Both are 28 years old, just 10 days apart, one inch apart in height, former high school teammates, lived only 10.5 miles from each other in college (Duke and North Carolina) and best friends since their sophomore year at Episcopal Academy.
The only main difference in the NBA is that ex-Tar Heel Wayne Ellington and ex-Dukie Gerald Henderson have played on separate teams for the past seven years. And on Friday night in Brooklyn, their teams will not only face off for the first time this season, but they’ll also guard each other during the game as they’re both shooting guards.
They also have something else in common: both of their squads—Henderson’s Blazers and Ellington’s Nets—are in developmental seasons. The Blazers have started anew with four players gone from last season’s starting five, and the Nets recently shook up their front office. But each player has been taking on an important role, with Henderson shooting a career-high from three (38.6 percent) as his group’s most seasoned perimeter player, and Ellington is now starting and helped lead a win over the Knicks on Wednesday.
This week, the NBPA caught up with the two of them separately in preparation for their matchup. From sharing their thoughts on friendship to guessing their overall record to scouting each other’s games, while slightly ribbing the other in the process, you’d almost think they’re identical twins.
What does it to mean to face each other on Friday?
Wayne: It’s always fun. It’s our seventh year [in the NBA], so we’ve seen each other quite a bit. I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be a challenge and we’ll talk a little trash to each other. Hopefully we can get the win at home.
Gerald: I haven’t really thought about it. I’ve played him so many times now, man. But I always look forward to playing him, man. It’s fun because we played together in high school for three years, AAU for three years and then college for three years playing against each other. It’s always fun to get to see him and play against him.
I read in a story that said you guys became best friends “the day you met.” That doesn’t just happen. What was so special about the connection?
Wayne: It’s amazing. It’s kind of crazy. We just got the same personality in some sort of way. We’re both serious about basketball, which is rare to find at the age that we met. So we had that in common, and our birthdays are 10 days apart, so that kind of says a lot about it, too. We just clicked.
Gerald: I remember the day he came to visit my high school. He’s just a cool cat. It’s hard not to like Wayne. He’s just down to earth, a real dude, and on top of that, he loves the game. I loved the game, too, I loved to work on my game, I loved to play, and he’s the exact same way. When you’re growing up and you’re a kid and you’ve got somebody that’s on the same path as you, you migrate towards that. So we’re just around each other all the time. Wayne’s easy going and then we have the same interests, so we were destined to be friends.
Gerald, you only beat Wayne once in college. What do you think the overall record is now head to head, including college and the NBA?
Wayne: It actually might be even. I’m going to check up on that. I’m going to bring that up to him at dinner on Thursday. All I know is I was 5-1 against him in college, but it might be even now.
Gerald: Last year we whooped up on him. He was with the Lakers last year. We beat him when he was in Cleveland [in 2013]. I’d say it could be close to even now, man. I think my teams have done better than his in the league, I’d say head to head. It could be close to even. But for sure his team dominated me in college—not him specifically. Make sure we make that clear [laughs].
What kind of trash talking is involved?
Wayne: We always do dinner or get together the night before. We’ll talk a little trash to each other then—just the usual trash talk, nothing too crazy.
Gerald: Neither of our teams have been these great teams, so we do it more in our head-to-head matchups, like, “I cooked you, I gave you 20 or whatever.” We’ll go to dinner Thursday night and we’ll probably talk trash to each other and that will carry on to the game. We try to go at it each other. We play the same position, so we’ll be matched up at some point.
Give me your scouting report on each other.
Wayne: Slasher, wants to get to the rim. He’s got a nice midrange game. You can step to him on the three-point line. He doesn’t want to shoot the three. And I guess you can bring him out on the floor. He’s a little slow-footed. Make sure you put that in the story [laughs].
Gerald: He’s always been a good shooter, but he’s turned himself into a really really good shooter. He’s a good three-pointer, so run him off the line. Make him finish at the rim. He’s getting old, so he lost some of his athleticism. Make sure you put that definitely in the story [laughs]. And then on the other side, I’m posting him up all game. He’s too little. He doesn’t weigh enough for me.
This season has posed more challenges for Wayne. He lost his father in early November, the Nets have struggled and earlier this week they made front-office changes. How was your close friendship soothed the situation?
Wayne: He’s just showing the support to let me know he’s there for anything I need. It’s just so crazy that it happened. I was playing against him, so he was there for me when I got the news [that my father passed away], which is crazy. He’s just been supportive in any way I needed him, whether it’s texting each other or talking on the phone or just being there for me. I know he had a game the day of the funeral. He came in early and then left and made it to his game. That just shows everything what we’re about.
Gerald: I’m always there for him, man. I did have a time where my grandparents actually passed away in the same summer in college. Being a friend sometimes isn’t doing anything spectacular. Sometimes it’s just calling somebody or picking me up, like, “Let’s get some food, man.” That was Wayne. We were both in summer school that year. Those small things help you get through those times. I know that summer in particular I was going through a rough time, which he went through this season.
One thing I always told him is he’s so strong through that period, and he had to be for himself and his family. It’s just like with basketball for him right now. He keeps a level head. I know [his father’s passing] was a tough thing to go through, but you just put your head down and keep going. So he stayed very strong through that time, man. I let him know that. But you’ve got to move on, and I know he plays with his dad on his heart every game.
His dad was a special guy, man—a great guy that everyone that knows him misses, including myself. In high school, everyone’s talking, “Who’s better: Gerald or Wayne?” But his dad has always been my biggest fan. He would take me to all the games. He treated me like his own son, always encouraging me, and my dad would do the same for Wayne. Our dads knew we both were individually talented and we would have good careers.
What do you think is the most unique quality about your friendship?
Wayne: Usually you see guys that are in the league together, but those guys went to prep schools that recruit the best talent, like the Oak Hills and stuff like that. But you never see guys like in our situation, where we went to a small private school where we played in the Inter-Academic League in Philadelphia. You never really catch that, so I feel like it’s definitely special, man, just the bond that we have and living our dreams that we had been talking about since we were 14, 15 years old and met each other.
Gerald: We’ve always had a relationship where it’s an open book no matter what. We always bounce stuff off of each other. It’s tough to see your best friend’s father pass away. I know when it happened, I almost didn’t know what to say to him. It was just a tough thing. I’m always there for him regardless of anything. Our relationship didn’t change. It’s, “What’s up, what you doing?” I ask him that anyway. I’m glad we’ve always had that kind of relationship.
What are your favorite memories together through the years?
Wayne: We’ve got stories for days. You’ve got to understand: we spent some pretty significant years of our lives in terms of growing up as young men, being from high school going into college. That’s where you really find yourself and grow as an individual. These days, we always have great conversations and dinners. There’s nothing specific that we do other than just hang out. We like to joke with each other and catch up, just chill.
Gerald: I have to go back to high school, man, just remembering all the foolishness we used to get into then, going to parties. But me and Wayne have always done things the right way. We’ve never been in trouble. We’ve always had the same kind of interests in mind, like we always wanted to go to the league, so we’re staying out of trouble. We looked out for each other, so most of the time with me and Wayne, we’re probably kicking it. We maybe go out to eat, chill, maybe watch a movie. It’s not too much action.
We’d rather sit there and kick it and see what’s going on with each other, and catch up and go to the gym. That’s what our relationship’s been like, especially when we were younger, because that’s how we started becoming friends. It was basketball and just looking out for each other. You couldn’t separate us back in high school, like I’m not going anywhere without Wayne. Like if we’re going to a party, if we’re going here there, we’re going to an AAU game, we’re going together. Like Friday night, we’re hanging out. And in college, I used to go to Carolina all the time. That’s my buddy for life.