Kobe Bryant would have turned 42 Sunday, but the five-time NBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist never got the opportunity to celebrate that occasion after a helicopter crash cut his life short.
While his life and work inspired countless people globally and caused heartache from Milan to Marina Del Rey, no one can fathom what is being felt inside the Bryant household where his wife, Vanessa, and three surviving children, Natalia, Bianka and Capri, are celebrating the legend's first birthday since he, daughter Gianna, and seven others died in a Los Angeles helicopter crash in January.
Vanessa Bryant provided a peek behind the curtain Sunday in a heartfelt Instagram post wishing her late husband "Happy birthday" and also mourning the losses of both her husband and daughter.
"Our lives feel so empty without you and Gigi," Vanessa Bryant wrote on her account, which is private but has more than 13 million followers. "I've been completely broken inside. As much as I want to cry, I put a smile on my face to make our daughters days shine a little brighter. I'm not the strong one. They are."
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She continued, "I always wanted to go first so that I selfishly didn't have to feel this heartache. You were supposed to miss me. Gigi was supposed to be here with her sisters. It should've been me."
Below is the text of Vanessa Bryant's entire post:
"To my baby ~ Happy birthday. I love you and miss you more than I can ever explain. I wish you and Gigi were here to celebrate YOU! I wish I could make you your fav food or a birthday cake with my Gigi. I miss your big hugs, you loud ass deep laugh. 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 thrown my way. Thank you for growing up with me and teaching me how to be strong. How to try to see the best in people but cutout the bs. Your thoughtful gestures and the amazing way you made us all feel is extremely missed. I picture your smile and wide big welcoming hugs daily. God I miss you both so much. Our lives feel so empty without you and Gigi. I've been completely broken inside. As much as I want to cry, I put a smile on my face to make our daughters days shine a little brighter. I'm not the strong one. They are. They're strong and resilient. I'm sure you're proud of them. They put a smile on my face everyday. I wish I could wake up from this horrible nightmare. I wish I could surprise our girls and welcome you and Gigi home to us. I'm mad I didn't go first. I always wanted to go first so that I selfishly didn't have to feel this heartache. You were supposed to miss me. Gigi was supposed to be here with her sisters. It should've been me. There's so much I wish I could tell you and show you and Gigi. 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. #Amoreterno 42"
Of course, the basketball legend's birthday bubbled emotions from beyond the family. From inside the NBA bubble in Orlando, where a pandemic and a disrupted NBA schedule led to NBA games being played on Bryant's birthday for the first time, to Bryant's favorite Italian soccer club, tributes poured in to commemorate the Oscar winner's birthday.
Below are some of the tributes: