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Kobe Bryant was a legend to the world, but to his daughter Gianna Bryant, he was so much more. USA TODAY

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Before the beginning of Friday night's WNBA draft, the league paid tribute to three young basketball players who tragically lost their lives in January. 

In a moving moment, Gianna Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli, and Payton Chester — 13-year-olds who were killed in a Southern California helicopter crash in January that claimed the lives of six others, including Bryant's father, Hall of Fame-bound Kobe Bryant — were named honorary WNBA draft picks.  

"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. They represented the next generation of stars in our league, maybe what might have been called the 'Mambacita Generation,' " WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said.

"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 announcements were followed by messages from the family, including from Vanessa Bryant. 

"It would have been a dream come true for her. She worked tirelessly, every single day. She wanted to be one of the greatest athletes of all time, just like her daddy," Vanessa Bryant said.

She concluded her statements by congratulating this year's class with a message drawing on the work ethic of her late husband.

"I want to congratulate all of this year's draft picks. Congratulations, work hard, never settle, use that Mamba Mentality," Vanessa Bryant said.

Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu was then the WNBA announced the creation of the Kobe & Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award, given to "an individual or group who has made significant contributions to the visibility, perception and advancement of women's and girls' basketball at all levels."   

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