WASHINGTON: Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant loomed large Friday on the eve of his posthumous induction to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame alongside NBA greats Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett.
The trio are among nine members of the 2020 Hall of Fame class who are being belatedly inducted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The celebration is being held at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, to better allow for social distancing.
But the actual Hall in Springfield, Massachusetts, is also unveiling a special exhibit honoring Bryant that president John Doleva believes will be come the "most talked about" exhibit at the shrine.
"The family had a time to think about what they wanted to do," Doleva said at Friday's pre-induction news conference.
"It's about Kobe's accomplishments but also about what Kobe was after he left the Lakers, after he left basketball."
NBA icon Michael Jordan, who spoke movingly at Bryant's memorial service last year after the superstar was killed on Jan 26, 2020 in a helicopter crash, will honor Bryant at the induction ceremony, where those being enshrined are traditionally introduced by someone close to them.
Bryant was on the mind of his fellow inductees as well.
"Your greatest competition brings the best out of you," said Duncan, who spent all of his 19 NBA seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, winning five championships. "And that's what he always did."
Duncan's Spurs and Bryant's Lakers met in the NBA playoffs seven times over the course of their careers.
"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."
Duncan will be presented by fellow Spurs legend David Robinson.
Bryant's Lakers clashed with Garnett's Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals and all three retired from the NBA at the end of the 2015-16 season.
"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," said Garnett, who was drafted out of high school by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
He spent more than 10 years in Minnesota, where he was left hungering for regular title chances before finally arriving in Boston in 2007 and claiming the only title of his career in 2008.
"Both of them are class acts and unbelievable players," he said of Bryant and Duncan. "I'm very privileged, if I'm being honest. Ever since I stepped in the league, it has been like a dream, and this is no different."
Tamika Catchings, a four-time Olympic gold medallist and Women's NBA star, will also be enshrined, along with two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovic.
Catchings was a childhood friend of Bryant, their fathers playing together both with the Philadelphia 76ers and in Italy.
"I just remember calling my parents," she said of hearing of a Kobe Bryant drafted out of high school, "and saying, 'This is the Kobe we 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."