Kobe Bryant — basketball legend, beloved father, husband, mentor, and sports icon — should be celebrating his 42nd birthday today.
Tragically, he and eight others, including daughter Gianna, died in a helicopter accident on Jan. 26, 2020. But as his friends, family, peers, and fans are making clear today, legends live on forever in the hearts of all those who loved them.
Vanessa Bryant shared a heartbreaking Instagram post honoring her late husband’s birthday. (While her profile is currently set to private, the message was screenshotted and shared by several notable public figures on Twitter.)
“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, 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,” she wrote.
“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,” she continued, before ending with more words of gratitude. “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.”
Daughter Natalia Bryant shared her own message to her father on Instagram as well, alongside a baby photo: “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,” the post reads.
Kobe Bryant touched countless lives. Others close to him also shared bittersweet messages of celebration and mourning on Twitter. Fellow NBA legend and friend, Bill Russell, sent love and strength to Bryant’s family members, as well as his own feelings of devastating loss.
It’s 8:24 on his #Birthday. Its the first time I will not be able 2 say #HappyBirthday I will never get use tothat. We think about you often To Vanessa & the girls we r always here for you I know U will be strong because he is part of you. To Joe & Pam I understand. We ❤️U #Kobe pic.twitter.com/Uy0tdZlpd8
— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) August 23, 2020
But Kobe’s impact went across all aisles of the sports world. NFL player Russell Wilson marked the NBA legend’s birthday under the hashtag #MambaForever.
His former team, the Los Angeles Lakers, posted a montage highlighting many of Bryant’s accomplishments on and off the court, especially as a father and husband.
Bryant spent much of his time in retirement supporting women’s basketball, as seen in a video on his impact from ESPNW. His daughter Gigi’s former AAU team thanked their mentor and coach with a montage as well.
ESPN and Snoop Dogg teamed up for a tribute video as well. The rap shows how much he meant to people across America, from Philly where he grew up to Los Angeles where he became a national champion.