Gianna Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli and Peyton Chester are being honored alongside the class of 2024 during the WNBA draft.
On Friday afternoon, the WNBA recognized the players in a virtually hosted draft for the class of 2024. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert started the night with a speech honoring Kobe Bryant, Gianna and others.
"Kobe was not only a legendary basketball star, but a devoted youth coach and had a tremendous impact on countless young players. I met Kobe last fall and after he left our office I remember thinking that his passion for the WNBA and girls basketball was unparalleled from anyone else I had ever met," she stated. "Alongside Kobe, eight others were lost that sad day in January, including three rising basketball stars. Alyssa Altobelli, Gianna Bryant and Peyton Chester. These athletes represented the future of the WNBA."
"Players who were following their passions, acquiring knowledge of the game, exhibiting skills that were way beyond their years. They represented the next generation of stars in our league, maybe what might have been the Mambacita generation," she continued. "While it brings us pain not to see their dreams come to fruition, I'm grateful and proud to announce them tonight as honorary draft picks."
Next, Vanessa Bryant reiterated the commissioner's statement, while also sharing her pride in not just Gianna but Alyssa, Peyton and other players who are inspired by Kobe. She recognized how bittersweet it is that Gianna is not here to witness her "dream come true," especially since she "worked tirelessly everyday."
"She wanted to be one of the greatest athletes of all time just like her daddy," the mom shared, while wearing a sweatshirt she said used to belong to Kobe. Nonetheless, Vanessa told the WNBA and the viewers, "Thank you for honoring my little girl. Kobe and Gigi loved the WNBA."
Before handing the mic over to the next speaker she concluded, "I want to congratulate all of this year's draft picks. So congratulations, work hard, never settle, use that Mamba mentality."
In addition, Peyton's father, Chris Chester, had the opportunity to speak about his daughter's achievements and what it means to be receiving this honor on her behalf.
"She exemplified the mamba mentality and was a fierce competitor. Her skill and determination to play in the WNBA is something I have no doubt she would have achieved, but was only surpassed by her joy for life and the game," he shared.
Adding, "She exemplified the mamba mentality and was a fierce competitor. Her skill and determination to play in the WNBA is something I have no doubt she would have achieved, but was only surpassed by her joy for life and the game."
Next, Alyssa's brother and sister, J.J, and Lexi, whose parents also died in the helicopter crash, spoke via video. They stated their little sister "loved the game of basketball and she worked extremely hard at her craft," which gives them "no doubt" she would've thrived in her athletic career.
Friday night's draft also marked the creation of the Kobe & Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award.
This will be presented 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, much like Kobe did for girls like Gigi and her teammates. Vanessa Bryant will work with the WNBA in choosing the inaugural recipient who exemplifies everything Kobe and Gigi stood for.
Before the night was over, Vanessa took to Instagram to honor her baby girl once more.
"I'm so proud of you, Gigi. God I miss you baby. You deserved to live a long, healthy and happy life," the caption read. "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."
Since the tragedy, Kobe has also been honored by being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Vanessa said of the honor, "Obviously, we wish that he was here with us to celebrate but it's definitely the peak of his NBA career and every accomplishment that he had as an athlete was a stepping stone to be here, so we're incredibly proud of him. There's some solace in knowing that he was probably going to be a part of the 2020 hall of fame class."