I saw Michael Jordan in person for the first time in my life. He was about to go on stage with Vanessa Bryant and induct my favorite player of all time, Kobe Bryant into the Basketball Hall of Fame. This particular event was part of the Enshrinement Weekend, where the new class to the Hall of Fame is honored and joins the ranks of Basketball’s Finest. It was a memorable basketball event that Anshu and I had ever attended at Mohegan Sun on May 15, 2021.
I already knew that Michael Jordan was going to induct Kobe Bryant into the Basketball Hall of Fame. I don’t know why I seemed surprised when I ACTUALLY saw Jordan in the same arena as I was in. As long as I have been following the NBA since the early 2000s, Michael Jordan’s name has been synonymous with greatness and considered to be one of the greatest players of all time. It felt right that Kobe picked his favorite player to induct him into the ranks of Basketball’s Elite.
I vividly remember everything that happened that day. I was very excited and did not want to miss any moment of seeing a current or former player, coach, sports announcer or someone from the basketball world that I have seen on TV walk around the halls of Mohegan Sun. I even brought my Kobe book, “Kobe Bryant The Mamba Mentality” in case I wanted to get it signed. I am not sure whom I was planning to get that book signed by, but I felt that if I carry it to the event, I would meet someone who would.
After picking up our admission tags and basketball swags at the Registration table, Anshu and I walked around the various sections of Mohegan Sun. We saw fans wearing the jerseys of Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and others who have come from near and far for this year’s coveted class of basketball icons. I was thinking to myself how special this class of inductees were. The Class of 2020 included 18-time NBA All-Star and five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant, 15-time NBA All-Star and three-time NBA Finals MVP Tim Duncan, 15-time NBA All-Star and nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team selection Kevin Garnett, four-time National Coach of the Year Eddie Sutton, two-time NBA Champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich, 10-time WNBA All-Star and four-time Olympic gold medalist Tamika Catchings, three-time NCAA National Championship Coach of Baylor Kim Mulkey, five-time Division II National Coach of the Year Barbara Stevens and longtime FIBA executive Patrick Baumann. The Class of 2020 inductees can definitely be argued as one of the best class yet.
This evening was special as well as bittersweet for me. I loved watching Kobe Bryant play and have been a fan since his early Championship years with the Los Angeles Lakers. However, I never went to see him play in a basketball arena in the 20 years he played in the NBA. That has been my basketball regret and I wanted to be present when Kobe was getting inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Inside the Mohegan Sun Arena where the Enshrinement event took place, it was buzzing with so much energy and excitement. I probably could have stood up the entire event and watched the ceremony, but since it was almost a three hour event, it was better that I got seated. We were scouting the venue to find a former Hall of Famer, current player, or coach. Near the main stage, we saw Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Kim Mulkey, Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker, Manu Ginoblili, Tamika Catchings, Doc Rivers, Pau Gasol, Nav Bhatia, friends, and families of the Class of 2020 inductees among others. I was soaking in every second of this basketball extravaganza.
Kevin Garnett was the first athlete to get inducted by Isiah Thomas into the Hall of Fame. We enjoyed the highlight reel of KG on the big screen followed by his speech. One by one the coveted members of the 2020 class were coming to the stage and sharing their stories. Although each inductee’s story was unique, I really enjoyed hearing Tamika’s story as it was poignant and memorable. There was even a heart-warming performance by musical artist Ne-Yo.
When Kobe Bryant’s highlight reel came on the main screen, I got emotional. This was the moment that my favorite basketball player would be inducted into the ranks of basketball luminaries. Vanessa Bryant, assisted by Michael Jordan, went to the stage and delivered a heartfelt and personal speech. Kobe’s relentless work ethic, dedication to the game of basketball, and contributions on and off the court had touched millions of lives around the world. I was touched as well and felt sentimental being in the arena to see him get inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, where he rightfully belonged.