(via Instagram/VanessaBryant)

After winning three-straight titles in the early 2000s, it was years before Kobe Bryant and the Lakers were able to return to their Championship ways.

It was Pau Gasol who really ushered in the next era for that team and it was in no time that he and Kobe not only grew profound respect for each other on the court but also a deep friendship off the court.

So much so, in fact, that Bryant’s kids considered him part of the family, calling him “uncle.” Today, on Pau’s 40th birthday, Vanessa posted a deep and heartwarming post to honor the family friend.

Indeed, it seems like Pau has a real and genuine bond with the Bryant family. When Kobe died, he was one of those it hit the hardest and he made several comments to show his support and express his feelings about the situation.

Honestly, it’s extremely awesome the way Kobe and Pau’s relationship grew over the years. From competitors to teammates, to Champions, and then friends, their relationship really blossomed into something beautiful. And, on his birthday, we’re getting to see just how much he still means to the Bryant family.

If only Kobe were still here to celebrate with him in person…