Just like the NBA, the WNBA always gets it right.
On Friday night, to kick off the 2020 WNBA Draft, the league took a few moments to honor three young women that carried with them basketball aspirations into their teenage years: Gianna Bryant, Payton Chester and Alyssa Altobelli.
Bryant, Chester and Altobelli were among nine killed in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash in Calabasas, CA, one that also claimed the lives of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, John and Keri Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan.
“Alongside Kobe, eight others were lost that sad day in January, including three rising basketball stars: Alyssa Altobelli, Gianna Bryant and Payton Chester,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert. “These athletes represented the future of the WNBA.”
During the segment, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert also honored Kobe and late NBA Commissioner David Stern, who passed away on Jan. 1.
“When David Stern launched the WNBA 23 years ago, he changed the course of women’s basketball in the U.S. forever … Kobe was not only a legendary basketball star but a devoted youth coach and had a tremendous impact on countless young players … His passion for the WNBA and girls basketball was unparalleled.”
Engelbert proceeded to select Gianna, Alyssa and Payton as honorary draft picks.
Payton’s father and Sarah’s husband, Chris, then said a few words.
“On behalf of my family, I’d like to thank the WNBA for honoring Payton and her teammates. [Payton] exemplified the ‘Mamba Mentality’ and was a fierce competitor.”
J.J. and Lexi Altobelli – the siblings of Alyssa and children of John and Keri – next said a few words on their family’s behalf.
“Alyssa loved the game of basketball and she worked extremely hard at her craft,” J.J. said. “There’s no doubt in our mind that she would have made it to the WNBA after her years at Oregon.”
Lastly, Gianna’s mother and Kobe’s wife, Vanessa, thanked the WNBA for honoring her daughter, all while donning Kobe’s WNBA sweatshirt.
“She wanted to be one of the greatest athletes of all-time, just like her daddy … Kobe and Gigi loved the WNBA.”
After the tribute, Engelbert announced the first pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft – Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu.
Ionescu was a close friend of both Kobe and Gianna’s, and she spoke at their Celebration of Life event at STAPLES Center on Feb. 24.
Congratulations to Ionescu and to the WNBA on a successful, touching virtual draft.
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