WNBA Commissioner: Kobe Bryant was the only NBA player who came to see me

Melody Hahm
Senior Writer

A public memorial for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, along with the seven others killed in a helicopter crash last month, will be held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Monday.

The event’s date, Feb. 24, 2020, is particularly symbolic, as the elder Bryant sported No. 24 during the latter part of his NBA career, his 13-year-old daughter wore the No. 2 on her basketball teams, and as his wife Vanessa points out, 20 years is both the length of their relationship and the amount of time he played for the LA Lakers.

Twenty-four and two have become significant numbers for the entire athletic community, including WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, who was previously the CEO of Deloitte.

During an appearance at the 2020 MAKERS Conference last week, she had the numbers “24” and “2” painted on her nails with the iconic Lakers’ colors — yellow and purple. It was her 22-year-old daughter’s idea to pay a personal tribute to the Bryants.

In the seven months since Engelbert has been in the role, she told Yahoo Finance, Bryant has been the only current or former NBA player to schedule a meeting to chat. What was supposed to be an hourlong meeting ended up becoming a two-hour conversation.

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert at the 2020 MAKERS Conference

“We lost a big advocate. He walked in the room and said he spends four hours a day on girls’ basketball. And, he added, he loved it,” she told Yahoo Finance.

As a league, the WNBA will be honoring Gianna, Payton Chester, and Alyssa Altobelli, all Mamba Sports Academy players who died in the Jan. 26 crash.

“Kobe was a huge advocate for the WNBA, and for women and girls in sports. Girls drop out of sports at an alarming rate by the age of 13,” said Engelbert, noting that Gianna and her teammates were all 13. “Kobe also championed those who hoped to be a part of the league in the future by working with college teams like the University of Connecticut and University of Oregon. His impact was much broader than I certainly thought,” she added.

With the league’s 24th season tipping off in May, Engelbert and her team are brainstorming a variety of ways to honor the victims. They are planning a tribute ahead of Father’s Day as the hashtag #girldad has gone viral on social media.

MAKERS and Yahoo Finance are both part of Verizon Media.

_____

Melody Hahm is Yahoo Finance’s west coast correspondent, covering entrepreneurship, technology and culture. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm. Read more:

WNBA Commissioner: ‘We have a marketing problem’
Lululemon exec: Mental health is the 'next major step in our journey'
How Barbie has survived for over 60 years in a ‘volatile’ toy industry
Land O’Lakes CEO: Rural America is the new inner city
Steph Curry won’t invest in CBD, blockchain, or gambling