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'She would have been the best player': Vanessa Bryant praises basketball bosses as daughter who died with Kobe is honored in draft

'She would have been the best player': Vanessa Bryant praises basketball bosses as daughter who died with Kobe is honored in draft
Vanessa Bryant has spoken of her pride that her daughter, who died with Kobe in a helicopter crash in January, will become the youngest ever pick when the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) draft honors her next week.

NBA legend Bryant had applied to trademark rising star Gianna’s nickname, "Mambacita," just a month before they died alongside two of Gianna's teammates, their parents and the pilot on their way from their home to his basketball academy on January 27.

Known as Gigi, Gianna was the frequent focus of her mother’s social media posts, allowing fans to follow her triumphs at youth tournaments and watch the prodigy join her father on court as her talent and love for the sport flourished before her death.

A shirt bearing Bryant’s name and her chosen squad number, two, will be picked in the draft as a tribute to the youngster when the annual WNBA selection takes place on Friday.

"It would have been a dream come true for her,” revealed Vanessa, urging players to use the “Mamba Mentality” – an ethos the family shared and a nod to the alter ego Kobe created for himself, Black Mamba.

“She worked tirelessly every single day. She wanted to be one of the greatest athletes of all time, just like her daddy.

"Kobe and Gigi loved the WNBA. I want to congratulate all of this year's draft picks. Work hard. Never settle.”

Bryant and her fellow players killed in the tragedy, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, were “the future of the WNBA”, commissioner Cathy Engelbert said.

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“They represent the next generation of stars in our league,” she added. “Maybe what might have been called the mambacita generation.”

Kobe and his daughter attended the WNBA All-Star Game 2019 in Las Vegas in July and helped to raise the profile of the women’s game by attending matches at Los Angeles Sparks, whose forward, Chiney Ogwumike, told CGNT that their presence had offered a boost “in ways you didn’t even imagine”.

Posting a photo of Gianna on the court, Vanessa said she missed her “more than I could ever express.” “You deserved to live a long, healthy and happy life,” she wrote.

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“I wish I could hold you and tell you how proud I am of you. You’re the best, baby girl.”

Speaking at a memorial in February, Vanessa suggested that her daughter’s impact on the women’s game could have been as great as her husband’s was in the NBA.

“Gigi would have likely become the best player in the WNBA," she said. "She would have made a huge difference in women's basketball."

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