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The WNBA will honor NBA legend and women’s basketball advocate Kobe Bryant as well as his daughter, Gianna, with an annual award, the league announced at the end of its 2020 WNBA draft.
The Kobe and Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award will recognize “an individual or group that made significant contributions to the visibility, perception and advancement of women’s and girls basketball at all levels,” commissioner Cathy Engelbert said.
The inaugural award will be announced by the league and the Bryant family at the 2021 WNBA All-Star game. Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife, will be active in helping choose the honoree and presenting the award.
“We look forward to seeing who will carry the torch for years to come,” Engelbert continued on the broadcast. “Thank you. WNBA, out.”
Bryant, Gianna and two of her teammates were among the nine who died in a helicopter crash outside of Los Angeles in January. Gianna dreamed of attending Connecticut and making the WNBA. The league honored the three players by drafting them into the league to start the night.
Bryant was a champion of women’s sports and specifically the WNBA. He showed up to games, gave shoutouts to women’s players and helped shed a stigma that “women’s basketball” was somehow different than “basketball.”
“Every day we face so many stigmas and stereotypes,” Los Angeles Sparks star Chiney Ogwumike said in the ESPN feature on Bryant’s impact on women’s basketball. “That was going away with Kobe just simply walking into an arena and cheering us on.”
Sabrina Ionescu, the night’s No. 1 pick to the New York Liberty and a close friend of the Bryants, said it was about having everyone feel equal.
“He believed in women’s sports,” she said.
Bryant featured Ionescu on his “Details” show to break down her game just as he did with star men’s players. He and Gianna visited her at an Oregon game and he invited her to help him coach the Mamba Academy team last summer.
Seattle Storm star Sue Bird, working as an analyst for ESPN, reiterated that Bryant always championed the league but also began to see it through his daughter’s eyes. She knew Bryant well from each competing at the Olympics with Team USA.
“He’s always respected and co-signed our game,” said Engelbert, who called it a “second act” for the Los Angeles Lakers champion.
The WNBA award will carry out their legacy and recognize his commitment to mentoring the next generation. A charitable contribution from the league and its partners will be made in honor of the recipient.
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