- The WNBA honored Gianna Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli, and Payton Chester with post-humous draft picks.
- The three teenagers were teammates on the Mamba Sports Academy basketball team coached by Gianna’s father, late NBA Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant.
- Kobe, Gianna, Altobelli, and Chester were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash outside of Los Angeles on January 26.
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The WNBA memorialized Gianna Bryant, Payton Chester, and Alyssa Altobelli with honorary draft picks during the 2020 WNBA Draft on April 17. The three teenage basketball players were among nine people who died in a helicopter crash on January 26, which also claimed the life of Gianna’s father, NBA Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant.
—WNBA (@WNBA) April 17, 2020
Bryant, Altobelli, and Chester were teammates on the Mamba Sports Academy team coached by Kobe, and all four were en route to a game when the helicopter crashed. Altobelli’s parents, John and Keri, and Chester’s mother Sarah also died in the crash, which was attributed to foggy conditions that may have affected visibility.
The Mamba Sports Academy basketball team became one of Kobe’s prime initiatives after he retired from the NBA in 2016. As the team garnered attention, Kobe’s close relationship with Gianna became a matter of public record, and the young star showed flashes of her father’s legendary skill set on the court.
“Gigi would have likely become the best player in the WNBA,” her mother Vanessa Bryant said during a memorial service in February. “She would’ve made a huge difference for women’s basketball. Gigi was motivated to change how people viewed women in sports.”
The WNBA gave family members of all three girls a chance to share their memories during a video that proceeded the 2020 WNBA draft on April 17.
J.J. and Lexi Altobelli, who lost their sister and both parents in the January crash, said Alyssa was planning to attend Oregon, the country’s number 2 ranked school for women’s college basketball during 2020. Payton’s father Chris Chester said he foresaw his daughter building a WNBA career with fierce competitiveness and the focused “Mamba mentality” that Bryant made into his ethos.
“Her skill and determination to play in the WNBA was something she would have no doubt achieved,” Chester said.
“But it was only surpassed by her joy for life and the game. We will always have fond memories of her sinking and turning back on defense with that beautiful smile.”
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the three girls were well on their way to making a lasting impact on women’s basketball before their lives were cut short. The league also announced the Kobe & Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award, which will recognize an individual or group that’s made significant contributions to women’s and girls’ basketball at all levels.
“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,” Engelbert said. “They represented the next generation of stars in our league.”