A special tribute for a very special player — Gianna Bryant’s dream school, the University of Connecticut, honored her at their women’s basketball game on Monday night by reserving a seat on the team bench for the 13-year-old. Gianna, or “Gigi,” had hoped to one day take the court at UConn as a Husky herself. And while she heartbreakingly won’t ever get that opportunity, the school she hoped to attend vows she’ll always be part of the team.
The devastating news broke on Sunday evening that NBA legend Kobe Bryant’s private helicopter had crashed in the hills of Calabasas, California. In addition to Kobe, it was carrying Gigi and seven other passengers (including two of her fellow teammates on Kobe’s Mamba Sports Academy basketball team) on their way to a basketball tournament. There were, tragically, no survivors.
So, as a fitting homage to the promising young player who was following in her father’s footsteps, UConn draped a Huskies jersey with Gigi’s No. 2 emblazoned on the front over a seat on the team bench at Monday’s exhibition game in Hartford against USA Basketball. “Mambacita is forever a Husky,” the team captioned a photo of the jersey, referring to Gigi by her nickname. A bouquet of white flowers held Gigi’s seat.
Mambacita is forever a Husky 💙 pic.twitter.com/3wdAbdK0Ye
— UConn Women's Hoops (@UConnWBB) January 27, 2020
In March of last year, Kobe shared photos on social media of a daddy-daughter evening he and Gigi enjoyed at UConn for senior night and to celebrate the retirement of WNBA legend Rebecca Lobo. And in 2018, the proud father revealed that his little girl had her heart set on one day playing for the school.
“She is hellbent on UConn,” Kobe told NBA Hall of Famer Reggie Miller (in a convo captured by ESPN). “My daughter loves Gabby Williams, absolutely loves Gabby, loves [all of the players]. She watches their interviews, watches how they play and learns — 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.”
Williams, who has since graduated and plays basketball professionally, lamented the tragic loss to the Chicago Sun-Times on Monday. Of Gigi’s potential, the Chicago Sky player said, “From what I saw, she was going to be heaps better than me.”