Seattle Storm guard Jewell Loyd is one of many players who grew up idolizing former Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant. But her connection runs a little deeper: Bryant worked with Loyd on her game and gave her a nickname -- the Gold Mamba, playing off his famous Black Mamba moniker.
On Tuesday, an emotional Loyd dedicated her second WNBA title to Bryant and his daughter Gianna, who were killed in a helicopter crash in January. The Storm finished a 3-0 sweep of the Las Vegas Aces with a 92-59 Game 3 victory in the WNBA Finals in Bradenton, Florida.
Loyd had 19 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists. For the postseason, in which the Storm went 6-0, Loyd averaged 17.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists.
"This year has been a lot for me," Loyd told ESPN's Holly Rowe while fighting back tears. "This is for Kobe, Gigi, the Bryant family and for Breonna Taylor. We had a lot of emotions coming into this game."
The WNBA devoted this season to Taylor, who was shot to death in March when police in Louisville, Kentucky, raided her home. The league's commitments to social justice and the Say Her Name campaign were important to the players.
The deaths of Kobe and Gigi Bryant also greatly impacted them. Bryant was an outspoken advocate of women's college basketball and the WNBA, and he hoped to see his daughter play in both. He, Gigi and seven others were headed to a youth basketball game when their helicopter crashed outside Los Angeles.
The WNBA made Gigi Bryant and her teammates who also died in the accident, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, honorary draft picks before the league's draft in April. During the WNBA season, Loyd often wore a Bryant jersey on her way to games.
"For me, this season, I had to pay [tribute] to him," said Loyd, who was the No. 1 draft pick out of Notre Dame in 2015, when she also was named Rookie of the Year. "This is my first season without him. I just focused in."
Loyd wears No. 24 because of Bryant, as well. And she said her footwear, which reminds her of Bryant and her nickname, helped her focus.
"It's the gold shoes, knowing that I'm unique. I'm special," Loyd said. "I wore the shoes because of Kobe. His jersey number is everything. He's the first person to ever believe in me before I got into the league. It's special."