WNBA honors Gigi Byrant, other teens killed in helicopter crash during league draft

The teen had talked and dreamed about joining the professional league.
Image: Kobe Bryant hugs his daughter, Gianna, during a Los Angeles Lakers game on Nov. 17, 2019.
Kobe Bryant hugs his daughter, Gianna, during a Los Angeles Lakers game on Nov. 17, 2019.Allen Berezovsky / Getty Images file

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By Alicia Victoria Lozano

The WNBA paused Friday night's draft to honor 13-year-old Gianna "Gigi" Bryant, the daughter of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, and two other teens killed in a helicopter crash earlier this year.

Gigi Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester were all named honorary picks and their jerseys were shown on a big screen during the tribute.

The three teens died Jan. 26 when the helicopter they were traveling on crashed near Thousand Oaks, California. Kobe Bryant was among the nine people killed.

His widow, Vanessa Bryant, posted an emotional message thanking the WNBA for its tribute.

"Thank you so much for honoring my Gigi and selecting her to be an honorary draft pick this year," she said in an Instagram post. "It would have been a dream come true for her."

Wearing her husband's WNBA sweatshirt, Vanessa Bryant added that her daughter worked tirelessly everyday and strived to be one of the "greatest athletes of all time just like her daddy."

"Thank you, thank you, for honoring my little girl," she said through tears.

Kobe Bryant advocated for female athletes in recent years, supporting his daughter's dream of one day joining the WNBA. The two were frequently shown together courtside at games, and he often coached her team.

“Kobe was an incredible champion of women’s basketball and Gianna shared his passion and dedication to our game,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement.

Earlier this month, Kobe Byrant was posthumously elected to Basketball Hall of Fame.

"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, and there’s some solace in knowing that he was probably going to be part of the 2020 Hall of Fame class," Vanessa Bryant said in an interview with ESPN.