LOS ANGELES -- As Andre Ingram checked into his first NBA game late in the first quarter, Houston Rockets star Chris Paul walked over with a quick message.
Paul, like many others, was in awe of Ingram's inspirational story, which went viral Monday. After spending a decade in the G League, Ingram was called up by the Los Angeles Lakers for the remainder of the season.
"I told him I heard about his story and that grind is unbelievable," said Paul, who, like Ingram, is 32. "I told him 'much respect.' Ten years grinding in the G League, and to finally get an opportunity and to play like that, that is pretty special."
If Ingram's NBA debut ended right there, it would have been more than enough for him. After a decade of traveling the country by bus and plane, staying in affordable hotels in small cities while having to tutor youngsters in math on the side just to keep his NBA dream alive, Ingram finally played in an NBA game at age 32.
Ingram couldn't have imagined this kind of NBA debut, even in his wildest dreams.
"It was once in a lifetime," said Ingram, who was still in awe after the game.
Ingram, a 6-3 guard who holds the all-time G League record for most 3-pointers made, drilled his first four shots Tuesday night, including three from behind the 3-point arc, and finished with 19 points and three blocks in the Lakers' 105-99 loss to the Houston Rockets. He finished 6-for-8 from the field, including 4-for-5 on 3-pointers. And he sent the Staples Center crowd into a frenzy with each shot made, even being serenaded with "MVP" chants with the actual MVP front-runner, Rockets guard James Harden, on the same floor.
"Everyone was like, 'Man, when you get it, just let it go,'" Ingram said. "Everyone was like that. All the players, all the coaches.
"From the team warm-ups, the atmosphere was electric. You could feel something in there. MVP chants [while at the free throw line], that's just crazy. Like I said [to myself], 'Make the free throw, make the free throw, make the free throw.'"
Ingram's debut almost felt historic, especially when he started off hot. His 19 points were the most by a Laker in his first career game since Nick Van Exel dropped 23 in 1993. Among Laker debuts since the franchise moved to Los Angeles, Ingram's performance is overshadowed only by those of Magic Johnson (26 points in 1979), Van Exel and Jerry West (20 points in 1960), according to Elias Sports Bureau. Johnson and West are immortalized with statues outside Staples Center.
And as for players making their NBA debut after the All-Star break, Ingram's 19 points were the most in a debut in the past 50 seasons, second to Danny Finn's 28 points scored in 1953.
Lakers teammate Isaiah Thomas and Brooklyn Nets guard Jeremy Lin -- who might be the poster child for players who've emerged from the NBA's minor league and made an unforgettable NBA debut -- were among several NBA players who took note of Ingram's "impressive" night.
Andre Ingram!! 10 years in the DLeague, gets a call-up, 11 points in first 6 min in the NBA! Anyone whose chased their hoop dreams can appreciate this...too good— Jeremy Lin (@JLin7) April 11, 2018
S/O to Andre Ingram... That was inspirational my brotha! Keep it going. God's got you!— Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) April 11, 2018
"It's been a joy," said Ingram, whose wife and kids were on hand to watch his long-awaited night. "Ten years in the D League, but it wasn't like 10 hateful years or years I didn't enjoy. I enjoyed my time in the league and all of my teammates, and I heard from every one of them."
Ingram's dream night ended with a trip to the ESPN studio across the street from Staples Center for one more interview. From the G League to the Lakers to SportsCenter.
And that was just his first game. Ingram has to somehow come up with an encore in the Lakers' season finale against the LA Clippers on Wednesday.
"Of course there were times of, 'I'm not sure if this day is going to happen or not,'" Ingram said of doubts that often crept in during his grind. "But so thankful it did."