Wayne Ellington understands what it’s like to hide pain and anger with a smile.
Four years ago, just after helping lead the Lakers to their first win of the season, Ellington learned as he was walking to his car that his father had been shot to death back home in Philadelphia. Less than two weeks later, following his father’s funeral, Ellington went back to work, playing basketball for a living.
Sunday, when he and Hassan Whiteside, Rodney McGruder, Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo and coach Erik Spoelstra visited with friends and family members of those slain in Parkland, site of last month’s horrific school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High that left 17 dead, the 30-year-old veteran said the feeling of loss came rushing back to him.
“It hit me personally in a spot where I got pretty emotional at certain points,” Ellington said Monday as the Heat (37-33) was preparing to host the Denver Nuggets (38-32) at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“Just seeing some of the parents and understanding that smile that they’re putting on, there’s a lot of hurt and there’s a lot of maybe anger and there’s a lot of uncertainty — a lot of emotions that they have going on inside of them. I was just glad that we were able to come and put a smile on their faces for a few minutes in that little moment of our day. That felt good to be able to do that.”
Wearing “Parkland Strong” shirts, Ellington and his teammates watched a recreational league championship basketball game, which was coached on one side by the father of Joaquin Oliver, one of the 14 students killed in the massacre. Spoelstra was the honorary coach for the other team.
The Heat then presented a $500,000 donation from Ultimate Software, a team sponsor whose patch is on the Heat’s uniform this season, to the Broward Education Foundation to create scholarships in honor of Oliver and fellow students Luke Hoyer, and Alex Schacter, who also died in the shooting.
Spoelstra said the Oliver and Schacter families have already attended Heat games as special guests. The Hoyer family will be coming to Monday’s game, he said.
“This tragedy hit the whole South Florida community,” Spoelstra said. “When we mentioned a few weeks ago that our hearts are really with all the families, the kids, the teachers, the administration up in Parkland, we just want to let them know we’re here for them. Our best way to show that is just to be there not only in spirit, but physically. Because it’s not going away and the emotions are not going away.”
Dwyane Wade was the first Heat player to visit Parkland. He showed up on campus at Douglas March 7, the day after Miami played a game in Washington.
Wade and his wife, actress Gabrielle Union, donated $200,000 to help youth from his hometown of Chicago to attend the March 24 “March for Our Lives” event in Washington spearheaded by Douglas students. He then helped put together the “Parkland 17” art exhibit in Wynwood even extending the exhibit an extra weekend.
“We are so very inspired by the actions the kids are taking and we want to help those microphones and megaphones get bigger and louder to create change,” Spoelstra said. “But [Sunday] was a very special day because we were able to spend time with the families who lost their sons. You can’t even imagine or relate and we just wanted to be there with Hoyers, Schacters and the Olivers. We just wanted to show them we were there for them — especially as time goes on and the pain doesn’t go away. The more support they can get, we’ll provide that.”
Said Ellington: “It was an unbelievable experience. It was heartfelt. Obviously, just to be around all those kids that went through that traumatic experience and then to be around the families. They showed unbelievable strength. Those families, even being able to be out and go to that league that their kids played in and having the strength to be around it and do it for them and understanding that their kids are there with them even though they’re not there physically. It was tough for me. I held back a lot of tears, for sure. So I can’t imagine how they were feeling. Like I said, they just showed incredible strength.”