Vanessa Bryant Marks Late Husband Kobe Bryant's 42nd Birthday with Emotional Tribute
"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," Vanessa Bryant said
"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," the mother of four said on Instagram of her late daughter Gianna, who died in the Jan. 26 helicopter crash along with her father.
"I miss your big hugs, your kisses, your smile, your 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," Vanessa wrote.
"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," she continued.
"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," Vanessa said.
"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," she shared of their daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and 14-month-old Capri.
On Jan. 26, Kobe, Gianna and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. The crash also claimed the lives of 13-year-old Payton Chester, Sarah Chester, 46, 14-year-old Alyssa Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, 46, John Altobelli, 56, Christina Mauser, 38, and the helicopter's pilot Ara Zobayan, 50.
"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," Vanessa wrote, concluding: "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."
Natalia also shared a tribute on Instagram. "Happy Bithday Dad ❤️ I miss your smile, laugh and big bear hugs. Happy Birthday to the best movie buddy I could have ever asked for. I will always remember our late night drives to the movie theater with the windows rolled down and listening to our favorite songs. I love you forever and always. Always, Slim," she wrote.
A day before Kobe's birthday, the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation, which provides funding for athletes to join school or league teams, as well as sports programs that offer equal opportunities for young women, offered a preview of a tribute video, which was produced by Nike.
The foundation also announced that its website would be relaunched to better provide underserved communities with sports programs long into the future.
This is the second time the foundation has undergone a change in the wake of the accident. On Feb. 13, the organization — formerly known as the Mamba Sports Foundation, referencing Kobe's "Black Mamba" nickname — announced the addition of "Mambacita" to its name, in tribute to Gianna.
Gianna was following in her father's footsteps as a player at the Mamba Sports Academy. Kobe, nearly four years out from his retirement from the NBA in 2016, had been her coach.
"There is no #24 without #2,” Vanessa wrote on Instagram at the time, referencing Kobe and Gianna’s basketball jersey numbers, "we have updated the Mamba Sports Foundation to now be called the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation."
"Our mission remains the same – and stronger than ever – to provide opportunities to young people through sports," the mother of four added.
Vanessa also expressed her gratitude for the donations that were in the weeks since Kobe and Gianna's deaths. "Thank you all for the outpouring of support and your kind donations to date as we carry forth Kobe and Gigi’s legacy,” Vanessa wrote. "We hope to empower young athletes in a world they left us all to help shape."
On Monday, Aug. 24 will mark "Kobe Bryant Day," a day that features the two jersey numbers (8 and 24) that the late NBA legend wore during his 20-year career.
The Lakers — currently led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis — plan to wear "Black Mamba" uniforms that were designed by Kobe and Nike after his retirement during their game against the Portland Trailblazers.
Bryant's uniform design features a black snakeskin print and 3-D style lettering. There are also 16 stars on the jersey's side panels representing the team's NBA titles, five of which were won with the help of Bryant.
Nike will also begin selling special edition versions of the Black Mamba jersey on Aug. 24 through its website. These versions will feature Bryant's No. 8 on the front and No. 24 on the back.
Contributions to the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation will help support youth sports.