“Dear Natalia, Happy Birthday! Mommy and Daddy are so proud of the young lady that you are,” Vanessa, 38, wrote via Instagram. “You have displayed so much strength and grace throughout the most difficult year of our lives. Thank you for stepping in to help me with your little sisters. You’re such an incredible big sister and a beautiful role model to so many people. Thank you for being kind, polite and gracious in everything that you do. You have no idea how happy and proud mommy and daddy are that you’re our daughter. We love you always and forever, forever and always. Happy 18th birthday to our first born, Natalia, our principessa! Love always, Mommy, Daddy, Gigi, BB and Koko.”
The birthday girl reposted the tribute on her Instagram Stories, writing, “I love you to the moon and back @vanessabryant.”
In honor of Natalia’s big day, Vanessa shared a series of stunning pictures of the teen looking radiant in a denim dress and a tan fedora. She also uploaded two throwback photos of Vanessa with her late father on the basketball court at the Los Angeles Lakers’ home venue, Staples Center.
“Daddy’s little princess, Natalia. #18 #BirthdayGirl,” the former model wrote. “We love you so much! Happy birthday Natalia!!!! Our first born @nataliabryant.”
Natalia’s 18th birthday comes one week before the first anniversary of the deaths of Kobe and her sister Gianna. The father-daughter duo were en route to a basketball game on January 26, 2020, when their helicopter crashed in the Calabasas neighborhood of L.A., killing them and seven others. The former NBA player and Gianna were 41 and 13, respectively.
As the anniversary approaches, Vanessa took a moment on Saturday, January 16, to ask the media to “please be considerate when airing or posting remembrance footage” in the coming days.
“We ask that you do not air photos of the wreckage, helicopter in the air or accident scene. We do NOT want to see it,” she wrote via Instagram. “Our year has been traumatic enough. You have thousands of photos and videos you can show besides footage of 1/26/20. We hope videos of remembrance are done in a classy and tasteful manner that is respectful of all our losses. Thank you.”
Kobe’s widow also shared a poignant message about grief, writing on her Instagram Stories on Friday, January 15, “One day you’re in the moment laughing and the next day you don’t feel like being alive. I want to say this for people struggling with grief and loss. Find your reason to live. I know it’s hard. I look at my daughters and I try to push through that feeling for them. Death is guaranteed but living the rest of the day isn’t. Find your reason.”
The Bryants, who married in April 2001, also shared daughters Bianka, 4, and Capri, 18 months.