By Brendan O’Brien
CHICAGO (Reuters) – Three weeks after Kobe Bryant, one of the most dominant players in NBA history, was killed with his daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash, the global sports icon was named a finalist to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Bryant, fourth all time in NBA scoring, played for the Los Angeles Lakers during an illustrious 20-year career that was highlighted by five NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVPs and one league MVP.
The announcement came during the NBA All-Star weekend in Chicago, which culminates on Sunday with an exhibition game featuring the sport’s best players. The three-day event is likely to be muted as the National Basketball Association pays homage to the fallen star.
“I’ve never seen in my long life an athlete passing that had the impact that Kobe’s passing had on people, people on the street, people that didn’t even know him,” said Jerry Colangelo, chairman of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, after the announcement was made.
“In my case it was personal… so much more difficult for me and family,” said Colangelo, a long-time NBA executive who was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2004.
Bryant won nine All-Defensive First Team honors, four All-Star Game MVP awards and a Slam Dunk Contest title. Bryant also sits as the Lakers’ all-time leader in several categories, including games played and steals.
Bryant wore the No. 24 and No. 8 during his career. Both numbers are retired by the Lakers with his jerseys hanging from the Staples Center rafters.
Joining Bryant as finalists were former NBA stars Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Chris Bosh, along with former Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) stars Swin Cash and Tamika Catchings.
Also named as finalists were three-time NCAA National Championship coach Kim Mulkey, five-time Division II National Coach of the Year Barbara Stevens, four-time National Coach of the Year Eddie Sutton and two-time NBA Champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich.
Bryant was on his way with his daughter and seven others to a youth basketball tournament on Jan. 26 when the helicopter they were in crashed in Calabassas, California.
Class of 2020 inductees will be named during the NCAA Final Four in Atlanta, Georgia in early April. The enshrinement ceremony will take place at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. on Aug. 29.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Ken Ferris)