WNBA makes late Gianna Bryant, teammates honorary draft selections in touching tribute

The WNBA on Friday honored the late Gianna Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester by making them honorary selections prior to the first round of the 2020 WNBA Draft.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced the selections in alphabetical order in a televised tribute to the girls, who were killed in a helicopter crash Jan. 26 in California. The three were AAU teammates. Engelbert also honored the late Kobe Bryant, Gianna’s father, who perished in the crash as well, along with Altobelli’s parents and Chester’s mother. 

Vanessa Bryant, Gianna’s mother and Kobe’s widow, thanked the league in a video message after the selections were made.

Gianna Bryant, who would have turned 14 in May, was a huge Connecticut women’s basketball fan and had her sights on following in her father’s footsteps and becoming a professional basketball player.

Sabrina Ionescu, the Oregon superstar who became the first Division I player — men’s or women’s — to record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists in a career, had developed a close friendship with Kobe over the last year and was a big supporter of Gianna Bryant.

“Gigi had so much of her dad’s skill set. You could tell the amount of hours they spent in the gym, practicing her moves,” Ionescu said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “She smiled all the time, but when it was game time, she was ready to kill. Her demeanor changed almost instantly when the whistle blew.

“If I represented the present of the women’s game, Gigi was the future, and Kobe knew it.”

My #mambas @sabrina_i @megwalker3 and @alexbazzell24 #mambamentality

A post shared by Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) on

Ionescu spoke at Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s celebration of life at Staples Center on Feb. 24.

“The week after the accident, I was in Colorado, I had a game, and like I do before every game, I prayed. This time I was thinking about Kobe and Gigi,” Ionescu said. “His voice is still in my head, even if his body is not on this Earth. And all I wanted was a sign that in some way he still heard me, too. I looked off into the sky and there it was, a beautiful golden sunset. The boldest yellow. Lakers yellow. And further in the distance, a helicopter. There was my sign, that he will forever be with me.

“I heard his voice in my head, the last line from one of his books: ‘Walk until the darkness is a memory, and you become the sun on the next traveler’s horizon.’”

Ionescu became the first overall pick of the 2020 NBA Draft when the New York Liberty selected her.

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