Sabrina Ionescu honors Kobe Bryant, hits game-winning 3 to start the WNBA season

On Friday, her first sport again since a sprained ankle sidelined her for many of her rookie season in 2020, Ionescu hit a game-winning three with lower than one second remaining to give the New York Liberty a 90-87 win over the Indiana Fever in the first sport of the 25th WNBA season.

“I actually — not going to lie at all — dreamt about it last night,” Ionescu instructed reporters after the sport — whereas wearing the Lakers jersey of the late Kobe Bryant, her pal and mentor.

“I try not to think about basketball too much the night before a game because I get nervous and don’t sleep,” Ionescu stated. “But I 100% had envisioned hitting a game winner. So when we were tied, and walking into the huddle, I just was smiling because it was almost like too good to be true. I was like, I’m going to hit this if the coaches draw up a play for me to get the ball.

“My coaches believed in me. My workforce believed in me. I used to be simply prepared for the second. I’ve been ready some time to get again on the court docket. I’m simply so pleased that we had been ready to get this win.”

Ionescu spoke at the memorial service final yr for Kobe and Gianna Bryant, after the two together with seven others had been killed in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020. Bryant will be inducted Saturday into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a member of the class of 2020.

“I’m excited to get down there and watch it, be with household and pals and having the ability to simply watch his legacy stay on by way of all of us, everybody that was shut to him, everybody that he touched,” Ionescu said. “It’s wonderful to see how that is going to proceed to stay on in younger women, boys, folks in every single place. I’m tremendous excited to go and see that. No one is extra deserving. He deserves it, and I’m so pleased for him.”

Ionescu, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 WNBA draft, tied the game with two made free throws with 21.8 seconds left. After Indiana guard Kelsey Mitchell was called for traveling with 5.8 seconds to go, New York got the ball back, setting up Ionescu to make her dream a reality, draining the three-point shot and leaving just 0.4 seconds left on the clock. She finished with 25 points, 11 assists and six rebounds.

This was her first game at the Barclays Center in New York, as last year’s WNBA season took place in Bradenton, Florida, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“She has a fairly particular approach of rising to the second,” Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins said of his star guard. “You get to see it every single day in follow. But these big-time conditions is the place she shines. It’s what she lives for. I’m fairly excited that she’s on my workforce.”

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