While it was a thrilling occasion for the Women’s National Basketball Association, it was also a time marked by sobriety. During the evening’s proceedings on April 17, ESPN announced that the WNBA honored the memories of basketball teammates Gianna “Gigi” Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester after the helicopter accident that claimed the 13-year-olds’ lives on Jan. 26. Gigi’s mother Vanessa Bryant, 37 — dressed in Kobe Bryant’s orange sweatshirt — shared an emotional video message in reaction to the WNBA naming her late daughter as an honorary draft pick.
“Thank you so much for honoring my Gigi and selecting her to be an honorary draft pick this year. It would’ve been a dream come true for her,” Vanessa said, who was tearing up as she shared her gratitude. She continued, “She worked tirelessly every single day. She wanted to be one of the greatest athletes of all time, just like her daddy. So thank you. Thank you for honoring my little girl. Kobe and Gigi loved the WNBA…this is [Kobe’s] sweatshirt…I want to congratulate all of this year’s draft picks. So congratulations. Work hard. Never settle. Use that Mamba Mentality.”
Fans tuning into the WNBA Draft Pick didn’t know what to expect, but they knew Gianna would be honored along with her fellow sportswomen. On the same day, Gianna’s grieving mother, Vanessa, took to Instagram to share the logo and promote the WNBA Draft Pick. “Honorary Draft Picks: Gianna Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli and Peyton Chester class of 2024,” Vanessa captioned the promo footage, with a string of heart emojis strewn throughout her words. It was such a fitting way to remember the young girls who lost their lives and dreamed of making a difference in the WNBA.
"Work hard. Never settle. Use that Mamba Mentality."
Vanessa Bryant thanks the WNBA for honoring Gigi, and shares some wisdom for the 2020 draft class. pic.twitter.com/CwvyxqG0fi
— ESPN (@espn) April 17, 2020
In addition to the honorary draft, the WNBA also announced the Kobe & Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award, which will be awarded to its first recipient by Vanessa Bryant during the NBA All-Star 2021 in Indianapolis. “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,” the WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. The award will recognize those who are advocates of women’s and girls’ basketball.
Prior to their deaths, Gianna’s famous father, legendary LA Laker Kobe, spoke candidly with Jimmy Kimmel about how his daughter was ready to carry on his NBA legacy. “Fans will come up to me and she’ll be standing next to me and they’ll say, ‘Hey, you’ve gotta have a boy! You and V gotta have a boy to carry on your tradition, the legacy,’” Kobe recounted to Jimmy. But it was Gianna who ardently told her father’s fans. “Oi, I got this.” Being the proud #GirlDad that he was, Kobe would tell his daughter, “That’s right! You got it!”
News of Kobe, Gianna, her teammates and others who were tragically killed in the helicopter accident near Calabasas broke on Jan. 26 — roughly three months ago. In the time since, fans, friends and family have memorialized Gianna and Kobe with moving tributes. Gianna and Kobe’s memorial service, which took place on Feb. 24, gave Vanessa the opportunity to remember her beloved husband and sweet daughter just how she wanted. And since, she’s kept their memory alive with beautiful messages.
“He [Kobe] only got to enjoy 3 years and 9 months of retirement. We had 2 more daughters, he won an Oscar, he opened Granity studios, he became a 5x best selling author,” Vanessa shared in an Instagram post she made on April 13, Mamba Day. “[He] coached Gianna’s basketball team in that time. She worked hard and gave her all 7 days a week just like her daddy. I wish I could back to that morning, every day. I wish they had a normal local game on 1/26. Life truly isn’t fair.”