"He decided to
be a grown-up," said commentator Mary Carillo. "He didn't have to do
that. He had all the money and fame. He didn't have to become a great champion,
either. But he did both. Now you really feel there's a soul in that
When you asked them
how and why that occurred, they said, Well, he married a good woman, he had
kids, he grew up. But plenty of athletes do those things. Those answers were
like all those images of Andre: They made you think you knew what happened to
the man when you didn't have a clue.
So you went
You were 50 feet
away, watching him talk to the media after winning easily in the first round at
the 2005 U.S. Open. Years ago, after a victory, he said, I'm as happy as a fag
in a submarine. Years ago he growled at an audience in his home state, Nevada,
for cheering an opponent's shot. Now, asked why he'd felt nervous in a
first-rounder at age 35, he said, Because everyone here took a day out of their
lives to come watch me play. Did he feel badly for his opponent as he destroyed
him? No, he said, you don't cheat anybody out of their experience, whatever it
is. I promise you, it's all part of what makes you who you are down the road.
And if a match is getting blown out one way or the other, you've got to learn
from it and you've got to understand it for what it is. I've been on the other
side of that. I wouldn't want to cheat anybody out of that experience.
You smelled it
there, a whiff of what you were seeking.
So you went
You were 10 feet
away. Andre was showing Robin Williams and members of Earth, Wind & Fire
the academy that he built in the middle of the most destitute neighborhood in
Las Vegas. It's a charter school, mostly poor black kids. He was explaining why
learning levels here had made leaps so striking that the academy's middle
school was the only one among 328 public schools in its county that's received
an "exemplary" rating.
He took us to the
room where Cirque du Soleil performers taught the kids acrobatics. Past the art
class where a French painter who trained with Picasso taught them the use of
color and space. He led us into a kindergarten class where, like a
five-year-old himself, he burst forward so eagerly to tell everyone about the
academy's innovations that he knocked over half of an edifice of blocks that
the class had built, then dropped to his knees in such haste and remorse to
rebuild it that he knocked over the rest.
You followed him
down the gleaming hallways, thinking, Man, he got it, he really got the big
picture, and wondering what the world would be like if a couple of superstars
in each city did this. But his annual fund-raising gala for the school was
scheduled for that weekend, and he was too busy to sit and explain how he got
So you waited
nearly two months ... and went closer.