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TV anchor's meeting with Kobe Bryant sent #GirlDads trending

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Dads with daughters inspired by Kobe Bryant's special bond with his 13-year-old Gianna took to social media to celebrate their own in words and photos using the hashtag #GirlDads.

The outpouring on Twitter and Instagram came in part after ESPN anchor Elle Duncan offered a tearful, personal remembrance of a chance meeting with Bryant two years ago while she was pregnant with a girl, and how proud he was of his daughters. Her story spread quickly this week in the aftermath of the helicopter crash that killed the basketball legend, his ball-playing teen and seven others in Calabasas, California.

"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 on air. “Being a dad. Being a girl dad.”

Her retelling Monday was watched by millions by Wednesday, when the hashtags #GirlDads and #GirlDad trended on Twitter. Bryant had three daughters at the time of their backstage, hallway chat in New York. He and his wife, Vanessa, had a fourth daughter last year.

After Duncan's story spread quickly, dads, daughters and girl moms celebrating their guys offered up their appreciation of their own, along with their love for Bryant as tributes to the sports great continued after Sunday's crash. Alex Rodriguez, the father of two girls, was among the sports figures and other celebrities who posted: “I'm so proud and lucky to be a #GirlDad."

Regular dads also joined in, including Ken Heidelberg, 25, a shift supervisor for a Dallas security company.

“How much I love you, words or action will never be enough,” he tweeted along with a video of his 1-year-old soon after she was born. “I look at you and see perfection through my lens!”

In a telephone interview, Heidelberg told The Associated Press his desire for a boy melted away the moment he and his wife hosted a gender reveal gathering on the campus of their alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. She popped a balloon and the color pink erupted, to the joy of the couple and some of their invited sorority and fraternity sisters. Daughter August was born Nov. 15, 2018.

“I cried,” he said. “Now that I have a daughter, I wouldn't know what to do with a boy. I want all girls. Knowing that Kobe died with his daughter, I can't imagine the pain as a parent."

Bryant was a doting dad with his wife, Vanessa. Bryant was fond of talking about his girls and being a girl dad. They were on their way to one of Gianna's basketball games at the time of the crash. Duncan recalled asking Bryant two years ago if he wanted 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,” she said. “I was like, ‘Four girls, are you joking? What would you think? How would you feel?’”

Bryant responded that all girls was just fine with him.

Duncan's ESPN clip has been viewed on Twitter more than 33 million times.

Minnesota Viking Kyle Rudolph was also among the posters to share. He put out a photo of his two young girls, writing that he's “raising 2 #Mambacita’s #GirlDad,” referring to the trademark Bryant filed for Gianna as a play on his own nickname, “The Black Mamba.”

On “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” in 2018, Bryant said Gianna bristled when she heard fans tell him he needed to have a boy to carry on his legacy.

“She’s like, `Oi, I got this,’” he said.

Bryant, a big supporter of the WNBA, had reached out to other girls in basketball. He met Tamika Catchings early on. She played basketball for the University of Tennessee, is a four-time Olympic gold medalist, spent 15 years in the WNBA for the Indiana Fever and is now the Fever's general manager. Bryant and Catchings met her through her dad, Harvey Catchings, who played in the NBA from 1974 until 1985 for the Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers.

The elder Catchings told the AP by telephone from his suburban Houston home that his #GirlDad pride extends to all three of his daughters, including another ball player, Tauja Catchings, an All-American who played in college and overseas and now runs Catch the Stars, Tamika's foundation. He's the proud dad of two sons as well, including ball-loving Kenyon, 20.

“Every Sunday, all of us, Tauja, Tamika and Kenyon and I, would go to the gym and work out together, just work on their game,” said the 68-year-old Catchings. “I loved the opportunity to just spend time with them, talk to them, listen to what they wanted to do when they grew up. Mika wanted to be the first girl to play in the NBA. You never know. Some girl may do it one day.”

Catchings recalled how Tamika was bullied as a young girl. She wore hearing aids and had thick glasses.

“They used to make fun of her at school,” he said. “I used to tell her that she was my perfect child and that she could whatever she wanted to do. She did what Kobe did. She said, `I'm going to compete at a much, much higher level. Because I can. Because I will.'”