Vanessa Bryant shares an emotional tribute to Kobe Bryant on his birthday

By Zach Harper

Kobe Bryant would have turned 42 years old on Aug. 23, and Vanessa Bryant, the late star's widow, took to Instagram to pay tribute to her husband with an emotional, heartfelt message.

The NBA legend and the couple's daughter, Gianna – who they also called Gigi – died in a helicopter crash in January that also claimed the lives of six family friends and pilot.

"I miss your big hugs, your kisses, your smile, your loud... deep laugh," Vanessa wrote on Instagram. "I miss teasing you, making you laugh and bursting your bubble. I miss you sitting on my lap like my big baby that you are. I think about your tenderness and patience all the time. I think about everything you would do in situations to help me deal with everything you've thrown my way."

Kobe and Vanessa pose with (L-R) daughters Gianna, Bianka and Natalia as Kobe's jerseys are retired by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2017. Capri was born in 2019. Photo: © Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

Vanessa, who met Kobe in 1999 while she was a background dancer for a video by Tha Eastsidaz in which the basketball star was appearing, went on to write that things feel empty since Kobe and Gianna died and that she looks to the resilience of their daughters Natalia, Bianka and Capri each day. Heartbreakingly, she said she wished it had been her on the helicopter instead.

"There's so much I wish I could tell you and show you and Gigi," she concluded. "So many things you would both be happy to see and be a part of. So many milestones for our girls. So many things you would be proud of. I'm so thankful I have pieces of heaven here on earth to wake up for - thanks to YOU.

"Thank you for loving me enough to last several lifetimes. In every lifetime I would choose YOU. Thank you for showing me what real love is. Thank YOU for everything. I know my Gigi is celebrating you like she always has on our special days. I miss my thoughtful princess so much! Natalia, Gianna, Bianka, Capri and I wish you a happy birthday my love. I love you for now, forever and for always."

Kobe holds Natalia up to see the action during an NHL Playoffs game between the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings in 2012. Photo: © Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

Natalia, who is Kobe and Vanessa's eldest child, also wrote a special message for her father on Instagram. In it, she said she missed his "smile, laugh and big bear hugs."

"Happy Birthday to the best movie buddy I could have ever asked for," the 18-year-old continued. "I will always remember our late night drives to the movie theatre with the windows rolled down and listening to our favourite songs. I love you forever and always."

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