Kobe Bryant, Wayne Ellington
ESNY Graphics, Getty Images

For the first time since Kobe Bryant’s tragic passing, Wayne Ellington discussed his relationship with Bryant.

Danny Small

TARRYTOWN, NY—When New York Knicks shooting guard Wayne Ellington was experiencing unthinkable tragedy, Kobe Bryant was there for him. Ellington’s father was murdered in 2016 and he cites Kobe as one of the people who helped him through that dark chapter in his life. They were teammates on the Los Angeles Lakers at the time.

“He accepted me with open arms,” Ellington said when asked how much Bryant meant to him. “During that time when I was with the Lakers, obviously a tragedy happened to me. My father was killed and he was one of the main guys that was in constant contact with me, making sure I was OK.

“So, to answer that question, he meant a whole lot to me.”

Bryant’s days at Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia are the stuff of legends. Ellington was a Philly kid who idolized Bryant growing up. Playing with Bryant on the Lakers had to have been a dream come true for him.

Ellington later expanded on how Kobe helped him through his own personal tragedy. Bryant’s advice? Start playing basketball again.

“One thing he always talked to me about was using the game of basketball as a safe haven,” Ellington recalled to reporters. “Using that to get away from all the outside noise and drama that I had going on. 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 were actually what brought me back to the court at that time.”

The Lakers are holding a memorial service for Bryant at Staples Center on Monday. The NBA community is still processing the devastating tragedy, but Ellington couldn’t help but smile when he spoke about Kobe after Saturday’s practice.

“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.”

Monday’s memorial service should serve as more of a celebration according to Ellington. Bryant should be remembered for all the many great things he brought to this world.

Yes, we will all remember his on-court heroics like the 81-point game, or his two Finals MVPs, or his 60-point farewell performance. But stories like Ellington’s are the hidden gems that show the kind of impact Kobe made on the people around him.

RJ Barrett’s Rising Stars reaction

Rookie RJ Barrett was one of the standouts from last week’s Rising Stars Game. He and his former Duke teammate, Zion Williamson, electrified the crowd with high-flying dunks. During his first All-Star weekend appearance, Barrett was in awe of the moment at times, but he still showed out with 27 points, six rebounds, five assists, and three steals.

“I had a lot of fun. I was there kind of just taking it in. I felt like I was spectating,” Barrett said. “There was so much going on and I was an honor to be a part of it.”

The conversation eventually shifted towards Zion. Barrett is convinced that his friend isn’t firing on all cylinders yet. He still feels like he needs to find his rhythm and play more games before he’s back to full strength.

News & Notes

  • Elfrid Payton didn’t practice after missing Friday’s game with a sore right ankle. Mitchell Robinson (sprained left ankle) didn’t practice either, but Wayne Ellington was back as a limited participant while he works his way back from a strained right ankle. Ellington is confident that he will play on Monday against the Houston Rockets.
  • The Knicks are embarking on a three-game road trip with games against the Houston Rockets, Charlotte Hornets, and Philadelphia 76ers. Although New York has yet to play Houston, they are winless in five tries against Charlotte and Philadelphia.
NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.