Gianna Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, who were among nine killed in a January helicopter crash that also claimed the life of Kobe Bryant, were named honorary selections in Friday's WNBA draft.
"It would have been a dream come true for her," Gianna's mother, Vanessa, said. "Kobe and Gigi loved the WNBA. Thank you. I want to congratulate all of this year's draft picks. Congratulations. Work hard. Never settle. Use that Mamba Mentality."
Vanessa Bryant posted a message on Instagram on Friday listing the three girls as the "class of 2024."
Also on Friday, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced the new Kobe & 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."
"Kobe was an incredible champion of women's basketball and Gianna shared his passion and dedication to our game," Engelbert said in a statement. "The Kobe & Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award will honor their legacy and reflect Kobe's commitment to mentoring the next generation of players, promoting the game and giving back to the community."
The inaugural award will be revealed by the WNBA and the Bryant family at the 2021 NBA All-Star Game in Indianapolis. Vanessa Bryant will have a large role in helping select the recipient of the award and then presenting it to the honoree each year at All-Star Weekend.
Before the start of the draft, Engelbert honored Gianna Bryant, Altobelli and Chester by announcing each of the players as jerseys were shown on the screen with their last names on them. The three girls, all 13 years old at the time, were passengers on the helicopter as it traveled to a basketball game at Kobe Bryant's Mamba Sports Academy in California on Jan. 26.
The WNBA had said it planned to honor the memory of the three young teammates during the draft, which was held virtually in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Gianna, known as Gigi, made no secret of her desire to one day follow her father's footsteps in professional basketball and play in the WNBA. Kobe and Gianna were frequently spotted at WNBA, NBA and college games.
Altobelli and Chester were similarly remembered for their passion for basketball. Both played alongside Gianna for the team coached by her father. As the Orange County Register reported at the time of their deaths, both had hoped to continue playing the sport in college. Altobelli, in particular, hoped to play for Oregon, a program that had three players drafted in Friday's first round.
Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu, selected as the New York Liberty's choice as the No. 1 overall pick, was friends with Kobe Bryant and his family and spoke at the memorial service for Kobe and Gianna.
"I think it was a very beautiful thing that the WNBA did to be able to draft those three girls,'' Ionescu said. "They deserved it. I know they're looking down and smiling and really excited.''