Gianna Bryant and her basketball teammates, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, were made honorary picks at the start of the WNBA draft Friday.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert began the event by paying tribute to Kobe Bryant, who, along with Gianna Bryant, Altobelli, Chester, and five others, died in a helicopter crash Jan. 26.
Engelbert said Kobe Bryant was "not only a legendary basketball star, but a devoted youth coach," and added that his 13-year-old daughter, 14-year-old Altobelli, and 13-year-old Chester "represented the future of the WNBA."
"They represented the next generation of stars in our league," she said. "Maybe what would've been called 'The Mambacita generation.'"
Kobe Bryant's nickname was "Black Mamba," and Gianna Bryant was called "Mambacita."
Gianna Bryant, the second daughter of Kobe and Vanessa Bryant, seemed poised to follow in her father's footsteps. A basketball phenom, she reportedly dreamed of playing the sport at the University of Connecticut before going pro.
Two days after her death, the UConn's women's basketball team placed a No. 2 jersey — Gianna Bryant's number — with flowers on their bench during a game against USA Basketball. The team shared a photo of the tribute on social media, and captioned it, "Mambacita is forever a Husky."
In a video played during the WNBA draft, Vanessa Bryant, 37, thanked the organization for honoring Gigi and her teammates, as did Chester's father and Altobelli's siblings.
"It would've been a dream come true for her," Vanessa Bryant said. "She worked tirelessly every single day. She wanted to be one of the greatest athletes of all time, just like her daddy."
The WNBA also named an award in honor of the father and daughter duo Friday called the Kobe & Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award. It will be given annually to an individual, or group, who made a significant contribution to the "visibility, perception and advancement" of women's basketball.
"Kobe was an incredible champion of women’s basketball and Gianna shared his passion and dedication to our game," said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert in a statement. "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."
Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu went No. 1 overall to the New York Liberty in the 2020 draft. Ionescu had developed a close relationship with Kobe Bryant, and Gigi, and spoke at the Los Angeles memorial service honoring the late Lakers star.