Kobe Bryant helped Knicks’ Wayne Ellington cope with dad’s murder

Kobe Bryant helped Knicks’ Wayne Ellington cope with dad’s murder

Wayne Ellington was too emotional to publicly discuss Kobe Bryant’s death for the first few weeks after his former Lakers teammate died, alongside his daughter and seven others, in a fiery helicopter crash Jan. 28.

After time to mourn and reflect, the veteran Knicks guard smiled while recounting stories about Bryant on Saturday, two days ahead of the memorial service scheduled for Monday in Los Angeles. The Knicks will be playing at 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 NBA’s most iconic players.

“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, who played with Bryant for one season (2014-15) with the Lakers, said after practice Saturday in Tarrytown. “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.”

That includes an unquestionable personal impact on Ellington, whose father, Wayne Ellington Sr., was murdered in Philadelphia in November 2014. Ellington, like Bryant, hails from Pennsylvania, and he grew up idolizing the 18-time All-Star and five-time NBA champion.

“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.

“I was all eyes on Kobe. As a kid, like I said, I tried to be Kobe.”

Ellington, an 11-year NBA veteran, has not been in contact with Bryant’s wife Vanessa or other family members since his former teammate’s death but said he’d “do anything to be able to be there for anything for his family if I could just because of the way he was there for me.” Ellington admitted he was surprised by the depth of counseling and support Bryant offered him after his father was shot and killed more than five years ago.

“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.”

Ellington, who didn’t play in Friday’s loss to Indiana while nursing a strained right ankle, previously only had posted a tribute on Instagram shortly after Bryant’s death.

“Just because now I’m remembering him for all the stories and the good times and the things I learned from him,” Ellington said. “Obviously at that time, it’s hard. You’re trying to understand why. You’re kind of in disbelief. Now, it’s more ‘OK, some time has passed, and I’m remembering Kobe for all the amazing, great things he’s done.’ ”

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