10 years in the G League: an oral history of Andre Ingram’s call-up to the Lakers
Reliving Andre Ingram’s Lakers debut with friends, family and coaches
Editor's note: An oral history is a direct retelling of a story through the voices of the people who lived through the event. This collection comes predominantly from recent interviews that The Eagle conducted with Ingram and his family, teammates and coaches. Some of the quotes were collected from other outlets and have been linked in this piece. This story is published on the third anniversary of his Lakers debut.
There were plenty of times Andre Ingram wanted to quit.
The then-32-year-old former American University guard had spent over a decade in the NBA G League, a feeder system for professional teams to develop hopeful NBA prospects. For 10 years, on sub-$30,000 contracts, Ingram came back looking to earn an NBA roster spot.
On April 10, 2018, Ingram got that chance.
With an extra spot on the roster, the Los Angeles Lakers called him up for the final two games of the season, the first of which was a nationally-televised bout against the Houston Rockets. His 19-point performance gave the Staples Center an energy it hadn’t felt since Kobe Bryant’s final game in 2016. Ingram shattered the national media’s expectations. The people closest to Ingram felt this coming.
“I’ve been around a lot of players,” said Jeff Jones, Ingram’s former coach at AU. “They don’t make a whole lot of Andre Ingrams.”
Who is Andre Ingram?
Ingram started his basketball career at American University, playing all four years and finishing as one of the school’s all-time leading scorers. From there, he knew he wanted his next stop to be the NBA. The Utah Flash, the now-defunct D-League affiliate of the Utah Jazz, took Ingram in the seventh round of the 2007 D-League draft, where he played until 2011 before joining the Los Angeles D-Fenders (now South Bay Lakers).
Ingram is a walking superlative: a G League savant; a role-playing purist; a self-disciplined, two-way talent; and crucially, one of the most reliable 3-point shooters to ever walk the Earth. Ingram’s accolades precede him.
- All-time leader in games played
- All-time leader in 3-pointers made
- Career 45 percent 3-point shooter
- Third-leading scorer all-time
- Most offensive and defensive win shares among active players
He’s also a part-time math tutor and the commissioner of his family’s fantasy football league, still logging every statistic by hand two decades after the league started. He’s a family man, as you’ll find out in this story, and someone with an infectious sense of spirituality. The Eagle interviewed almost a dozen people for this piece. Not a single one had something bad to say about Ingram.
On April 9, the South Bay Lakers called Ingram in for his yearly exit interview.
“You know, when I get to the [South Bay Lakers] stadium ... I've been through 10 different exit interviews before, and it was already looking different. They’re talking with me, and all of a sudden Magic [Johnson] and [Lakers Vice President] Rob [Pelinka] come in. At that point, I'm like ‘okay, something's different here.’”
Nick Mazzella (South Bay Lakers GM)
“Our season just ended. We were in the Western Conference Finals and had lost, and the LA Lakers are low on bodies. We told Andre, ‘We had to move the exit meeting up to today … because the LA Lakers want to call you up.’”
“Our general manager Nick Mazzella said those words. ... Man, I didn’t even know how to react in front of them. [Laughing] Inside I’m elated! At the same time, you want to show them that you expect to be called up. But when I told my mom and my wife, they let out the emotion that I really had.”
Josh Magette (former G League teammate)
“[The Lakers] released that video of Dre and everyone became very emotional. For them to be able to capture that moment was very special. It’s something that still comes across my timeline, and I’ll still go back and watch it every single time.”
Luke Walton (former Lakers head coach)
“I was clear about the fact that this wasn’t just doing the nice thing. We were bringing him up because we thought he could help us when we have bodies down, and he can shoot the ball.”
“I remember they said I needed to call to get my wife’s true reaction. I’m going to be honest, I still have no idea what she said. I just heard screaming.”
Marilee Ingram (Ingram’s wife)
“He was like, ‘Well they called me up to play with the Lakers.’ I was just screaming and yelling! I came running into the office to Nana and Papa. They thought something was seriously wrong with me. I’m in tears, meanwhile, Papa is in the middle of doing taxes for a customer.”
Lucious Ingram (Ingram’s father)
“I was doing taxes for a client! [Laughing] At that point, I think they just got up and left because we just all started going crazy.”
“Of course, the game was the next day, so my immediate thought went to basketball mode. Our season in South Bay had just ended, and I hadn’t touched a basketball in like four days. Because, let's be honest, I’m not ready tomorrow if we’re playing Houston. They won 65 games that year.”
Magic Johnson (former Lakers part-owner, superstar)
“Just come on tomorrow and get ready. [Laughing] I want that 48 percent [3-point shooting].”
Family feelings at gametime
Ingram entered Staples Center ready to go to work. In warmups, everyone got the sense that this game was a little different.
“There was an electricity that I felt. Entering the gym, seeing the crowd and the court and the lights … you know, it's like something shoots through your feet and to your body that just jolts you, in an exciting type of way. Staples is a special place for me. My brother and I were huge Kobe fans.”
Lou Ingram (Ingram’s brother)
“We always talk before his games, no matter what. We’re always laughing, and this game was no different. He calls 90 minutes before the game, and right away we’re laughing. He wasn’t like, ‘Oh my gosh, can you believe it? That was an extremely good sign.”
“In warmups, it became more apparent to me that a lot of people knew my story. Because at first, to be totally honest with you, I didn't know how many people knew or cared about a 32-year-old that was about to make his NBA debut. It was a late game anyway, like 10:30 at night. You know the Lakers, obviously, we didn't have the greatest season that year, ... so I'm like, I don't know how many people know about this.”
“In the warmups, he looked really good. I could just see it in him.”
“We’re sitting about 20 rows up with all the fans. When Dre came out, the girls were like, ‘We see daddy!’ and the fans around us started suspecting things.”
“Before the game, the other guys on the Lakers roster were like, ‘man, you need to shoot the lights out. I don’t care where you are, just shoot it.’ Of course, you’re not gonna do that. You know like, get the ball at half court and just launch it [laughing].”
The game starts with Ingram on the bench. Reggie Miller and Kevin Harlan are on the call. At this point, the Lakers are 35-46 and out of the playoffs. The Rockets, on the other hand, are en route to a 65-win season and have locked up the top spot in the Western Conference.
“It was a TNT game. They started right out saying, ‘This is a meaningless game ... except for this one young man.’ They started showing his picture and everything. At this point, my wife and I are all bawled up.”
“At the end of the first quarter, I’m doing my stretches and Kyle Kuzma was on the side and he was like, ‘Are you nervous?’ I was like ‘No, I think I’m alright.’ Like 30 seconds after that, Luke Walton calls me to come into the game."
Travis Wear (G League and Lakers teammate)
“When he was checking into the game, you could see the stands had already kind of caught on to his story. So everyone was standing up and cheering. I was on the court already, and I saw him checking into the game and I’m like ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m going to be able to share in this moment with Dre.’”
Ingram checks in
Ingram is called to enter the game for Gary Payton II. Up at the scorers' table, Chris Paul checks in alongside Ingram. The two share a moment before stepping on to the court.
“Chris Paul had actually tried to get a hold of me during the pre-game. He had tried to send one of the Rockets personnel to get a hold of me so he could talk to me, but our warmup times didn't match up.”
“I remember watching this Chris Paul interaction that Andre had. I had talked with him in the past about how much he liked and respected Chris Paul, so I know that had to be super cool for him to be able to be around those guys and get recognized.”
Chris Paul (former Rockets guard)
“I told him ‘I heard about his story, and that grind is unbelievable.’ I mean, 10 years grinding in the G League, to finally get an opportunity and to play like that, it’s pretty special.”
“We shared a moment there. That was extremely cool. Anybody who knows me knows that, as far as point guards go, I just admire Chris Paul’s game so much.”
“Dre and I are huge fans of Chris Paul. I mean, this is the president of the NBA Players Association saying to Dre, ‘your story inspired me.’”
“A lot of people didn’t know just how good of a player he is. They see “G League vet” and think it’s just a guy riding it out in the G League. They don’t realize how great Andre is, everything he can do.”
“I tell people this all the time, the dream for me was just to be a part of a game. I enjoyed being a part of the basketball environment: setting screens, talking on defense, communicating, running up and down the court — that's what I was looking for. I got that in the first three or four possessions. I didn’t shoot a shot at all, I got a rebound, kicked it up the court, talked on defense, fought through a couple of screens [and] played some defense. That was it for me. That was basketball. That was the part that I had been seeking and wanting for that entire time.”
“Dre is just a team-first guy. Always gonna do every little thing he needs to do to help the team win. Just a guy that’s so selfless on the court, and that’s hard to find, especially in the G League with guys trying to get called up. Guys are focused on personal success, not so focused on team success. Dre was the complete opposite.”
Alex Caruso (G League and Lakers teammate)
“He probably is the most respected person in the G League.”
“Of course, he didn’t play much until the end of the first quarter. So I’m sitting here thinking to myself, ‘Well, shoot, maybe they’ll let him get in at cleanup time.’”
“Right as he went into the game for the first time, one of the girls [Maliyah] told me, ‘Mom I have to go to the bathroom.’ I pleaded with her to wait, but she insisted that we find the bathroom. So I was watching the screen in the hallway outside. I told her so many times to hurry.”
The second quarter begins with the Rockets up 23-16. About a minute into the second quarter, the Lakers whip it into the corner for Travis Wear. Paul, who was guarding Ingram, leaves to go deny the shot, allowing Ingram to run back and spot up from the 3-pointer. Rockets forward Luc Mbah a Moute, who was initially on Wear, scrambles back in a last-ditch attempt to contest Ingram’s shot.
“In the course of the offense, they're looking to swing the ball, and either hit him top of the key or opposite side, it just depends where he lands. So I could see where he was going, and Dre has two or three or different ways to shoot based on the height of the defender. He’s always been preparing [for] that, ‘I’m 6’3, 6’4, the guy on me is 6’7.’ So the shot is crazy because of its arc, but that’s one of three ways he shoots a 3."
Jeff Jones (Ingram’s coach at American University)
“He wasn’t a great shooter in college. He was streaky, and he’s still got a very unusual release.”
“When he shot it, it seemed like, ‘Wow, it’s a rainbow, halfcourt shot.’ But no! That’s just how he shoots over a taller defender.”
“I’m still waiting outside the bathroom, and all of a sudden I hear this roar and look at the screen … and he made it!”
“And I was waiting for Maliyah in the bathroom!”
“So he bombed it and, of course, I went berserk. I don’t even remember going from the carpet to the couch, but I know I got on the couch.”
“Yep, I swung the ball to him and he knocked down that three. [Laughing] I was just like, ‘Here we go, this is the Dre I know.’ He was doing it in the G League his entire career. Now he gets to actually do it on the biggest stage.”
“Obviously, you try to tell your mind that you’re not too worried about the first shot. But when the first shot goes in, it just feels good. There’s no other way to say it. [Laughing]. It felt great.”
“Dre and I had grown pretty close over the last couple of seasons prior. So to be able to assist on his first NBA bucket, it was unbelievable.”
“In that moment, you're really just hoping and praying you don't wake up. I tell my wife all the time, I’ve had dreams where I’m just destroying the NBA … and then I wake up. [Laughing] It’s like the worst feeling ever.”
Eva Ingram (Ingram’s mother)
“That first shot, if he hadn’t made another shot we would’ve been so, so proud of him. He didn’t even have to make the other shots! But when he did — oh my goodness. You would've thought there were about 20 people in that room with my husband and me.”
Ingram keeps cooking
There was plenty of basketball left in this one. Ingram played all 12 minutes in the second quarter, scoring 11 points, blocking a shot and keeping the outmatched Lakers within single-digits at halftime. The second shot, which came from Channing Frye, made it a one-possession game.
“The crowd was just stacking up with every shot. I mean, that Channing Frye shot, I didn’t even catch it clean. [Laughing] I was just like, ‘well, I’m open enough.’ The crowd was kind of going crazy, I was like, ‘I guess this one’s going up.’”
Romone Penny (former teammate at American University, current business manager)
“He’s always had a very quick release. I knew that he could get his shot off, anywhere, any time.”
Brook Lopez (former Lakers center)
“I was just sitting back, watching the game as a fan. To play the way he played, that’s the stuff that dreams are made of. Just an inspirational story. He belonged out there.”
James Harden (former Rockets superstar)
“He came out with confidence. He felt like he deserved to be here, made some big shots against us, and got into a rhythm.”
Ingram is a very religious and family-oriented player, and frequently touched on the subject when recalling the game. His family and coaches did as well. As long as Ingram kept hitting shots, the energy in and out Staples kept building.
“Dre’s family, they’re like a second family for me. I transferred from Florida State, and as a transfer student, it’s hard when everyone already has their groups. Andre was one of the few players who welcomed me with open arms. Andre is also very spiritual. He led Bible classes in our locker room at American.”
“Oh yeah, anybody who has seen my story knows that it’s not all me doing this. I’m a huge believer in Christ, obviously. Everything comes from that. You can’t see my story and not see Christ in it.”
“Most players pre-game, they’re listening to music, trying to get themselves ready to play. Andre would read the Bible. There was one time I remember just saying to him, ‘Andre, say a prayer for me.” He smiled back at me and said, ‘I do that every day, coach.’”
“As the game went on … Boy did the telephone blow up! Every time he scored that phone rang and rang and rang. [Laughing] Even my clients started calling me up, saying, ‘Is that your son on the TV? You’re still going to do my taxes, right?’”
“I was literally texting Dre while he was playing in the game! Every shot, I was like, ‘When you read this message we’re so excited for you!’”
“Still, after you run up and down the court a couple of times, it’s just the same game that it always is.”
The Capela shot
Several minutes later, the Lakers are moving in transition, and Brook Lopez slings a skip pass to Ingram. Rockets center Clint Capela is the only player near Ingram and steps up to guard what he believes is Ingram’s third 3-point attempt. Ingram immediately puts the ball on the ground, pulls up in the mid-range, and sinks the and-one over Capela.
“Throughout our lives, he always wanted that 3-point shot. I had the midrange, so I said, ‘I’m gonna teach him the dribble-dribble pull-up.’ So obviously, I’m most proud of that shot. Two hard dribbles left and pull-up, you know, Capela’s not expecting that! That’s Kawhi Leonard all day. That’s when I was like, ‘Oh, we’re really playing ball now.’”
“After the Capela one, wheels are just falling off, you’re just rolling. The crowd was impossible to not hear, feel, see. I got to see my teammates go crazy too. I felt every bit of the crowd, my teammates, and even something made me feel the people at home in Richmond, too.”
“At that point, it was too much, man. By the end of the game, you would’ve thought I played. [Laughing] I didn’t have anything left.”
“He makes hustle plays, he’s running the fast break and sharing the ball. Even though he’s hot, he’s sharing the ball. He wanted to win.”
“Andre is a hard worker. I remember back in 2016 when we made it all the way to the G League Finals against Sioux Falls. We were absolutely decimated by injuries. We had like eight guys left, Andre, Vander Blue and I played all 48 minutes of Game 2. Vander and I were dead tired ... Meanwhile, Andre looked like he could go for another 48 right after the game. That’s just a testament to how he takes care of his body.”
“I also remember, they were interviewing Marilee in the stands, and he hit a three in the middle of the interview. She just goes bananas.”
“Almost half that team I had played with in the G League. At one point, we had an entire G League lineup out there.”
“Yeah, it was so fun, it was Dre, Gary Payton II, Caruso, myself and Zubac. And we had all been in the G League at one point together and when we saw each other all out in the game in the same lineup on the NBA court, it was definitely a special moment. You know, you grind in the G League, you’re not playing in the best conditions sometimes, and you’re there to get to the NBA. So to be with that group on the NBA court at one time was really special.”
“I don’t think there’s a bigger respect than the respect of your peers. Everybody saw Chris Paul, not everyone saw Gerald Green and the others on the Houston team coming up during a free throw, showing their respect.”
“It was just so weird to hear everybody say his name and the MVP chants. It was so surreal to me and it choked me up. [Voice cracking] I mean even now, it still makes me emotional.”
“Obviously, we know he can shoot, but there’s a fine line between being aggressive and taking bad shots. I don’t think he took a single bad shot all night. I thought we [could’ve done] a better job of getting him the ball more.”
“Honestly, yeah, I feel like if Dre would have got the ball even more I think they would’ve won. Not to take away from the other players but he was on fire!”
Ingram finished with 19 points, 3 rebounds, 3 blocks, one assist and one steal on 6-8 shooting, including 4-5 from beyond the 3-point line. After the game, head coach Luke Walton gave him the game ball. By the time the season wrapped up, Ingram had run the interview gamut, including appearances on Inside the NBA, Good Morning America and Area 21, where he was interviewed by one of his idols, Kevin Garnett.
“I have known guys that played a couple of years in the G League and they’re like, ‘Man, I can’t do this anymore’ and they went overseas and they are making good money, but they gave up on the dream because it wasn’t worth the fight.”
Julius Randle (former Lakers forward)
“That’s a testament to hard work, never giving up, and just sticking with it.”
“James Harden’s interview after the game, his matter-of-fact answer gave us vindication that Dre belonged. ‘Hats off to him, but that’s what we do.’ He’s just talking to the analysts, he wasn’t like wow this is such a good story, he had evaluated Dre like an NBA player would evaluate a guy who got hot. For a superstar, an MVP to just look at him like that, that belonging. It meant a lot.”
“Very rarely will you find someone that will spend 10 years in the G League trying to reach their dream. But he’s never given up. Now he’s had to do some other things to make odds meet. You’ve got to respect that in a young man.”
“That’s the part of the story people don’t hear. No one plays in the G League more than three or so years! I'm there for year seven, year eight. At a point, you have to make the decision to say, ‘Alright, I’m gonna give up on this dream and do something else.’ Every time I got to that point, I just couldn’t. Whether it was someone else’s inspiring story — it didn’t even have to be sports. Jon Hamm, ‘Mad Men’ dude, I saw his story, he was like, ‘if Mad Men doesn’t go well, I’m out,’ but he stuck with it. Every time I got to that point, something pulled me right back in it.”
“All of the sacrifice and perseverance that we went through. It was just all worth it at that moment.”