The WNBA Draft took place on Friday night as part of an all-virtual event in which the future stars of the league learned of their professional destinations. Gianna Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, three of the nine victims of a Jan. 26 helicopter crash were listed as honorary draft selections during this event. Vanessa Bryant, the mother of Gianna and Kobe Bryant's widow, reacted to this news with an emotional post on Instagram.
"I'm so proud of you, Gigi. God I miss you baby. You deserved to live a long, healthy and happy life. I wish I could hold you and tell you how proud I am of you. You're the best, baby girl. Mommy loves and misses you more than I could ever express. [heart emoji] [WNBA] #2 Gianna 'Gigi' Bryant Youngest draft pick [heart emoji] [basketball emoji] My 'mambacita' a.k.a. Wings," Vanessa wrote in the caption of the photo.
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Prior to the WNBA draft, the three jersey numbers worn by Gianna, Altobelli and Chester were displayed on the screen while commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced their names. The three girls, who were 13 years old at the time, were all heading to a basketball tournament at the Mamba Academy when the helicopter crashed.
Gianna had never shied away from the fact that she wanted to one day play in the WNBA. She and her father were often spotted sitting courtside at games, and she once visited the University of Connecticut basketball team's locker room. Altobelli and Chester both reportedly had similar hopes of continuing their basketball careers at least to the college level.
Commissioner Engelbert also announced on Friday the creation of the new Kobe & Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award. This honor will recognize "an individual or group who has made significant contributions to the visibility, perception and advancement of women's and girls' basketball at all levels." The inaugural award will be unveiled at the 2021 NBA All-Star Game in Indianapolis and Vanessa will have a key role in helping select the honoree.
"Kobe was an incredible champion of women's basketball and Gianna shared his passion and dedication to our game," Engelbert said in a statement, per ESPN. "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."