Photo: Mark J. Terrill (AP Photo)

It took Andre Ingram 10 years and 384 games in the minors and overseas—in Orem, Utah; El Segundo, California; Perth, Australia; back to El Segundo—never making more than $30,000 a year, and working as a math tutor to make ends meet. Last night, finally, after all of that, in a game that didn’t matter yet ended up mattering very much to him and to anyone with a heart, Andre Ingram played in an NBA game. And he fired away.

“Everyone was like, ‘Man, when you get it, just let it go,’” Ingram said.

Ingram, a 32-year-old 6-foot-3 guard, scored 19 points while shooting 6-of-8 from the field, including 4-of-5 on threes. He didn’t miss a shot until more than halfway through the fourth. And “the only [two] he missed,” Lakers coach Luke Walton observed, “he got fouled on.”

Forget his age for a second. This was the fourth highest scoring NBA debut for any Laker, ever. It was the highest scoring post-All-Star break debut in the entire NBA since 1953.

And just listen to the crowd every time Ingram put up a shot—and listen to it when he drained it down. In between were “M-V-P” chants. This was for my money the most exhilarating night of the NBA season. It’s certainly the best story.

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Ingram considered leaving basketball when he went undrafted out of American University back in 2007; he knows he could have found a job with his physics degree. He said he again considered leaving the sport when his first daughter, Maliyah, was born. Maliyah is now 6 years old, old enough to sit in the stands for her dad’s NBA debut and cheer her head off, along with a sellout crowd. And some similarly in-awe longtime NBAers.

“I was just sitting back watching the game as a fan,” Lakers center Brook Lopez said. “I’m like, ‘Wow, this is the stuff dreams are made of.’”

Ingram is the all-time D-League three-point leader, which is a function of longevity, yes, but dude can shoot. (Even with that funky shot.) He’s a two-time D-League three-point contest champion. Luke Walton made sure everybody knew that his reason for calling up Ingram wasn’t just for the feel-good story.

“I was clear about the fact that this wasn’t just doing the nice thing,” Walton said. “We were bringing him up because we thought he could help us when we have bodies down, and he can shoot the ball. It was for us just as much as it was for him, and I think tonight he showed the basketball world what kind of shooter he is. … For being in the bright lights, he was pretty good tonight and it was a lot of fun to watch.”

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“Once in a lifetime,” Ingram called it, which doesn’t even do it justice because it implies that every lifetime gets something like this. Ingram related how he walked into the Lakers offices on Monday expecting just a normal season exit interview. He said he realized something was up when Walton and Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka were there.

After breaking the good news, the Laker braintrust insisted Ingram call his wife and daughters from right there in the room. “I don’t know what she said, all I heard was screaming,” Ingram admitted.

“They probably let out what I truly wanted to let out.”

When Ingram finally checked into the game, the Rockets’ Chris Paul—same age, wildly different career paths, but both leading to this court at this moment—wanted to come over to say hi.

“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.’”

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And then the buckets started falling. And for what was already going to be the highlight of Ingram’s professional career no matter how many shots he made, he just happened to be the league’s hottest shooter on this night.

If there was anyone left that hadn’t been won over, Ingram did so with this utterly charming postgame interview.

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Ingram will play again in tonight’s season finale, against the Clippers so it’ll feel like another home game. And if the Lakers don’t start him—hell, if they don’t feed him the rock like they did Kobe in his final game—I’ll be disappointed.

But the beauty of last night is that no matter what happens, it happened. It can’t be taken away. Andre Ingram is an NBA player.

“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.”