LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 13: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks back in the first half while taking on the Utah Jazz at Staples Center on April 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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Kobe Bryant’s Hall of Fame induction is another reminder that the untimely death of the NBA legend still doesn’t feel real.

Danny Small

There was no doubt about it. Kobe Bryant was going to make the Hall of Fame on his very first ballet. However, no one wanted it to happen like this—posthumously. The five-time NBA Champion and two-time Finals MVP was taken too soon after passing in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.

Bryant is joined by his NBA peers Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, but the trio of championship winners is joined by a number of coaches and contributors to the game. Ten-time All-Star Tamika Catchings is representing the WNBA in the 2020 Hall of Fame class.

Long-time college coaches Eddie Sutton (Oklahoma State), Kim Mulkey (Baylor), and Barbara Stevens (Bentley) are all going in as well. Two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich and FIBA executive Patrick Baumann are also among the honorees.

The star-studded class is headlined by Bryant, but this was never the way it was supposed to happen.

“The Class of 2020 is undoubtedly one of the most historic of all time and the talent and social influence of these nine honorees is beyond measure,” said John L. Doleva, President and CEO of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. “In 2020, the basketball community has suffered the unimaginable loss of iconic figures Commissioner David Stern and Kobe Bryant, as well as the game itself due to COVID-19. We have also banded together like never before in appreciation of the game and those who have made it the uniting force it is today. Today we thank the Class of 2020 for all they have done for the game of basketball and we look forward to celebrating them at Enshrinement in August.”

To make matters worse, the ceremony is set to take place in late August, but there’s no telling when the induction will happen. Following the outbreak of coronavirus, it’s best to expect the unexpected.

The NBA is dealing with unprecedented circumstances. Never before has the league had to shut down due to a pandemic and this comes on the heels of Bryant’s death, a tragedy that sent shockwaves throughout the league.

The day it happened, the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets were facing off for the final time this season. It was supposed to be Kyrie Irving‘s Nets debut in Madison Square Garden and the Knicks faithful were gearing up for a battle. Irving—who was as close to Kobe as any NBA player—ended up skipping the game after learning the news.

Unfortunately, the news of Bryant’s death was like a black cloud above MSG. The listless game ended up as a win for the Knickerbockers, but the game took a backseat to the moments of silence and 24-second violations in honor of Kobe.

Players, media, and fans alike didn’t seem ready to grapple with the harsh reality. It was the most surreal experience on the beat for me. And that includes learning about Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell—two players I went out of my way to interview—testing positive for coronavirus.

“I met Kobe several times, exchanged pleasantries and text messages and things. Maybe this is a little bit overexaggerating but I felt like this was the first time he was looking at me as the basketball player Spencer,” Dinwiddie said as he fought off the tears. “… For him to tell me that in his book I’m an All-Star and stuff like that, we’ve talked about the popularity contest before and you don’t win things like that when you’re me. For him to say that, I didn’t need to be selected anymore because I was an All-Star.”

There’s little else to say about all this. Dinwiddie’s immediate reaction to Bryant’s death was an emotional moment and there wasn’t a dry eye in the locker room.

Months later, it still doesn’t feel real.

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