4:21 PM PT — WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert wasted no time with the league’s tribute to Gianna and her teammates … announcing them as the first three honorary picks of the 2020 draft.
“While it brings us pain not to see their dreams come to fruition,” Englebert said Friday, “I’m grateful and proud to announce them tonight as honorary draft picks.”
Family members of the crash victims recorded thank you speeches for the honor … and when it came to Vanessa Bryant’s time to speak, things got emotional.
Kobe’s wife — who was wearing a WNBA sweatshirt that belonged to the Black Mamba — said, “Thank you so much for honoring my GiGi and selecting her to be an honorary draft pick this year.”
“It would have been a dream come true for her. She worked tirelessly every single day. 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.”
Vanessa, with tears in her eyes, added, “Kobe and GiGi loved the WNBA. This is his sweatshirt. Thank you. I want to congratulate all of this year’s draft picks. So congratulations, work hard. Never settle. Use that Mamba Mentality.”
Gianna Bryant and her Mamba Academy teammates will be memorialized in a big way Friday night … the WNBA is set to make them honorary picks in the org’s annual draft, according to Vanessa Bryant.
GiGi, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester — who all passed away in a helicopter crash with Kobe Bryant — will get the honor at some point during the televised selection process.
Of course, it’s a huge deal for the trio … they all had WNBA aspirations before their tragic deaths in January — and Vanessa praised the tribute on social media Friday.
The league’s show — which is slated to be entirely virtual this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic — is set to kick off at 4 PM PT on ESPN.
The WNBA becomes the latest in a long line of organizations, celebs and athletes that have paid tribute to the victims following the devastating helicopter wreck.
Remember, the Lakers held an emotional remembrance ceremony before their game against the Trailblazers on Jan. 31 … while players like LeBron James and Anthony Davis got tribute tattoos.
Meanwhile, UConn — Gianna’s dream school to hoop at — also paid tribute to Kobe’s daughter by laying out a No. 2 jersey before its game in late January.
Others, like NBA stud Lou Williams, had murals of Kobe and GiGi painted to pay respects following the tragedy.
Originally published — 2:14 PM PT