the San Antonio Spurs, winning five championships across a 19-year career. He will be presented by fellow Spurs lifer David Robinson on Saturday and said he is excited for the “fellow members” of the Spurs family who will be soon to join him, including coach Gregg Popovich and longtime teammates Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

“Throughout my time, throughout our time there, what incredible teammates I’ve had there and teammates I hope to be doing this for in the coming years,” Duncan said. “The city of San Antonio was the perfect place for me. The city, the fans, the organization, all the way down the line, and I’m honored to represent that here.”

Garnett, on the other hand, spent more than a decade with the Minnesota Timberwolves, suffering through quick playoff exits more often than not, before eventually landing with the Boston Celtics in 2007 as the final piece of what proved to be a championship puzzle in 2008 — the lone title of Garnett’s career.

It was a move Garnett was initially resistant to making, but one he now says he wish he had made sooner.

“It meant everything, man,” Garnett said. “You come into the NBA wanting to win, and losing is part of it. Doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Going to a storied franchise like Boston gave me life, gave me breath, gave me purpose, and the players that you’re playing with actually make the experience monumental, make it magical. The city was waiting for something big or something different to happen versus where it was, and when you win, you just never look back. The fan base in Boston was over the top. … The fan love in Boston was another level, but I learned to embrace it.

“My only regret in any of this was I should’ve come to Boston a little earlier. Other than that, it’s magical.”

In the wake of the Timberwolves reaching an agreement for a sale to billionaire businessman Marc Lore and legendary baseball player Alex Rodriguez this week, Garnett was asked about his complicated relationship with the team over the years, including specifically with owner Glen Taylor.

But Garnett said he has no regrets about his time in Minnesota and thanked Taylor, former general manager Kevin McHale and the late Flip Saunders for taking a chance on him in the first place.

“Nothing is with regret,” Garnett said. “I think everything I learned in Minnesota I was able to carry to Boston and make myself a better player and a better teammate. I had a better relationship with [Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck] because of the situations and stuff I went through in Minnesota.

“Minnesota took a chance on me. I don’t have any regrets. I thank Glen, I thank Kevin, I thank Flip Saunders for blessing me with the opportunity to be drafted and giving me the canvas to come out here and give me the chance to actually come out here and show the world. Kevin McHale was a great teacher. Having great teammates like Sam Mitchell and Terry Porter, that kind of gave me bearings. So no, I don’t regret none of that. Without [Minnesota], I don’t know if I’m the same player going to Boston, you know?

“So no, I don’t regret anything. If anything, thank you.”

Another inductee, WNBA legend Tamika Catchings, also has a long and unique tie to Bryant: Their fathers played together with the Philadelphia 76ers and against each other in Italy, so the two future Hall of Famers knew each other as children.

“It’s a blessing,” Catchings said. “I mean, it’s crazy to think, and a lot of people will ask as far as Kobe goes, a lot of people will ask what it was like growing up. And we were just kids. I don’t think either one of us at that point in time would ever dream about the road we were on and the opportunity we had, both of our fathers playing, being in a foreign country, being not necessarily the typical life for any child.

“I just remember calling my parents [when he was drafted out of high school] and saying, ‘This is the Kobe were just in Italy with, right?’ And yeah, it was.

“So he went to the pros, I went to college, four years after that I went to the WNBA, and the rest is history.”

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