Ingram's 15 minutes of fame are over. His sense of purpose remains

Andre Ingram walks into a Georgetown restaurant with his wife, Marilee. He smiles. He is anonymous again. He keeps smiling. He no longer wears his April fame, from when he ended the NBA season as the ultimate underdog fairytale. On this May afternoon, he looks most comfortable in a T-shirt and track pants.

"Each day, the recognition, it kind of goes down a little bit more, a little bit more," Ingram says.

He is home now, where the Andre Ingram Story is much more intimate. He isn't merely the remarkable basketball lifer who toiled in the NBA developmental league for 10 years before getting a late-season shot with the Los Angeles Lakers and turning it into a moment worthy of Hollywood. In his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, he's a friend and family member who swells with pride when people tell him, "Man, we felt like it was us out there doing that." And when he took a trip to D.C. last week, he disappeared into nostalgia, thinking back to how well American University prepared him in hoops and life and reveling in rediscovering the city as an adult.

"I always look back at my time and American, and the only regret is that I didn't see more of places like I'm doing now," Ingram said. "Just traveling in D.C. today, these places were five minutes from me my whole career, and I didn't see none of them, you know? It was basketball. It was school. It was basketball. It was school. I'll always regret that part of it, but I'm thankful for what it prepared me for."

It prepared him to get more from life than fleeting fame. So here is the 32-year-old Ingram, on a Thursday a month after he scored 19 points against Houston in his long-awaited NBA debut, ready to talk about what's next. And here is his unremarkable answer: He doesn't know. We may never see him make another 3-pointer on an NBA court, but he learned long ago not to define victory so narrowly. 

What now? More of the same. More grinding. More following that feeling that he is on the right path. For Ingram, this has been a spiritual journey more than a dream with an absolute destination in mind. He would like to stick in the NBA and finally earn millions. But he needs something greater, something intangible.

"What I hope people take from the story isn't just that he keeps going, keeps going," Ingram said. "It's, well, what kept him going? It's not like you just go blindly for 10 years. You can be fooled, and you can be going after the wrong thing and keep going after it. So the story is not just about, 'Keep going.' It's about, 'What are you going for?' 

"For me, this was a dream, of course, to play in the NBA, but it was also something I was led to do. I was led to play basketball. Like, I'm supposed to be playing basketball. I know that. This road I've taken has shown me that. That's what the 'Keep going' is about with me. When those times come - no 'if' - when those times come where it's not going anywhere, and you're ready to do something else, you're ready to let go, I just believe there will be something to pull you back in. That's how you know. Every time I got to that jump-off-the-cliff point, something pulled me back in. That's the part that gets generalized, and then people think, 'Just keep going, and dreams come true.' No, that's not it."

Ingram has had many moments when he thought about quitting. The most recent and profound came about 18 months ago. Tired of being a developmental project, he left the NBA's G League and signed a contract to play in Australia. He was going to make good money. He joined a good organization. But he was so miserable that he left after two games.

"I had to go to the coaches and say, 'Listen this is not for me. I'm miserable. I'm depressed,'" Ingram said. "It was hard to explain. They were like, 'Why are you leaving?' I could only say, 'My spirit's wrong. There's no peace in me.' That was one of the hardest things, man."

He returned home and tried to answer the same questions from others. Ingram had left for Australia saying, "Man, I'm just done with the G-League." He had lost in the league finals and played poorly in the deciding game. After eight years trying to get called up, Ingram didn't know his purpose. Then he went to Australia, flopped and realized, "The place I was done with, the place that I hated then, I need it. It's where I'm supposed to be."

Ingram returned to the South Bay Lakers and played 10 games during the 2016-17 season. Finally, after another season, after playing 384 games and hoping for a call-up, he was invited to the big stage. He played the Los Angeles Lakers' final two games, following that 19-point performance in Houston with five points and six assists against the Los Angeles Clippers the next night. If Ingram had enjoyed his time in Australia, he would have been making a name for himself Down Under and not receiving the NBA promotion of his dreams. Maybe that's why his spirit was wrong.

Currently, Ingram is working out, preparing to audition again in the summer league. The Lakers still own his rights; he is a restricted free agent. He'll be competing to earn an NBA contract this summer. If he doesn't, he is expected to return to the G League. 

He signed with WME, and the agency will help him turn his story into a book and, possibly, a movie or television program. Ingram continues to work with his longtime business manager and former American teammate, Romone Penny, of Pursuit Sports Group. Ingram will visit Washington again June 1 to be featured in the Pursuit "EndGame" speaker series, which will be held at 7 p.m. at the Watergate Hotel. The next day, he will hold a basketball clinic at Georgetown Day High School.

Ingram can accept it if he ends up being widely remembered as "that unknown guy who did an amazing thing that one time." But to him, his basketball career has been more than that. He has lived his passion. He hasn't cheated the game; Ingram is lauded for his work ethic. Wherever he plays, he's in the right place. He can feel it.

As the NBA playoffs move toward crowning a champion, Ingram will be in the gym for several hours a day, still going, still dreaming, still trusting in the unknown. There is peace in him, even if the fame vanishes.

"My focus, my clarity, is in my direction," Ingram said. "I know what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm going to do it."

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