Vanessa Bryant pays emotional tribute to Kobe Bryant on what would’ve been his 42nd birthday

Vanessa Bryant paid an emotional tribute to her late husband Kobe Bryant, who died alongside 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in a January 26 helicopter crash, on what would've been the former Laker's 42nd birthday. 

"To my baby~ Happy birthday," Vanessa Bryant wrote Sunday in a message posted to her Instagram page. "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."

Kobe and Gianna Bryant at the 2019 WNBA All-Star Game. (Photo: Stephen R. Sylvanie, USA TODAY Sports)

MORE:Aug. 24 is now known as Kobe Bryant Day in Orange County, California

The Los Angeles Lakers will wear special "Black Mamba" uniforms Monday in Game 4 of their first-round NBA playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers. Monday, which is Aug. 24 — or 8/24 — represents the two numbers Bryant wore as a Laker.

Bryant was the father of four daughters: Gianna, Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and 14-month-old Capri.

"Thank you for growing up with me and teaching me how to be strong," Vanessa Bryant continued in her post. "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."

On Sunday, Nike unveiled an advertisement video tribute to Bryant, narrated by musician Kendrick Lamar. The 1:30 video shows highlights and quotes from Bryant's career and focuses on themes of self-improvement.

Nike also is launching Mamba Week on Sunday and promises to include Bryant-themed jerseys and shoes. The sports apparel giant also has pledged to donate $1 million to the newly named Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation — formerly Mamba Sports Academy.

Kobe taught us to be better. A better scorer, better mentor, better father, better champion. Today, on his birthday, we continue his endless pursuit of better.

Explore #MambaMentality. https://t.co/H4exgG9itT 💜💛

Performance: @kendricklamarpic.twitter.com/1Qm36V9mM6

"I wish I could wake up from this horrible nightmare," Vanessa Bryant continued. "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."

Bryant was elected posthumously to the 2020 class of The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame when the vote was announced in April. The coronavirus pandemic forced the induction ceremony to be postponed until May 15, 2021.

Current Lakers star forward LeBron James passed Bryant on the all-time NBA scoring leaders list the day before Bryant died, moving into third place. Bryant, an 18-time All-Star and five-time NBA champion, retired in 2016 with 33,643 career points.

"There's so much I wish I could tell you and show you and Gigi," Vanessa Bryant wrote. "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."

Contributing: Jeff Zillgitt and Heather Tucker

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