Wayne Ellington was too emotional to publicly discuss Kobe Bryant's death in the first few weeks after his former Lakers teammate, along with his daughter and seven others, died in a fiery helicopter crash on January 28.
After some time to mourn and think, the experienced Knicks guard smiled as he told stories about Bryant on Saturday two days before the memorial service scheduled for Monday in Los Angeles. The Knicks will play in Houston that night, but Ellington believes the emotional gathering at Staples Center will and should serve as a celebration of Bryant's life and 20-year career as one of the best-known players in the NBA.
"I think that should be it. People should be able to celebrate him … and all the amazing things he did in life. Not just basketball but in life," said Ellington, of one season (2014-15 ) played with Bryant at the Lakers after training in Tarrytown on Saturday. "You can see all over the world how many people he has touched so positively. The impact he has had on the world is incredible. You can't once say that the basketball community is literally the world. It has left incredible traces. "
This includes an undeniable personal influence on Ellington, whose father, Wayne Ellington Sr., was murdered in Philadelphia in November 2014. Like Bryant, Ellington comes from Pennsylvania and grew up with the 18-time All-Star and the five-time All-Star NBA champion.
"Kobe meant a lot to me before I even had the chance to meet him," said Ellington. "I came from the same area when I was growing up and watched how he became who he was. He was my idol. I grew up trying to imitate Kobe, steal his movements, and be like Kobe.
“When I finally had the opportunity to be with him, learn from him and watch him closely, it was incredible for me. He accepted me with open arms during that time when I was with the Lakers, and obviously … a tragedy happened to me when my father was killed. [Bryant] was one of the main actors who was only in constant contact with me and made sure that I was fine. … It meant a lot to me.
"I had all eyes on Kobe. As I said, as a child I tried to be Kobe. "
Ellington, an 11-year-old NBA veteran, has had no contact with Bryant's wife Vanessa or other family members since the death of his former teammate, but said he would “do anything to be there for his family, if only I could might because of the way he was there for me. “Ellington admitted that he was surprised by the depth of advice and support Bryant offered him after his father was shot more than five years ago.
"Of course, a lot of people came forward at first, but I was surprised that he was one of the guys who constantly beat me up and checked me, gave me advice and talked about how to deal with such a tragedy." Said Ellington. “One thing he always talked to me about was using the basketball game as a safe haven and escaping all the outside noise and trauma that I went into.
“It really impressed me and stayed with me. I was in a dark place when this happened to me and my family. He and his conversations actually took me to court at the time. It all hit me pretty hard that day when I got the news about him just because he already had a very special place in my life for me, but after and after those interactions with him, he was top of my list , "
Ellington, who hadn't lost to Indiana on Friday while straining his right ankle, had previously posted a tribute to Instagram shortly after Bryant's death.
"Just because I remember him now, for all the stories and the good times and the things I learned from him," said Ellington. "It is difficult at this time, of course. They are trying to understand why. You are kind of incredulous. Now it is more." OK, some time has passed and I remember Kobe for all the amazing, great things he did . "