Although she didn’t live long enough to see her dream of following her father into pro basketball, the daughter of Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant has been given an honor that would have paved the way for her goal.
The WNBA steps up to remember Gianna Bryant
The WNBA opened its 2020 draft on Friday by announcing three honorary selections in remembrance of the Jan. 26 helicopter crash that took their lives. Young basketball teammates Gianna Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli, and Payton Chester perished in the tragedy as did retired NBA star Kobe Bryant and five others.
Kobe Bryant was an NBA draft pick coming out of high school in Pennsylvania.
Vanessa Bryant posted on Instagram that being drafted someday by the women’s professional league would have been a “dream come true” for her 13-year-old daughter.
The announcement was made by WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert, who was overseeing the draft from her New Jersey home as the league’s teams made their selections via video conferencing because of the coronavirus pandemic. The first official pick of the draft was made by the New York Liberty, who selected Sabrina Ionescu. The University of Oregon guard is a Bryant family friend who spoke at the memorial for Kobe and Gianna.
The WNBA honor follows a tribute to Gianna and Kobe Bryant that was made at the NBA All-Star Game in Chicago in February. The women’s league announced the additional step of creating the Kobe and Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award that will recognize a player making contributions to the advancement of girls and women’s basketball.
The crash that killed Kobe Bryant is under investigation
Gianna Bryant, Payton Chester, Alyssa Altobelli, and six others were on their way to a basketball tournament when their helicopter crashed into a mountain in Calabasas, California, under foggy conditions on Jan. 26. All nine people on board were killed.
The National Transportation Safety Board began an investigation immediately after the crash but its final report may not be issued before the end of the year. Preliminary details revealed by the government agency said that the Sikorsky helicopter operated by Island Express Helicopters did not show signs of engine failure.
Vanessa Bryant filed papers in February announcing her intent to sue the owner and operator of the helicopter over the crash that killed retire star Kobe Bryant and their oldest daughter. The wrongful death lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court asserted the pilot was negligent by flying in cloudy conditions.
Under the visual flight rules that the pilot should have been following, he was required to be able to see where he was going. The pilot was cited by the Federal Aviation Administration in May 2015 for violating those rules, the lawsuit said.
Oregon star is picked first in the draft
Although the tribute to the daughter of Vanessa and Kobe Bryant was the big early news, the star of Friday’s WNBA draft was University of Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu. The New York Liberty made her the top overall selection following an NCAA career in which she became the first Division I player – male or female – to accumulate 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 1,000 assists.
The next player off the board was Oregon teammate Satou Sabally, a junior who went to the Dallas Wings. The Ducks landed a third player in the top eight when the Chicago Sky took Ruthy Hebard.
The WNBA season was originally scheduled to begin May 15 but is officially on hold during the coronavirus pandemic.