Knicks guard Wayne Ellington needed some time before making his first public comments on the passing of his former teammate Kobe Bryant, but on Saturday he was finally ready to do so.
Ellington, who is from Bryant's hometown of Philadelphia and spent his childhood idolizing the Black Mamba, got to spend one season with him as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2014-2015 season, and reflected on his time playing with the five-time NBA Champion and 18-time All Star.
"Kobe meant a lot to me, even before I got a chance to meet him," Ellington said. "Just coming from the same area growing up and watching him become who he was. He was my idol. I grew up trying to emulate Kobe, trying to steal his moves, trying to be like Kobe."
"When I finally got a chance to be around him, learn from him and watch him closely, it was unbelievable to me. He accepted me with open arms during that time I was with the Lakers, and obviously … tragedy happened to me when my father was killed. [Bryant] was one of the main guys that was just in constant contact with me, making sure I was OK. … He meant a whole lot to me."
When Wayne Ellington played for the Lakers, his father was killed. He said Kobe Bryant helped him get through the tough times:- Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) February 22, 2020
"He was one of the main guys that was in constant contact with me making sure I was ok. He meant a whole lot to me" pic.twitter.com/PCmWyyS2TV
Ellington's father, Wayne Sr., was murdered in Philadelphia in Nov. 2014 while he was with the Lakers. To Ellington's surprise, Bryant was one of the most supportive guys around him during that hard time in his life.
"Obviously there was a ton of people reaching out initially, but I was surprised that he was one of the guys that was consistently hitting me up and checking on me and giving me advice and having conversations about ways to cope with such a tragedy," Ellington said. "One thing he always talked to me about was using the game of basketball as a safe haven, and using that to get away from all the outside noise and all the outside trauma that I had going in."
"That really, really resonated with me and stuck with me. I was in a dark place when that happened to me and my family. He and his conversations are actually what brought me back to the court at that time. So it all just kind of hit me pretty hard on that day when I got the news about him, just because he already held a super-special spot for me in my life, but after that and after those interactions with him, he was like at the top-top of my list."
The Lakers and the city of Los Angeles as a whole will hold a memorial for Bryant and his daughter Gianna, who passed away with her father and seven others in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.
Although it will certainly be an emotional day, Ellington believes people should be more focused on celebrating Bryant's life and 20-year career as one of the best NBA players of all time.
"I think that's what it should be. People should be able to celebrate him … and all the amazing things he's done in life. Not just basketball, but in life," Ellington said. "You can see around the world how many people he touched in such a positive way. The impact that he had on the world is unbelievable. You can't even say the basketball community, it's literally the world. He left an unbelievable mark.
"I was all eyes on Kobe. As a kid, like I said, I tried to be Kobe."