The University of Connecticut paid a special tribute to Gianna Bryant, during Monday’s Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant memorial event held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
UConn honored the 13-year-old basketball player with an emotional video from her visit to the UConn locker room in March 2019. The teen hoped to play for the school one day.
UConn's head coach, Geno Auriemma, shared heartfelt words on Gigi and her father, Kobe. “I'm not here to talk basketball,” Auriemma admitted before explaining that he had too many thoughts running through his head. "I came here as a father."
"The thoughts that I had were obviously about all of the people that were on board," Auriemma said referencing the fatal helicopter crash that claimed the lives Gianna, Kobe and seven others.
"If you’re a father, a grandfather, you feel a different kind of emotion when there are children involved because this is always about the children," he added. "We’ve lived our lives, we have a little bit left."
Auriemma went on to share some of his conversations with Kobe about coaching Gigi, and how excited she was to visit UConn.
“I remember the very first game that she came to. She came in the locker room and here she is, the look on her face, the smile, the way her eyes just took everything in. How excited she was to be around, in her mind, royalty. It’s ironic, her father’s royalty and she’s excited to be around royalty who look like what she wanted to be."
During the visit, Kobe took a step back away from the cameras, so that his daughter could soak in the moment.
"This was her moment," recalled Auriemma. "Her time to shine, her time to experience all the things that she experienced her whole life. He was being dad, not Kobe Bryant and he was allowing Gig to be Gigi, not Kobe Bryant’s daughter.”
The UConn Huskies honored the teen after her death last month by draping a Huskies Jersey with the number 2 on the back (which represented the number that Gigi wore as a player on the Mamba Academy basketball team) of a chair positioned courtside during a game against the USA Women’s National Basketball Team. The jersey was adorned by white flowers.
Mambacita is forever a Husky 💙 pic.twitter.com/3wdAbdK0Ye— UConn Women's Hoops (@UConnWBB) January 27, 2020
During Monday's emotional ceremony, Vanessa Bryant, opened up about her love for Gigi noting that her daughter would have one day become the "best player" in the WNBA.
"Gianna showed everyone that no act of kindness is too small to make a difference," said Vanessa.
Kobe, Gigi seven others -- Sarah and Payton Chester, John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan -- died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California on Jan. 26.
See more on Kobe and Gigi’s special bond in the video below.