Vanessa Bryant Shares Emotional Tribute to Late Daughter Gianna After Her WNBA Honor

Gianna Bryant was named an honorary draftee during the WNBA draft on Friday

Vanessa Bryant
Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty; Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP

Vanessa Bryant is bursting with pride as she celebrates her late daughter Gianna Bryant‘s honorary draft into the WNBA.

Nearly three months after the tragic helicopter crash that killed Gianna, her father Kobe Bryant and seven others, the 13-year-old and her two Mamba Academy teammates Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, who also died in the crash, were named honorary picks during the WNBA draft on Friday.

On Saturday, Vanessa, 37, posted an emotional tribute to Gianna, sharing how proud she was of her daughter for being the “youngest draft pick.”

“I’m so proud of you, Gigi,” she wrote alongside a photo of her late daughter in her Mamba Academy uniform.

“God I miss you baby,” the mother of four continued. “You deserved to live a long, healthy and happy life. 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.”

“My ‘mambacita’ a.k.a Wings,” Vanessa concluded the post, referencing the nickname Kobe gave to Gianna.

During the draft on Friday, WNBA commissioner Cathy Englebert announced the three girls’ names in a touching moment at the top of the event.

“These athletes represented the future of the WNBA,” Englebert said of Bryant, Altobelli and Chester. “Players who were following their passion, acquiring knowledge of the game, strengthening skills that were way beyond their years. They represent the next generation of stars in our league.”

Family members then took the screen to share at-home tributes to each young athlete, which included a touching message from Vanessa.

“Thank you so much for honoring my Gigi and selecting her to be an honorary draft pick this year,” she said in a video message. “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.”

“Kobe and Gigi loved the WNBA,” Vanessa continued, offering her congratulations to this year’s draft picks. “Work hard. Never settle. Use that Mamba mentality.”

Englebert also remembered Kobe as a “legendary” NBA star as well as a “devoted youth coach.” The commissioner remembered Kobe’s passion for the women’s league as “unparalleled.”

Later in the draft, Engelbert announced a new award in honor of the star Los Angeles Lakers player and his daughter, titled the Kobe and Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award, “which will recognize an individual or group who has made significant contributions to the visibility, perception and advancement of women’s and girls’ basketball at all levels.”

Nine people lost their lives in the Jan. 26 helicopter crash, including Alyssa’s parents John Altobelli and Keri Altobelli as well as Payton’s mother Sarah Chester, their coach Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan.

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