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Kobe Bryant headlines smaller-than-usual group of 2020 Hall of Fame finalists

San Antonio Spurs center Tim Duncan (21) hugs Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant (24) prior to an NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

CHICAGO — Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett are among a smaller-than-usual group of eight finalists for the Basketball Hall of Fame’s class of 2020.

Smaller-than-usual because, in the words of Hall chairman Jerry Colangelo, “of the enormity, even before Kobe’s death, that we think Kobe and Duncan and Garnett bring to [the class].”

Joining the three NBA legends as finalists are Baylor women’s coach Kim Mulkey, NBA coach Rudy Tomjanovich, Bentley University women’s coach Barbara Stevens, longtime men’s college coach Eddie Sutton, and WNBA player Tamika Catchings.

The list of eight was announced at the United Center on Friday during NBA All-Star Weekend. The announcement was accompanied by explanations that the Hall had chosen to cut down the size of the group and remove some “direct-elects” because, as Colangelo said afterward, “We’ve never had a class that strong at the top.”

The helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his daughter and seven others drew even more attention to that top. Hall of Fame decision-makers feared it would draw attention away from other deserving inductees. So, shortly after the crash, Colangelo and those decision-makers met in Dallas. First and foremost, “we had to grieve his death,” Colangelo said. Then, “the way we dealt with it is that we weren’t gonna submit a lot of names. We were gonna make it a small class. We want everyone to get their due. ... Because some people could get lost in the shuffle, in terms of getting their due. So that was the logic.”

The next step now for the Hall of Fame: Figure how to celebrate Bryant and other inductees in a proper, respectful manner on Aug. 29.

“We’re talking a great deal about it,” Colangelo said. “We haven’t concluded anything yet. But it’s got to be handled in a very, very delicate manner. ... We’ll have a gameplan.”

More from Friday’s Hall of Fame announcement

Of the eight who were selected as finalists, two – Garnett and Catchings – were in attendance at the ceremony. “The Hall of Fame is something you don’t really think about, you don’t really dream of, it just happens,” an emotional Garnett said after the announcement. “This is one of the more overwhelming situations I’ve ever been in.”

The Hall of Fame also awarded the John Bunn Lifetime Achievement award to Tim Nugent, the founder of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association and a lifelong advocate for accessibility and athletes with disabilities.

Michael Wilbon, Mike Breen, Jim Gray, and the entire Inside The NBA crew (Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal) were honored with the Curt Gowdy Media Award.

The full elected class will be unveiled at the Final Four in Atlanta on April 4. Eighteen of a possible 24 votes are needed to get in.

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