Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett – 48 All-Star nods between them – headlined the class of eight finalists announced Friday by the Basketball Hall of Fame. Each will still need to collect 18 votes from a 24-person panel before officially becoming Hall of Famers, which is certainly no more than a formality at this point.

In recent years, finalist classes have been around 13 people. But the star power at the top forced the Hall to change its thinking this year, a decision that was made before Bryant died unexpectedly in a helicopter crash in Southern California on Jan. 26.

“We did it because of the enormity, even before Kobe’s death, that we think Kobe and Duncan and Garnett bring to it,” said Jerry Colangelo, Chairman of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. “We’ve never had a class that strong at the top. And then, of course, with Kobe’s death it added more focus.”

Bryant, Duncan, Garnett and 10-time WNBA All-Star and four-time Olympic gold medalist Tamika Catchings are all first-time finalists. The other finalists have all been to this point previously: Baylor women’s coach Kim Mulkey, former Houston Rockets Coach Rudy Tomjanovich, five-time Division II women’s coach of the year Barbara Stevens of Bentley, and four-time national men’s college coach of the year Eddie Sutton.

This year’s enshrinement class will be announced on April 4 at college basketball’s Final Four in Atlanta. The induction ceremony in Springfield, Massachusetts is Aug. 29.

WNBA: The Phoenix Mercury signed All-Star center Brittney Griner to a multi-year contract , possibly locking up one of the WNBA’s most dominant players through the end of her career. The 6-foot-8 Griner has been an All-Star every year – there was no All-Star Game in 2016 due to the Olympics – since being selected with the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 out of Baylor.

HOCKEY

ECHL: Newfoundland set an ECHL record with its 19th consecutive win at home, beating the Maine Mariners 5-1 on Friday at Mile One Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Riley Woods, Tommy Panico, Todd Skirving, Evan Neugold, and Zach O’Brien each scored one goal for Newfoundland.

Conner Bleackley scored for the Mariners in the second period.

SOCCER

MANCHESTER CITY BANNED: English Premier League champion Manchester City was banned by UEFA from the Champions League for two seasons on Friday for “serious breaches” of spending rules and failing to cooperate with investigators i n a seismic ruling against one of world football’s wealthiest clubs.

The team was also fined $33 million after an investigation that was sparked by leaked internal correspondence showing City overstated sponsorship revenue in a bid to comply with Financial Fair Play regulations. The punishment prevents City from playing in any European competition, including the Europa League, until the 2022-23 season. It could have a significant impact on the club’s ability to sign players and retain manager Pep Guardiola, whose contract expires next season.

OLYMPICS

CHINA GAMES: Tokyo Olympic organizers and the International Olympic Committee said Friday there is no “Plan B” for the 2020 Games, which open in just over five months and have been jolted by the outbreak of a virus in neighboring China. The coronavirus has infected almost 64,000 people globally with almost 1,400 deaths in China, but only one in Japan where fear is rising with so much attention focused on the outbreak.

“Certainly the advice we’re received externally from the WHO (World Health Organization) is that there’s no case for any contingency plans or cancelling the games or moving the games,” John Coates, the head of an IOC inspection team, said to wrap up a two-day visit that was dominated by the virus issue.

GOLF

PGA: Matt Kuchar managed a 2-under 69 and built a two-shot lead over Rory McIlroy and two others Friday in the Genesis Invitational at Riviera.

Tiger Woods happily would have taken a score like that. Instead, he made his bid for a first victory at Riviera and a record 83rd title on the PGA Tour a lot tougher. Two swings with a wedge wound up costing Woods three shots, and his 73 left him nine shots behind.

LPGA: Seven-time major champion Inbee Park moved into contention for her 20th LPGA Tour victory by taking a share of the second-round lead at the Women’s Australian Open at Adelaide, Australia.

Park shot 4-under 69 to put her at 10-under 136 at Royal Adelaide, level with first-round leader Jodi Ewart Shadoff (70).

Jillian Hollis (69), was in third place, one stroke behind. Defending champion Nelly Korda (73) was six strokes behind.

EUROPEAN-ASIAN: Two men’s golf tournaments co-sanctioned by the European and Asian tours in Malaysia and China were postponed Friday because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The tournaments are the Maybank Championship in Kuala Lumpur on April 16-19 and the China Open in Shenzhen on April 23-26. Rescheduling is being discussed, the European Tour said in a statement.

“We feel this is the correct course of action at this time,” said Keith Pelley, chief executive of the European Tour.

The coronavirus outbreak has already forced the U.S. LPGA Tour to cancel three events in Thailand, Singapore and China that had been scheduled in the next three weeks.

FOOTBALL

NFL: Washington released cornerback Josh Norman with one year left on the big contract he signed in 2016, and wide receiver Paul Richardson after two disappointing, injury-plagued seasons.

Norman struggled to live up to the expectations set by the $75 million, five-year deal he got after putting together an All-Pro season in Carolina and being released from the Panthers’ franchise tag. Washington saves $12.5 million against the salary cap in 2020 by cutting him now.

• Baltimore offensive lineman James Hurst has been suspended for the first four games of the 2020 season for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancers.

TENNIS

NEW YORK OPEN: Top-seeded John Isner was upset in the second round, losing to Jordan Thompson 7-6 (2), 6-7 (3), 6-3 late Thursday night. Isner, who had a first-round bye, was playing his first match since having to retire from his third-round match at the Australian Open against Stan Wawrinka because of a left foot injury.

ST. PETERSBURG LADIES TROPHY:  Maria Sakkari upset top-seeded Belinda Bencic 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 to claim a spot in the semifinals, while Petra Kvitova withdrew because of illness.

Sakkari will face Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina, who beat Oceane Dodin 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-2. The other semifinal pits second-seeded Kiki Bertens against Ekaterina Alexandrova, who advanced by walkover after Kvitova’s withdrawal.

THAILAND OPEN: Nao Hibino advanced to the semifinals at Hua Hin, Thailand, by beating fourth-ranked Elina Svitoline ,6-4 6-2, while Magda Linette defeated 18-year-old Chinese player Xiyu Wang 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.

SKIING

MEN’S WORLD CUP: Aleksander Aamodt Kilde got his first win of the season in a men’s World Cup super-G in Saalback-Hinterglemm, Austria, sending the Norwegian to the top of both the discipline and overall standings.

Racing on a shortened course with run times of under a minute, Kilde finished 0.15 seconds ahead of Swiss rival Mauro Caviezel, who matched his career best result. Thomas Dressen of Germany, who won a downhill at the same venue on Thursday, was 0.31 behind in third.

SPEEDSKATING

WORLD RECORD: Graeme Fish broke a world record on his way to winning his first long track speed-skating world championship.

Fish finished in 12 minutes, 33.86 seconds to claim gold in the men’s 10,000 meters in the opening event of the second day of the ISU World Single Distances Championships at Kearns, Utah. The 22-year-old Canadian eclipsed the previous world record of 12:36.30, set by fellow Canadian Ted-Jan Bloemen in 2015.

– Staff and news services

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