But Duncan’s chance meeting with Bryant two years ago was much more than just a hasty photo op and a quick exchange of pleasantries. Instead, the pair, one an expecting mother and the other a father of three daughters, talked at length about one of Bryant’s greatest joys in life: Being a “girl dad,” as he put it.
“ ‘I would have five more girls if I could,’ ” Duncan recalled Bryant saying. “'I’m a girl dad.'”
The Kobe story Elle Duncan shared on Sportscenter was so heartfelt and heartbreaking, more people need to see it.— Gian Cruz (@gianorama) January 28, 2020
"The only small source of comfort for me, is knowing that he died doing what he loved the most: being a dad. Being a girl dad."@elleduncanESPN #RIPGigi #RIPKobe pic.twitter.com/a2GpkY2Eb4
Bryant’s words and Duncan’s emotional retelling of the conversation quickly went viral, racking up millions of views as of early Wednesday. The clip appeared to especially strike a chord with fathers who also have daughters, prompting them to launch a trending social media movement: sharing photos of themselves with their children along with the hashtag “#girldad.”
The hashtag has since been used hundreds of thousands of times across Twitter and Instagram by celebrities, sports figures and others eager to express their appreciation and love for their daughters.
“Of all the Kobe videos, tributes, etc. the past couple days, this one hits different,” one person tweeted. “Having a daughter has changed the way I look at the world. Love being a #girldad every day.”
Bryant’s devotion to his daughters — he and his wife, Vanessa, added a fourth last year — was no secret. In fact, as The Washington Post’s Kent Babb wrote, the girls were one of the few subjects Bryant was always willing and eager to talk about.
As Duncan tells it, this same passion was on display when she met Bryant for the first time.
“He immediately commented on my rather large, eight-month pregnant belly,” Duncan said Monday on “SportsCenter.” “ ‘How are you? How close are you? What are you having?’ ”
Duncan told the longtime Lakers star that she was having a girl.
“He high-fived me, ‘Girls are the best,’ ” she said.
Then, Duncan said she asked Bryant for any advice on raising girls, and he told her, “Just be grateful that you’ve been given that gift because girls are amazing.”
But with three daughters to worry about, did Bryant want any more children?
“He said that his wife, Vanessa, really wanted to try again for a boy, but was sort of jokingly concerned that it would be another girl,” Duncan said. “I was like, ‘Four girls, are you joking? What would you think? How would you feel?’ ”
Without hesitation, Bryant responded that he would happily continue to grow his family with daughters.
Duncan became emotional when she remembered Bryant talking about his daughters, fighting tears as she recounted him praising Gianna, who had taken up basketball just like her father.
“He said that middle one was a monster,” Duncan said. “'She’s a beast. She’s better than I was at her age. She’s got it.'”
Bryant and Gianna, a talented athlete with dreams to play for the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team, were en route to a youth tournament in northern Los Angeles when their helicopter crashed Sunday morning. Some of Gianna’s teammates, their parents and others were also on board.
Gigi, as she was affectionately nicknamed, has been described as “a little Kobe” and was often pictured with her father watching basketball games. In one video, which has circulated widely on social media, Bryant appeared to be breaking down the game to Gigi while they sat courtside last month at a Brooklyn Nets game.
“When I reflect on this tragedy, and that half an hour I spent with Kobe Bryant two years ago, I suppose that the only small source of comfort for me is knowing that he died doing what he loved the most,” Duncan said Monday. “Being a dad. Being a girl dad.”
One clip of the ESPN segment shared on Twitter has since racked up more than 33 million views as fans continue to grieve in the aftermath of the crash. Duncan’s anecdote was especially difficult for parents, namely fathers with daughters.
Comedian Mike Birbiglia called the clip “devastating,” describing himself as “another proud #girldad.”
“This video had me in tears,” tweeted Trey Hardee, a two-time world champion decathlete and Olympic silver medalist. “Being a girl dad has been the best part of my short life.”
Soon, the #girldad hashtag started spreading across social media, with former MLB star Alex Rodriguez, Grammy Award-winning musician Timbaland and actress Gabrielle Union, among others, hopping on the trend.
Union, who is married to retired NBA great Dwyane Wade and the mother of a 1-year-old daughter, posted a lengthy message on Instagram about how she, like Gigi, is “the middle girl who has always had a different relationship with my dad.”
“My dad was a man built for sons but ended up with daughters,” Union wrote, describing how she and her father bonded over sports. “My dad begrudgingly was a #GirlsDad but over the years evolved into the man that would proudly say he’s now an unabashed #GirlsDad and proud, curious #GirlsGrandpa.”
The actress wasn’t the only daughter to pay tribute to her father Tuesday.
The proliferation of the hashtag even prompted a response from Duncan, who tweeted Tuesday that she was “so moved by the outpouring of support behind my story about Kobe,” adding, “so for all those proud fathers who still have their girls to love on can you flood my timeline with pics of you and your flock.”
Twitter users obliged.