The start of the 2016-17 NBA season is about one month away. It will be a time of happiness for most fans, but there’ll be some sadness league-wide when the harsh reality sets in: Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett aren’t on NBA rosters anymore.
The three legends played 20, 19 and 21 seasons, respectively, and are probably three of the top 20 players in the history of the game. Bryant and Duncan, specifically, are top 10 on most lists.
What does this mean for fans? It means you should already be marking your calendar for a date to be announced later in early September of 2021. You won’t want to miss the ceremony that immortalizes Kobe, Tim and KG into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
Is it the greatest trio of players ever to headline a Hall of Fame class? I’d argue so.
Looking down through the years, there have been some excellent classes. Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Jerry Lucas (1980) was a strong group. Rick Barry, Walt Frazier and Pete Maravich (1987) had some punch. Michael Jordan, David Robinson and John Stockton (2009) is the best threesome inducted so far. Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming (2016) was an influential trio, too.
But Kobe, Duncan and KG could be the best group ever when they inevitably receive their just due in Springfield.
Really, it’s down to Kobe-Tim-KG vs. Jordan-Robinson-Stockton. I could listen to an argument for the latter trio being the greater group based on MJ’s individual excellence, but the depth in the future class of 2021 is better.
Bryant, Duncan and Garnett were all the No. 1 players on good-to-title-winning teams for a big chunk of their careers. Kobe and Duncan also both contributed to title teams as sidekicks early and late in their careers, respectively.
Jordan is the best player in history, and Robinson and Stockton were amazing. But Robinson’s legacy will always be tarnished by leading to the Spurs to consistent early playoff exits until Duncan came along. It’s somewhat unfair, because he did so much for the franchise, but Duncan has still done a lot more.
One could argue that Stockton was never the clear-cut best player on his team, even though he was a heck of a 1B to Karl Malone. Even then, that star-studded duo never reached the NBA mountaintop, partially because of Jordan.
Bryant, meanwhile, used his cold-blooded scoring binges to inspire a generation to yell his name when throwing away garbage. He performed like a superstar both when he was the best player on the squad and when he had prime Shaq controlling the paint.
He had his flaws, sure, but peak Kobe was maybe the most explosive perimeter scorer ever and a very, very good defender. If you’re looking for a slightly poor man’s MJ, that’s Kobe. That’s not a shot at the Black Mamba, either.
Duncan embodied consistency, both in production and temperament. His basketball IQ may be better than any other player who stepped on an NBA court, and he was the perfect teammate.
Then there was his skill set, which was beautifully old-school. He didn’t attempt flashy dunks or passes, and never blocked the ball into the fifth row while yelling. He did play smart on both ends, though, staying disciplined, making his teammates better and always playing within himself.
KG was basically the create-a-player everyone made in NBA video games before attribute caps and positional height limits were a thing. He was a wiry strong seven-foot small forward/power forward/center who could beat lots of guards in a full-court sprint, dominated the boards, made plays for others and could score from inside and outside. His physical tools and ferocious nature also made him a defensive monster.
The Timberwolves didn’t surround him with enough talent during his prime in the early- and mid-2000s, but he got a much-deserved ring in 2008 with a memorable Celtics squad.
Kobe, Tim and KG fittingly finished their careers with remarkably similar raw statistic production, as Today’s Fastbreak’s Kelly Scaletta pointed out:
The combined stats are AMAZINGLY close:
That's a difference of less than one percent. pic.twitter.com/lVOo7Q7nJb
— Kelly Scaletta (@KellyScaletta) September 23, 2016
It’s clear all three guys are super memorable as players. But it’s also their varying personalities that will help make them the best Hall of Fame class ever.
I would absolutely watch a 30-for-30 on each of their careers, for different reasons.
Kobe was smug and cocky as could be, but that was the attitude that made him so dangerous. He needed the ball in any important situation and didn’t care how others felt about it. He is the self-proclaimed Black Mamba. I can only imagine all the stories that will surface in the coming years about that #MambaMentality.
Duncan might not agree to participate in a documentary about himself, but if people who’ve spent a lot of time with him do, it’ll still be awesome. He has the respect of all of his former teammates and opponents, and he’s been known to do some in-game mentoring. Duncan has always been a private person, so it’ll be interesting to hear more about his personality as details get out.
KG had a huge mouth and has been known to say some horrible things. I don’t support many of the things he’s done, but they’ve nonetheless shaped his legacy. Will the Big Ticket’s penchant for trash-talking end up hurting his reputation down the line, or will KG’s candid sound bites endear people to him?
In 2021, we’ll have a new preeminent class in Basketball Hall of Fame history. Will it ever be topped? Maybe, but one thing’s for sure: the legacies of Kobe, Tim and KG will live on long after their induction ceremony.