HARTFORD, Conn. — Gianna Bryant wanted to play basketball for the storied University of Connecticut women’s team. On Monday night, she became a member of the Huskies forever.
In a moving tribute, UConn honored “Gigi," the 13-year-old daughter of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who with her father were among nine people killed Sunday in a helicopter accident in California.
Before UConn's Monday exhibition game against the US Women's National Team, the Huskies draped a No. 2 jersey -- the number Gianna Bryant wore -- over one of their bench seats, the Hartford Courant reported. A bouquet wrapped in blue-and-white ribbons was placed in front of her chair, and a section of courtside seats remained empty.
Gianna Bryant wore No. 2 while playing for the Mamba Academy. Referencing her nickname in a tweet, UConn said, "Mambacita is forever a Husky."
Kobe Bryant’s self-proclaimed nickname was “Black Mamba.”
Before the game began, fans at the XL Center observed a moment of silence for all of the victims, CBS News reported.
Players for the women’s national team paid tribute to the Bryant family on the court, borrowing gestures that have been used in NBA games since the death of the 41-year-old former Lakers star.
Team USA guard Sue Bird, a former UConn player, refused to bring the basketball onto the court, resulting in an eight-second violation -- a nod toward the number Kobe Bryant wore when he broke in with the Lakers as a teenager in 1996, CNN reported.
When the ball was awarded to UConn, the Huskies' Crystal Dangerfield took the inbound pass and held the ball, allowing the 24-second shot clock to run out. That was a tribute to the number Kobe Bryant wore in high school and during the latter part of his pro career, CNN reported.
“The first time they were at a game, you know the old saying, she was like a little kid, looking up at our players,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma told reporters after the game. “You could just see the look in her eyes. She was just so excited. Now imagine the absurdity of that. Your father is Kobe Bryant, and the most excited you’ve been in a long time is being around college women’s basketball players. But that’s what it meant to her. That is what she aspired to be.”
Players like Team USA forward Breanna Stewart honored all nine victims of the crash by writing their names on her sneakers, the Courant reported.
The Bryants were recognized before Monday night’s game, the newspaper reported. A picture of the Bryants wearing UConn shirts was shown on the scoreboard over the court.
“Kobe was an inspiration to many of the people on the floor tonight and was an advocate for women’s basketball," the scoreboard announcement read. “He did as much to grow the game, globally, as anyone in recent memory. He and Gianna were tremendous supporters of UConn, friends to both teams, and their untimely deaths leave us heartbroken.”