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WNBA Draft: Gianna Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli, Payton Chester named honorary picks

April 17 (UPI) -- Gianna "Gigi" Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, who were among nine killed in a January helicopter crash that also took the life of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, were selected as honorary draftees in the 2020 WNBA Draft on Friday.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert honored the group prior to the start of the draft, which was conducted virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic. Former NBA commissioner and WNBA founder David Stern, who died in January after suffering a brain hemorrhage, also was recognized by the women's basketball league.

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"Before we begin, we would like to honor some special individuals that we recently lost," Engelbert said. "Among those were two leaders near and dear to the WNBA -- NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern and NBA great Kobe Bryant.

"... Alongside Kobe, eight others were lost that sad day in January, including three rising basketball stars -- Alyssa Altobelli, Gianna Bryant and Payton Chester. These athletes represented the future of the WNBA. ... While it brings us pain not to see their dreams come to fruition, I'm grateful and proud to announce them tonight as honorary draft picks."

The three girls, all 13 years old at the time of the crash, were passengers on the helicopter as it traveled to a youth basketball game on Jan. 26 at Kobe Bryant's Mamba Sports Academy in California.

The WNBA previously said it planned to honor the three young teammates during this year's draft.

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Gianna's mother, Vanessa Bryant, posted a message on social media Friday that listed the three girls as the "Class of 2024."

"It would have been a dream come true for her," Vanessa Bryant 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."

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