A day after the induction of Class of 2020 honorees Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett — the greatest class in history — the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced its Class of 2021.
The list of NBA inductees is headlined by Garnett's teammate on the 2008 NBA champion Boston Celtics, 10-time All-Star Paul Pierce. He will be joined by two-time champion and 11-time All-Star Chris Bosh, 2004 champion and four-time Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace, and five-time All-Star Chris Webber.
Two-time champion and three-time MVP Lauren Jackson is the headliner of an equally impressive WNBA class that also includes one-time MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and champion Yolanda Griffith.
Celtics legend Bill Russell, the first Black head coach in NBA history, will join Bill Sharman, Lenny Wilkens and Tommy Heinsohn as the fourth person ever to be inducted as an NBA player and coach. Russell, Sharman and Heinsohn all played together on a Boston dynasty that won 11 championships from 1957-69.
Russell will be joined in the Hall of Fame coaching ranks by a trio of fellow Class of 2021 inductees: Jay Wright, a two-time national champion as head coach of Villanova University; legendary NCAA and WNBA coach Marianne Stanley; and Leta Andrews, the winningest coach in high school basketball history.
Basketball's Hall of Fame Class of 2021
The 6-foot-5 standout was a stretch big before we ever knew the term. The most accomplished player in Australian basketball history delivered on the promise of her No. 1 overall selection in the 2001 WNBA draft, quickly joining the short list of greatest players the league has ever seen. She is a no-brainer Hall of Famer.
By the time knee injuries finally led to her retirement in 2016, Jackson was an eight-time All-WNBA pick, seven-time All-Star, five-time All-Defensive selection, three-time MVP, two-time champion, the 2010 Finals MVP and the 2007 Defensive Player of the Year. She won three scoring titles and a rebounding crown.
In Australia's Women's National Basketball League, where she also played between WNBA seasons, Jackson won five more championships, four regular-season MVPs and four Grand Final MVPs. She was also MVP of the Women's Korea Basketball League in 2007. The daughter of two Australian national team members, Jackson led her country to four Olympic medals, including silvers in 2000, 2004 and 2008.
There were points in Pierce's career he seemed far from enshrinement in Springfield, even as he stacked up All-Star appearances for the Boston Celtics in the Hall of Fame's backyard. The 2007 trade for fellow Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett rejuvenated Pierce's career, and by the time it was over, he was a lock to be inducted.
He was welcomed to the NBA's inner circle when Shaquille O'Neal nicknamed him The Truth in 2001, between a stabbing that nearly took his life six months earlier and the first of his four trips to the Eastern Conference finals a year later. Pierce was a 10 All-Star, four-time All-NBA selection, three-point contest winner, 2008 champion and the 2008 Finals MVP. His 26,397 points rank 16th on the all-time scoring list.
It was the 2008 title run alongside Garnett and Ray Allen, on which Pierce outplayed LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, that cemented his legacy. His was promise kept from the NBA's valleys to its mountaintop.
Webber had been snubbed several years running before his selection this year. His impact on the game goes well beyond his five All-Star and All-NBA selections, surprisingly low numbers that can largely be attributed to early career chemistry issues, injuries throughout his 15 NBA seasons and the 1998 lockout.
Webber is one of the most influential players in NCAA history — the best player on Michigan's Fab Five team that reached consecutive national championship games and had a profound cultural impact on the sport. He was the No. 1 overall pick in 1993, the 1994 Rookie of the Year and already one of the most skilled bigs the game had ever seen by age 21, when he averaged a 20-10-5 for the first of five times.
Tours with the Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards ended bitterly, but he became fully realized with the Sacramento Kings from 1998-2004. He finished top 10 in MVP voting in five of those six seasons before a knee injury derailed his career and cut short Sacramento's championship window for good. The Kings were the league's most fun team to watch during that run and would have won a title in 2002 if not for Robert Horry's Game 4 miracle and one of the most egregiously called games in playoff history.
It has been 12 years since Griffith's ruptured Achilles at age 39 ended her Hall of Fame playing career, and it is about time she is inducted. She is the only player in WNBA history to win MVP and Defensive Player of the Year honors as a rookie, a feat she accomplished with the Sacramento Monarchs as 1999's No. 2 pick.
Griffith led the Monarchs to the 2005 WNBA title, earning Finals MVP honors. Add that to a list of WNBA accolades that includes eight All-Star appearances, five All-WNBA selections and two rebounding crowns.
She is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and she was the 2005 Russia League Player of the Year in more than a decade of basketball work overseas. Griffith was also the No. 1 pick in 1997 out of Florida Atlantic in the now-defunct American Basketball League, where she was the Defensive Player of the Year and a First Team All-ABL selection in her one full season. And she did it all as a single mother who left the University of Iowa as a pregnant 19-year-old freshman. Like we said, it's about time Griffith gets her Hall of Fame due.
We too often forget how good Bosh was before joining LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the Miami Heat. He was a five-time All-Star for the Toronto Raptors and a member of the 2008 gold medal-winning Redeem Team prior to The Decision, and then transformed himself into the ultimate third option — a small-ball center who sacrificed his scoring to embrace defense and keep the clocks running on offense.
Bosh was still an elite talent when blood-clotting issues cut short his career at age 31 in 2016. He still managed 11 All-Star appearances, two championships and a Second Team All-NBA selection in 2007.
Wallace's career averages of 5.7 points (on 47/14/41 shooting splits), 9.6 rebounds and two blocks per game do not scream Hall of Fame-bound, but he is hands down among the handful of greatest defenders in NBA history. His four Defensive Player of the Year awards speak for themselves, but his work opposite Shaquille O'Neal in the 2004 Finals was instrumental in delivering a championship to the Detroit Pistons.
Wallace was the defensive anchor of two Finals teams and five Eastern Conference finalists. Playing a role that often goes unnoticed, Wallace made himself seen — from his bulging biceps and signature afro to his ever-presence in the paint. He finished with six All-Defensive selections, five All-NBA selections, four All-Star appearances, two rebounding crowns and a blocks title in addition to tying Dikembe Mutombo for the most Defensive Player of the Year honors in NBA history. He brought the Bad Boy era back to Detroit.
Bill Russell (coach)
Bill Russell became the first Black head coach in NBA history when Red Auerbach ceded control of the Boston Celtics in 1966. Russell served as a player-coach for three seasons, leading the Celtics to the final two of his 11 championships. He also coached the Seattle SuperSonics to a pair of playoff appearances in four seasons at the helm in the 1970s and served as head coach of the Sacramento Kings for 58 games in the 1987-88 season. His 341-290 career coaching record belies his impact as a trailblazer in the industry.
Rick Adelman (coach)
Adelman does not get enough credit as an architect of modern offenses. His Sacramento Kings of the early 2000s, featuring Hall of Famers Chris Webber, Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic, were a perennial contender that regularly ranked among the league leaders in pace, 3-point attempts and offensive rating. With Jason Williams and Mike Bibby as his point guards, Adelman's offenses were brilliant to watch in a defensive era.
In 23 seasons as a head coach, Adelman won nearly 60% of his games, concluding his career as one of nine head coaches with 1,000 or more wins. An assistant under Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsey, he took over the reins of the Portland Trail Blazers in 1988 and led them to Finals appearances in 1990 and 1992. His teams reached the playoffs 16 times in those 23 seasons, reaching four Western Conference finals and coming within three Game 7s of three more. His 79 playoff victories rank 12th in NBA coaching history.
Jay Wright (coach)
Once Rollie Massimino's longtime assistant, Wright has exceeded his legendary mentor's own impressive accomplishments. Since being named head coach of Villanova University's men's program in 2001, Wright has led the Wildcats to three Final Four appearances and NCAA championships in 2016 and 2018. A two-time Naismith College Coach of the Year and the Associated Press's Coach of the 2010s, Wright surpassed 600 career head coaching victories at age 59 this past season. He is entering his 21st season at Villanova.
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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach
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