DALLAS — As his eyes began to flood with tears, Wayne Ellington sat in front of his locker in the visiting locker room Friday night in the American Airlines Center and told reporters something his father had inspired him to do ever since he first picked up a basketball as a child growing up in the outskirts of Philadelphia.
“I will get through it,” Ellington said. “Obviously, it’s a situation where you’ve got to get through it.”
Ellington was alluding to the death of his 57-year-old father November 9 in the Philadelphia. Ellington’s father — also named Wayne — was found in his car with a gunshot wound to the head by an unknown assailant, news that sent shock waves to Ellington and the Lakers organization moments before the team was about to face the Charlotte Hornets.
Ellington, 27, who signed with the Lakers after training camp in September, was granted an indefinite leave of absence, but rejoined the team Thursday, one day after the Lakers’ win at Houston.
Although Ellington participated in a pregame shootaround, Lakers coach Byron Scott told reporters before Friday’s game against Dallas that Ellington likely would not see action.
“He’s okay,” Scott said of Ellington. “I think he’s trying to get back familiar with us and familiar with his surroundings. I think the more he’s with us, the better he’ll be.”
Ellington was informed of his father’s death following the Lakers’ November 9 win over the Hornets at the Staples Center.
So far, no arrests have been reported.
While addressing the media Friday, a mostly teary-eyed Ellington recalled how instrumental his father had been during his basketball career, most notably during his days at the University of North Carolina and when he entered the NBA ranks after leading the Tar Heels to the national championship in 2009.
“You know, this is what he wanted for me,” Ellington said, when asked what memorable lesson his father taught him. “While at Carolina, you know, he was the guy who was always talking about tradition. He said when you go to Carolina, you look up and see all the banners. He was so ecstatic when I signed here before training camp. He was telling me how proud of me he is. He was saying, ‘You’re back in that same Carolina-type situation.’ He was like, ‘I really feel like this is the spot for you.’”
While several Laker players expressed their disappointment after learning of the death of Ellington’s father, the six-year pro said he was especially pleased with the support shown by Scott, the Lakers first-year coach for whom Ellington played during his brief stint with Cleveland last season.
Drafted 28th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009, Ellington also played briefly for Memphis and Dallas.
“Coach Scott has been a great for me,” Ellington said. “He was great for me in Cleveland as well. When I played in Memphis, we had a lot of guys in the rotation. We were deep every night and I wasn’t playing as much. And then when I came to Cleveland and was playing for him, that kind of gave me a boost of energy, that boost of confidence. And that helped me and it was the same thing when I got here. He’s a guy who has tremendous confidence in me and I thrive off that.”
Besides Scott, Ellington said Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant contacted him regularly to show support during his nearly two-week absence from the team. Also, Ellington fielded phone calls from former Grizzly teammates Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph.
“He reached out almost every day,” Ellington said of Bryant. “It was unbelievable as our leader. Obviously, the season didn’t start off the way we liked. But we’re family here and (the Lakers) made me feel like that.”
While Ellington is expected to see action Sunday night when the Lakers host Denver, the Wynnewood, Pennsylvania native said he sensed earlier this week it was time to reunite with his teammates. He said he plans to dedicate the rest of the season to his father by writing his name on his sneakers.
Ellington has appeared in six of the Lakers’ 13 games, averaging 7.8 points and 3.2 rebounds. He scored a season-best 13 points in 25 minutes in an October 9 loss to Phoenix.
“It was just a feeling,” said Ellington, explaining his decision to return to the team. “And in talking to my family, they kind of pushed me as well. They wanted me to get back to doing what I love to do and to take my mind off of it. Being here has been a lot easier for me. So yeah, man, I’m leaving it all out there every single day, every time I step out there on that floor. I’m going to do something special for him.”
Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.