The University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team paid a touching tribute to Gianna Bryant and her legendary father on Monday.
Ahead of their exhibition game against the USA women’s national basketball team, the players honored the 13-year-old who died in a helicopter crash Sunday alongside her father Kobe Bryant and seven others.
A section of courtside seats remained empty, where they draped a jersey featuring the number two over one of the seats. The jersey, which was accompanied by flowers, made reference to Gianna’s number that she used while playing basketball for the Mamba Academy. Using Bryant’s nickname for his aspiring basketball player, the UConn women’s team said, “Mambacita is forever a Husky.”
Before the game began, those in attendance at the XL Center in Connecticut also observed a moment of silence for those who lost their lives in the crash.
“Kobe and Gianna meant a lot to our program,” the team first tweeted in light of the tragic news. “Mamba Mentality will live on forever, but they are deeply missed.”
Gianna was a big Huskies fan and the young player had dreams of being a part of the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team. On multiple occasions, she and her father would watch the perennial powerhouse play.
In an interview with the “Hartford Courant,” in 2018, Bryant said, “My daughter loves Gabby Williams, absolutely loves Gabby, loves [all of them]. She watches their interviews, watches how they play and learn—not just in wins, but in tough losses, how they conduct themselves. It’s great, as a parent, to be able to see my daughter pull inspiration from them.”
Back in 2017, Gianna, who was Bryant’s second-oldest daughter, hung out with the UConn women’s basketball team when they were in Los Angeles. “Thank you @uconnwbb for treating our baby girl to a night she will never forget #uconn,” Bryant posted on Instagram at the time.
Bryant had even developed a strong relationship with the head coach Geno Auriemma and shared his daughter’s support for the team. “We are a @UConnWWB family,” he once tweeted.
Last March, the five-time NBA champion took his daughter to the university’s senior night. “Had a great trip to @uconnwbb for senior night and the retirement of basketball legend @promise50 with my baby Gigi. Thank you Gampel, Thank you Coach Geno and Cd for the warm welcome,” Bryant wrote on Instagram at the time. “Good luck the rest of the way.”
Bryant also shared a post featuring his daughter with some of the Huskies players in August. “Mambas putting that work in with a few Huskies,” he wrote.
In 2018, Bryant told late night host Jimmy Kimmel that Gianna wanted to play in the WNBA. The former player coached his daughter’s middle school basketball team and often shared videos of Gianna’s games.
“Kobe’s support for the WNBA and women’s basketball along with his passion for helping young girls and boys follow their dreams made him a true legend for our sport,” the WNBA said in a statement.
Very heavy heart on loss of Kobe and his daughter and the others in the tragic crash today. Admired his Mamba mentality, and so grateful for Kobe’s support of the WNBA and girls basketball. Thoughts and prayers are with the Bryant family and other families impacted. #8 #24 pic.twitter.com/iXkDHUNT0P
— Cathy Engelbert (@CathyEngelbert) January 26, 2020