WNBA Selects Gianna Bryant And Her Two Teammates Who Also Died In Helicopter Crash As Honorary Picks During Virtual Draft
Kobe Bryant had dedicated his life to helping those three girls and so many more.
April 20, 2020 at 3:02 pm
That was the case again when the WNBA held its draft on Friday. The league specifically honored Gianna, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, making them honorary selections in the draft, ESPN reported. All three 13-year-old girls were promising, young basketball stars before their lives were cut short by the January 26 crash.
"It would have been a dream come true for her," Gianna's mother, Vanessa, said in a statement. "Kobe and Gigi loved the WNBA. Thank you. I want to congratulate all of this year's draft picks. Congratulations. Work hard. Never settle. Use that Mamba Mentality."
Kobe had dedicated his life to helping those three girls and so many more. The basketball icon established the Mamba Sports Academy for that purpose, giving young athletes a place where they could learn the game from some of the best coaches in the country.
But life took an unexpected turn when Kobe and the girls were on a helicopter going to a basketball game at the Mamba Sports Academy. The crash also took the lives of Payton’s mother, Sarah, Alyssa’s parents, Keri and John, as well as assistant coach Christina Mauser and the pilot, Ara Zobayan.
Friday’s draft, which was held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic, started with WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert announcing the names of the three girls lost in the crash. The girls' jerseys were shown on the screen while the commissioner called their names.
The league revealed another surprise during the draft by launching the Kobe and Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award. The honor will be given to "an individual or group who has made significant contributions to the visibility, perception and advancement of women's and girls' basketball at all levels."
"Kobe was an incredible champion of women's basketball and Gianna shared his passion and dedication to our game," Engelbert said in a statement. "The Kobe & Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award will honor their legacy and reflect Kobe's commitment to mentoring the next generation of players, promoting the game and giving back to the community."
Just like Gianna, Alyssa and Payton were aiming to play basketball in college, ESPN reported. Alyssa was especially intent on playing for Oregon.
Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon’s latest star, took the next step in her journey when she was selected as the No. 1 overall pick by the New York Liberty in Friday’s draft. Ionescu, who developed her game with help from Kobe and who became close with the family, was moved by the WNBA’s tribute.
"I think it was a very beautiful thing that the WNBA did to be able to draft those three girls,'' she said. "They deserved it. I know they're looking down and smiling and really excited.''
In the days after the crash, thousands of Kobe's fans gathered outside of the Staples Center to honor the Los Angeles Lakers legend. People of all ages from around the country brought flowers, memorabilia, artwork and other items to remember the basketball star.
Vanessa delivered a moving speech at the public memorial for her husband and daughter, saying she was looking forward to watching Gianna learn to drive, get married, have children and play in the WNBA.
“I can’t imagine life without [Gianna],” Vanessa said. “I will miss your sweet handmade cards, your sweet kisses and your gorgeous smile.”