On Monday it was announced that five-time NBA Champion Tim Duncan is officially retiring from the NBA. Although it was not surprising, it is certainly the bittersweet end of an era. The career San Antonio Spur made his NBA debut in October of 1997, and so the 2016-17 season will be the first without Duncan since I was 11 years old. It will also be the first in 20 years without Kobe Bryant.
Duncan and Bryant have always been polar opposites in persona, which was never more evident than in the ways they approached retirement this year. Bryant chose to do the yearlong farewell tour, literally dropping the mic when he left the Staples Center court for the final time as a Laker. Duncan played out his season, leaving people to speculate on whether he’d return, then announced his decision on a Monday morning in the middle of the dog days of summer.
Yet despite their contrasting approaches to the game of basketball and life in the NBA, Bryant and Duncan will be inextricably tied together forever. This is not just because they are arguably the two greatest NBA players of their era, but now also because they will be inducted into the Hall of Fame together. Two players of that caliber are rare, which is why it’s so astounding that it’s a virtual guarantee that they’ll be part of the same 2021 Basketball Hall of Fame class.
How unlikely is it to see an Hall of Fame class with two players of Bryant and Duncan’s caliber? Well that partly depends on how you define their caliber. To put it in perspective, here is Basketball Reference’s NBA and ABA Leaders and Records for Hall of Fame probability:
You can see that Bryant and Duncan were ranked one and two on the active players list this past season, which most of us would agree is fairly obvious. But take a look at their all-time rankings for Hall of Fame probability on the left. According to the method that Basketball Reference uses, Bryant and Duncan are two of the six most Hall of Fame-worthy players ever. Now obviously this metric is not scientific, and is subjective in its own right, but it certainly gives you a sense of just how rare these two players are.
Only 26 players are listed as having qualified as a 100% lock for induction into the Hall of Fame according their metric. And every single player on that career list that has an asterisk next to their name has already been inducted. You’ll notice that the only players yet to make it in are those who are not eligible yet: Bryant, Duncan, Lebron James, Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki.
Most level-headed basketball fans will agree that all of those players are bonafide first-ballot HOF-ers. But even within that group it’s obvious that Bryant, Duncan and James are in a class of their own. You can debate the merits of each player’s pure talent and contributions to the game of basketball, but as far as trophies and records go, they are the cream of the crop.
And so the question remains: will Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan be the greatest pair of players ever inducted into the Hall of Fame together? In this writer’s humble opinion, the answer to that question is a big fat HELL YES. But I’m not stupid enough to try to answer that for any of you, because there’s no such thing as the definitive “greatest” anything in sports. What I will say for sure is that the list of contenders to rival them is very short.
Check out the other first-ballot HOF player duos, along with the inevitable 2021 pair, and decided for yourself.