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How Kobe Bryant Spread the Joy of Being a Girl Dad

How Kobe Bryant Spread the Joy of Being a Girl Dad

Remembering Kobe Bryant’s Journey: E! News Rewind

Kobe Bryant‘s legendary Lakers career was behind him, the stats safely secured for his eventual inclusion in the NBA Hall of Fame, his two numbers retired, his five championship rings under lock and key. All that was squared away.

But he was still coming into his own as a family man when he was killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020.

Compounding the tragedy, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna “Gigi” Bryant was with him, as were two of her youth basketball league teammates, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, Alyssa’s parents John and Keri Altobelli, and Payton’s mom, Sarah Chester. All died, along with assistant coach Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan, and the world—for the most part just going about its business at the time—stopped to mourn.

For years, Kobe had traveled via helicopter the way most people hop into their cars and drive, the superstar athlete turned entrepreneur, author, producer and girls basketball coach not wanting to waste precious time stuck in L.A. traffic. They had been on their way to a tournament at the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, about 82 miles away from the Bryant home in Newport Beach. Gigi’s love of the game and promising talent had served as a bridge back to basketball for Kobe, who retired in 2016.

Within hours after the unbelievable news washed over the Southland, the courtyard outside what was then Staples Center (“the house Kobe Bryant built,” as Alicia Keys put it while hosting the 2020 Grammys hours after the crash) filled with fans wearing their No. 24 and No. 8 jerseys. 

Flowers, candles and other mementos carpeted the ground. For days, buildings were awash in purple and gold lights, murals started to appear all over the city, and bus signs lit up with “R.I.P. Kobe” in between destinations.

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As Kobe’s life was being examined from every angle, there was an ESPN segment that particularly stood out amid all the rest, one that paid tribute to an aspect of Kobe’s life that both highlighted his best qualities and which countless people could actually relate to.

As she recalled meeting Kobe backstage at an event when she was eight months pregnant in 2018, SportsCenter anchor Elle Duncan spoke of how he immediately asked her how far along she was and what was she having. When Duncan told him she was having a girl, he gave her a high five and gushed, “Girls are the best!” She asked if he had any advice, and Kobe told her, “Just be grateful that you’ve been given that gift because girls are amazing.” 

Harry How/Getty Images

Asked if he wanted more children, the father of then only three—Natalia, now 21, Gigi and Bianka, now 7—said that wife Vanessa Bryant was up for trying again. As for what he would do if he became a dad to four girls, Kobe told Duncan, “I would have five more girls if I could. I’m a girl dad.”

He and Vanessa welcomed daughter Capri in June 2019.

With tears welling, Duncan—mom to daughter Evasigned off, saying, “When I reflect on this tragedy and that half an hour that 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—being a dad. Being a girl dad.” 

And with that, #girldad started trending worldwide, dads—and women posting pictures of dads and grandpas—using the hashtag to unite as one proud family, a network of people who may have been grieving but who also were damn proud to be the fathers of daughters, joined by the girls-of-all-ages who loved them for it.

“I’m so proud and lucky to be a #GirlDad,” tweeted Alex Rodriguez, father of Natasha, now 19, and Ella, 15, sharing the SportsCenter clip.

Olympic decathlete Trey Hardee (a father of two daughters and, since October 2020, a son), tweeted, “Being a girl dad has been the best part of my short life. I wish I knew about this part of Kobe. This will be his lasting impression on me. Not the wins, rings, or records. #girldad.”

Elsa/Getty Images

And when Vanessa stoically, inspirationally and heartbreakingly eulogized her husband and daughter at the February 2020 memorial held at Staples Center for Kobe and Gigi, she called him “the MVP of girl dads, or MVD.”

When Kobe’s former teammate Pau Gasol and wife Catherine McDonnell welcomed their first child in September 2020, he immediately joined the club.

“Our little one has finally arrived!! The delivery went really well and we couldn’t be happier!!” he shared on Instagram. “Elisabet Gianna Gasol, a very meaningful name for our super beautiful daughter!! #girldad.”

Or “#Padredeniña” in Spanish.

PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

Now four years since Kobe’s death, that hashtag remains a fixture on social media—so if you’re in the mood to have your heart warmed, a quick scroll through the results of a #girldad search should suffice. The term itself, which Kobe didn’t invent but certainly gave a winning assist to, has simply been cemented in the cultural lexicon.

The day after the Feb. 24, 2020, memorial for Kobe, Duncan said she was happy that her remembrance had led to such a “positive moment” amid all that pain, but naturally she hadn’t expected it to have the impact it did.

“At first, I was very hesitant because I was like, ‘It’s not about me, it’s about Kobe,'” she recalled to People of putting the piece together. “I don’t know Kobe, I met him that one time. I feel like people probably want to hear from people that knew him intimately.” But her producer pointed out that “if Kobe was willing to open up to this complete stranger about his daughters and his love for his daughters, that was probably a great indicator of who he was.”

She also said that Kobe “was the first person to make me feel like [having a girl] was the best thing in the world. He really poured cold water all over this notion or this stereotype that men only feel complete if they have boys.”

Meanwhile, the Ohio woman who actually trademarked the term in 2017 and ran an online business selling apparel that said “GirlDad” was quite startled to see it start trending—especially since she’d already been privy to just how un-open certain people could be toward the celebration of families with all-girl broods.

“We got a lot of negative comments at times,” Hilary Wertin, whose site alldaughters.com also sells “BoyDad” items, told CantonRep.com that year about what motivated her to get into the “GirlDad” business. “It was surprising.”

Referring to the overnight global popularity of the phrase, which resulted in a sudden uptick in orders, her husband Jonas Wertin acknowledged, “We have a strange piece of this national conversation that’s happening.”

Hilary said that she didn’t want to “be one of those people” profiting from tragedy, but would-be customers started requesting Kobe-related gear, so she created a basketball-themed shirt in Lakers colors—and donated the proceeds of its sales to the MambaOnThree Fund, created to benefit the four other families who lost loved ones in the crash.

She also, incidentally, had to start taking steps to reassert her trademark in accordance with the law because of all the merchandise that started popping up to capitalize on the viral moment.

“I didn’t do it to jump on someone else’s bandwagon,” Hilary said of her company. “I did it because I believed that raising all girls was just as important and powerful as a family of all boys.”

While daughters and dads from all walks and stages of life have utilized the term, from gestation (lots of excited soon-to-be #girldads out there) to graduation and inauguration (“As a #girldad it’s great to hear glass shatter today,” tweeted a proud papa in January 2021), it remains especially poignant in the athletic community, where Kobe’s legacy looms large.

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And parents aren’t the only ones who have been appreciating the additional attention being paid to budding female sports stars, as Gigi Bryant was.

Kami Miner, whose father is former NBA player Harold Minertold the Los Angeles Times, “It hurt my entire family when [Kobe] passed away. It was great to see the media focus on how he was as a father and that these athletes are trying to pass on what they learned to their children.”

“Hearing about Kobe and the relationship he had with his daughters,” she continued, “it gave some visibility to girls’ sports and hopefully that trend continues. There’s a lot of girl athletes come of age. They deserve it. They train as hard as the boys.”

Zach Randolph/Instagram

MacKenly Randolph, daughter of two-time NBA All-Star Zach Randolph, was coached by Kobe at the Mamba Sports Academy (since renamed Sports Academy, the “Mamba” retired) and had made the same helicopter trip from Newport to Thousand Oaks with him and Gigi a week before they died. “He basically taught me how to play defense and how to rotate,” the teen told The New York TimesAs a coach, “You would know when he’s mad, or he’s not playing around, but he would never, like, yell at you.”

Zach added, “He loved them girls. He loved my baby. He told me, ‘I love her, man.’ When he told me that, I told him, ‘We’re brothers for life.'”

And he certainly understood where Kobe was coming from. “It’s a great feeling,” Zach, also dad to daughter Maziya as well as three sons, told the Los Angeles Times. “Girl dad, oh man. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Keep reading to see more of Kobe Bryant’s MVP moments as a girl dad:

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Birthdays

“Happy Birthday B.B. I Can’t believe you are 3 already!” Kobe wrote on Instagram back in December 2019. “We love you little mamacita.”

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Pool Time

“My Bianka Bella Bryant (BBB),” Kobe wrote on Instagram back in November 2019.

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Thanksgiving

“Happy Thanksgiving! Thankful for my family!” Kobe wrote via Instagram back in November 2019.

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Halloween

The Bryants dressed up as characters from The Wizard of Oz back in October 2019.

Matt Baron/Shutterstock

Baby On-the-Way

Vanessa showed off her baby bump at the 2019 Baby2Baby Gala in Los Angeles.

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“My Gigi”

“My Gigi,” Kobe wrote on Instagram back in September 2019.

Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

Love & Basketball

The father-daughter duo sat courtside at the the Lakers vs Mavericks game at the Staples Center in 2019.

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Lots of Hugs

“@vanessabryant surprised me by bringing our two little babies B.B and KoKo to my @granity book signing of #legacyandthequeen at @barnesandnoble,” the caption of the September 2019 post read.

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Mother’s Day

“Happy Mother’s Day @vanessabryant we love you and thank you for all that you do for our family,” Kobe wrote on Instagram back in May 2019, about a month before Capri’s birth. “You are the foundation of all that we hold dear. I love you #mybaby #lioness #mamabear #queenmamba.”

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A Father-Daughter Duo

“Had a great trip to @uconnwbb for senior night and the retirement of basketball legend @promise50 with my baby Gigi,” Kobe wrote on Instagram in March 2019. “Thank you Gampel, Thank you Coach Geno and Cd for the warm welcome. Good luck the rest of the way.”

Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

Basketball Buddies

Kobe and Gianna Bryant shared a special moment at a basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Atlanta Hawks.

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Family Fun

Vanessa, Kobe, Natalia and Gianna attended the world premiere of A Wrinkle in Time in Los Angeles back in 2018.

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Smiles in the Sunshine

“Surprise family trip to Cabo for my bday #bryantbunch #40 #queenmamba #mambacitas,” the caption of the 2018 post read.

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Fond Memories

Kobe and his family members attended a women’s basketball game in Los Angeles back in 2017.

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An Unforgettable Moment

Kobe was all smiles as he posed with his family members during his jersey retirement ceremony in 2017. Magic Johnson was also there.

Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

A Dad and His Daughters

Kobe attended the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Sports Awards with Vanessa, Gianna and Natalia in 2016.

Joe Russo/Shutterstock

A Loving Family

Here, the family members were pictured at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

All Smiles

Bryant celebrated his major win with his daughter Gianna by his side.

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Hugs and Kisses

Warming up! The basketball icon got a sweet hug from his daughter ahead of his game at the NBA All-Star Game in 2016.

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A Proud Father

Kobe’s wife and daughters attended his hand and footprint ceremony in Hollywood, California back in 2011.

Paul Hiffmeyer/Disney via Getty Images

A Day at Disney

Kobe, his wife and their daughters celebrated the Lakers’ NBA championship at Disneyland in 2010.

Richard Vogel/AP/Shutterstock

A Winning Team

The basketball star celebrated a Lakers victory with Vanessa and the kids at a parade in Los Angeles back in 2009.

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“Daddy’s Little Princesses”

During a 2017 interview with Extra, Kobe referred to his daughters as “Daddy’s little princesses.” Here, he was pictured with Vanessa and Natalia in 2007.

This story was originally published on Tuesday, January 26, 2021 at 12 a.m. PT. 

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