NEW YORK (WAVE) - The beginning of the WNBA draft Friday night started by honoring Gianna Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli, and Payton Chester, three young players that lost their lives in a Southern California helicopter crash back in January.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced the three players as honorary draft picks, showcasing their pictures and jerseys on screen.
“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,” Englebert said. “They represented the next generation of stars in our league."
The three teenagers were among the nine people who died in the Southern California helicopter accident back in January, including Kobe Bryant, Gianna’s father.
After the honorary draft announcement, several family members spoke thanking the WNBA for their decision, including Gianna’s mother, Vanessa Bryant.
“It would have been a dream come true for her. She worked tirelessly every single day,” Bryant said. “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.”
“(Payton) exmplified the Mamba mentality and was a fierce competitor,” Chris Chester, Payton’s father said. “Her skill and determination to play in the WNBA was something I had no doubt she would have achieved, but was always surpassed by her joy of her life and the game.”
The WNBA also announced the Kobe & Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award, recognizing an individual or group who has made significant contributions to women’s and girls basketball at all levels.