Vanessa Bryant's heart-wrenching reaction to WNBA's tribute to daughter, Gianna Bryant

The WNBA has paid tribute to Gianna Bryant and her teammates by making them honorary picks in in their 2020 Draft on Saturday (NZ time).

Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester were killed in the helicopter crash that also claimed the life of her father and NBA legend Kobe Bryant and five others in January.

Commissioner Cathey Englebert announced that they'd be the first three picks in the league's annual draft - where teams select from the best college talent available to join their franchise - which was conducted virtually via livestream.

"While it brings us pain not to see their dreams come to fruition," Englebert said. "I'm grateful and proud to announce them tonight as honorary draft picks."

Gianna's mother, Vanessa, took to Instagram to share her emotional reaction to the WNBA's tribute.

"It would have been a dream come true for her," Bryant said, while wearing one of her late husband's WNBA hoodies.

"She worked tirelessly every single day. She wanted to be one of the greatest athletes of all-time, just like her daddy. So thank you, thank you for honoring my little girl.

"Kobe and GiGi loved the WNBA. This is his sweatshirt. Thank you. I want to congratulate all of this year's draft picks. So congratulations, work hard. Never settle. Use that Mamba Mentality."

Bryant and her teammates - all aspiring WNBA hopefuls - were part of the Mamba Academy, and were on their way to play a game when their helicopter went down in the hills just outside Calabasas, California.

The WNBA also announced the Kobe and Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award, which will recognize an individual or group who has made significant contributions to the visibility, perception and advancement of women’s and girls’ basketball at all levels.

Earlier this month, Kobe Bryant was inducted posthumously into the Basketball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.