Think about all of the fans you see at games, the fans commenting on social media and the fans waiting outside of arenas, hotels and airports hoping to have an interaction with their favorite player. Most become a photo from a distance, some become an autograph and a few others become a small conversation.
Rarely will you find an interaction that becomes a close friendship with a life-changing outcome, like the one between Kings shooting guard Garrett Temple and his biggest fan, Andi Rodriguez.
“She’s been my fan from the get-go,” Temple said. “She was there for me during my basketball career when I was getting cut or things of that nature—just as much as I was there for her through her life experiences.”
It all started on Oct. 3, 2009, during the annual Rockets Red Rally, the team’s open practice and fun, interactive day for the fans, which featured a dance-off among the rookies. The Rockets’ top rookies that season were Temple, David Andersen, Chase Budinger and Jermaine Taylor. And Temple took home the crown with his creative dance to the longtime popular hip-hop song, “Tootsee Roll.”
Little did Temple know, but that left a huge impression on Rodriguez, a Houston resident and Rockets fan who was sitting in the stands at the Toyota Center. Rodriguez, seven months younger than the 23-year-old Temple at the time, had displayed her own enthusiasm that day dressing in all red and doing different cheers for the Rockets. That was for her audition for the Red Rowdies, and she was selected as one of the 50 team fanatics that would attend every home game in section 114 (which she did until 2013). So Temple’s spirit stuck with her during his dance routine.
“Oh my god,” Rodriguez said, excitedly, reminiscing about Temple’s routine. “He was so into it, he had some really good moves, too. He had like a smug look on his face, like he already knew he was going to win. It was so cute. I just remember, thinking, Who is he?
Rodriguez later looked Temple up online to learn more about him. She was drawn to his background of how his father, Collis, was LSU’s first African-American basketball player (Temple also went there), and how he managed through threats because of his race. Reading more about him, she also admired how close he was with his parents.
That was something that Rodriguez didn’t have, as her parents, Diana and Guadalupe, had fought all of the time and eventually divorced in 2003. Her father’s support was only financially—through his own oil equipment company—and her mother was depressed. Rodriguez also suffered from the clinical disorder. She struggled from mostly living alone in her teenage years with her father at work, and her three older sisters—Micki, now 34, Ana, 37, and Tori, 39—all having moved out and drifted apart from her.
Not only did her parents not emphasize education, but also depression affected Rodriguez to drop out of high school in 2002 at 15 years old. Many days she didn’t even get out of bed, and she started smoking, drinking excessively and cutting herself all over her body. One time, she cut the word “hate” below her knee.
“It was a pain that I could control,” she said. “It was just, like, ‘I’m doing this to myself.’ I felt so much pain on the inside, I felt so much hurt. And when I would bleed, it was like a visual, I could actually see it, it made it real to me. And maybe I just wanted to see if I was real. I had so much anger towards my parents. I hated I grew up that way. It was really rough.”
While Rodriguez worked for her father in her 20s, she continued inflicting pain on herself in the years to come. There were even days when she thought about not living anymore, and she never got the help she needed. “I really needed a friend,” she said.
Unexpectedly, that help came from Temple, who inspired her to turn her whole life around starting three years ago. And through their connection that began in 2009, which developed into a friendship in 2012, Rodriguez also assisted Temple through his many ups and downs in his basketball career: 10-day contracts with six NBA teams, stints with three D-League teams and one season overseas—all before his first guaranteed contract in 2013 with the Wizards.
This is the incredible story of Garrett Temple and Andi Rodriguez.
A Unique Friendship Formed
While Temple took part in the Rockets’ training camp as an undrafted player in Oct. 2009, he was waived that month. Then in November, he was acquired by the D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
His departure from the Rockets had an effect on Rodriguez who wanted to express her feelings to Temple. Using her Twitter account @AndiOnTheReal, which she started that year to tweet Rockets players—and still has it to this day—she wrote to Temple for the first time. She doesn’t remember exactly what she tweeted, but the meaning of her message was, “I was sad that he had to go and I wanted him to stay.”
After a few more tweets to Temple, a few weeks later he finally responded: he was appreciative of her support. While Rodriguez doesn’t have his first tweet to her saved, she’s archived dozens of message exchanges through the years.
Temple began to tweet back to her about once a week, unlike other Rockets players, responding at times when she said, “Good game!” or asked, “How was the movie?” Not only was Rodriguez fixated by his passion for film—she saw Inception in 2010 because of him—but also his motivational quotes, intelligent observations and interest in current events.
She wasn’t looking for a role model, but found one in Temple.
“I always felt like it just happened,” she said. “I was just being myself, he was just being himself. And we just had a really great connection and we fed off each other’s energy. He made me want to be as smart as him and keep up with the news. I just thought he was such a cool person and I wanted to be like him. I told him that.”
Temple had started his Twitter account @GTemp14 to mostly stay in touch with friends who were playing overseas. Because he wasn’t highly-touted coming out of college, he didn’t have a big social media following and was glad to tweet any fan who contacted him. But he didn’t hear from many of them. What caught his attention about Rodriguez was her “unwavering support.”
“It was unexpected,” he said. “I was, like, ‘Wow.’ I’m thinking, What did I do to get this attention? I was just happy as a rookie.”
Then in Feb. 2010, during one of his two 10-day contracts with the Rockets, Rodriguez had her first up-close encounter with him at the players’ tunnel in the Toyota Center. This was around the time when they started communicating more through Twitter Direct Messages.
“I was, like, ‘Hey, Temple,’ and I waved at him,” she said, noting that he didn’t recognize her yet in person. “And he looked at me and he had a huge smile on his face, and he waved back at me. That really made a huge impression.”
A month later in March 2010, during one of his two 10-day contracts with the Kings, she brought her own sign for him to the team’s road game at the Toyota Center, which said, “G Temp Is The Future.” Ironically, playing in Houston was his first game after getting waived by the Rockets. By that time, Temple knew who she was—their Twitter conversations had continued over film, food and basketball—and he smiled at her in the stands.
“People were tapping me, like, ‘G, you’ve got a super fan in the stands.’ I’m, like, ‘Yeah, I see,'” he said. “Those type of things really stick with you when fans go out of their way, especially when they’re a die-hard fan on the other team. I’m not a guy that everybody knew about, so she saw something in me and I really appreciated her for that.”
A year later in March 2011, Rodriguez had her first in-person interaction with Temple, which was outside of the Four Seasons hotel in Houston, where he was staying at the time with the Bobcats. Her car had problems that day, but she risked them to make the drive to see Temple. When she arrived, she was the only fan there.
“I had bought an 8×10 photo of him on eBay, and he signed the photo for me before he got on the bus. And he gave me a hug. I was so excited,” she said. “Once the game was over, my car wouldn’t start and had to get it towed. But I was on a cloud. I got my hug, I got my autograph. This was before we really developed a friendship. It was more of a player-fan connection.”
Getting Candid and Making Change
Temple and Rodriguez started to cement a deeper connection in the summer of 2011, when he went abroad to play in Italy and had a tough time there. He missed his family and being in the states, and his team was losing, which led to tweets expressing frustration. Rodriguez picked up on his mood and provided encouragement, continuously tweeting him things like, “Just keep going. You’re amazing. I believe in you.”
“At times, I would vent in terms of I would send her a message and just explain to her what was going on,” he said. “She was telling me to stay positive and just letting me know that you’re not forgotten over here in America, you still have fans here. Talking to her helped. She was definitely a support system.”
As they grew closer and began talking daily through Twitter, Instagram and Kik, Rodriguez opened up to Temple about her longtime depression for the first time in early 2012. In April of that year, she experienced one of her lowest moments: she went with the Red Rowdies to a Rockets’ road game in New Orleans, and she got so drunk that she passed out and was drooling on a bench in town. Her friends saw her in that condition, and she felt completely embarrassed. She knew she really needed to change.
“I keep to myself a lot, but I just felt like he was somebody I could open up to, and he received it well,” she said. “He made me feel like I matter. He made me feel like a person with valid feelings. He respected me. I felt really alone, I isolated myself, so he was the friend that I really needed to just kind of get myself out of that depression that I was in. I think by motivating him in a way I was motivating myself.”
“I realized it got real when she told me that she was cutting herself,” he said. “To be honest, I didn’t expect it to get to that point, but it did. And I wasn’t going to say, ‘OK, we can’t talk about this stuff,’ because she’s talking about that. She didn’t have anybody else to talk to you about that, and it seemed like she needed just a word of advice every now and then. My whole thing was just staying positive no matter what your situation is.”
Temple remembers thinking that Rodriguez likely had thoughts about ending her life, but he didn’t sense she was in any danger to herself. That’s because every time they talked, she sounded more and more positive to him. And he was right; her mindset started to change for the better in 2012.
That year was also the first time that Rodriguez realized what was at the backbone of his basketball career: his huge faith in God. He told her, “There’s nothing I fear. My life is in God’s hands.”
To highlight that philosophy, Temple sent her his favorite passages in the Bible from Romans 12 and Psalm 119:9. That influenced her to read the Bible, pray daily and send him scriptures that she liked through the Bible app YouVersion. “I wanted to do everything that Garrett did,” she said. He also introduced her to his college friend, David Augustine Jr., who became a Christian rapper named Dee-1 spreading messages of positivity. She attended a few of his shows and he even invited her on stage.
“Garrett and I have both talked about this, and we both agree that we feel like it was God that brought us together,” she said. “We were meant to be in each other’s lives.”
Temple’s strong ties to his faith kept him level-headed through his different stops in the U.S. and abroad, focused on finding a longer-term roster spot. And he finally did three and a half years after going undrafted in 2009. On Christmas Day in 2012, he signed for the rest of the season with the Wizards, where he played for four years as a key bench spark and helped the team reach the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2014 and ’15.
“When he got signed by the Wizards, it was such a big deal and I had told him, ‘I’m so proud of you, Garrett,'” she said. “And he’s, like, ‘It’s like I said, God will make a way.’ And I think it was that moment that I realized how huge his faith has been through everything. His faith was the reason why he kept going all those years. His faith was the reason why he treated me the way he did.”
Rodriguez’s biggest life-changing moment with Temple came on Dec. 21, 2012, a few days before the Wizards called and when he was with the D-League’s Reno Bighorns. She drove to his game in Austin, and afterwards they had an in-depth chat in person for the first time.
“I was upset that day because the Wizards brought me up for a workout, and then the coach said, ‘We’re not going to do anything.’ I was ready to get called up,” he said. “Her coming to Austin was a game-changer for me and made me realize I’m still in a great place. [Four days later], the Wizards ended up signing me.”
“He gave me a hug and he talked to me like we’d been friends all our lives, like we grew up together,” she said. “And we took a picture and then we got serious for a minute. I was, like, ‘Thank you so much for everything.’ And he reached out his hands, held my hands and looked me in my eyes and said, ‘Keep it up.’ That was very huge. That was the moment that I knew that he genuinely cared about me as a friend and it made him so happy. He enjoyed being my inspiration.”
That motivated Rodriguez to really make a difference in her life. And 2013 became the year of big change, including for Temple, who signed his longest NBA contract that summer (one year with the Wizards).
First, Rodriguez stopped smoking, cutting herself and drinking excessively. Then in early 2013, she joined Houston’s Lakewood Church, and in March she got baptized. Later that summer, she enrolled in Lone Star College—her first time in an academic environment in 11 years.
“When she told me she started going back to school, that definitely made my day,” he said. “She said something, like, ‘You continue to inspire me everyday.'”
Temple said it hadn’t “really sunk in” that he had made such a big impression on Rodriguez until they reconnected in Feb. 2014 in Houston. That was the same day she met his family—who live about five hours away in his hometown of Baton Rouge, La.—during halftime of the Rockets-Wizards game. In the stands, she was holding her own sign for him, “Young Thollo Is The Future Of 2morrow” (a play off of his college nickname, with “Thollo” from his middle name Bartholomew).
Earlier at the Four Seasons hotel, when Rodriguez walked into the room with Temple there, it was a very moving moment for both of them. He called it “surreal.”
“She gave me a big hug and she was squeezing tight. And she was just so emotional,” he said. “We sat down and we talked, and that’s when I realized how big of an impact I had made. She lost a lot of weight, she began working out and she was just doing positive things.”
In Rodriguez’s first English class in June 2014, she received a 100 on her first college essay—a personal narrative about how Temple made a big impact on her. Currently, with one more semester left before she earns her Associate of Arts degree with a focus on speech communication, she has dreams of becoming a journalist and motivational speaker.
She now looks at all of her scars from cutting herself, and sees a positive in them. They serve as a reminder to her that there are other people suffering from emotional pain, and they need someone like Temple in their life.
“I didn’t have the confidence that I needed, I didn’t feel like I had the support that I needed, I didn’t have my faith in God back then,” said Rodriguez, who plans to continue her Bachelor’s education at the University of Houston. “But becoming friends with Garrett, I started feeling more equipped like I could do something with myself. It was scary being out of school for so long. I’m a honors student now. I have 3.5 GPA. I get As and Bs. I didn’t know that I could do that.”
These days, Temple and Rodriguez communicate daily mostly on Snapchat as any two close friends would. She sends him her college essays for feedback and he provides job advice, like the time she quit this past summer at Chili’s Grill & Bar and he recommended to always have a second position lined up. She now works part-time at Walgreens.
In person, they always meet in a lounge area of the Four Seasons hotel in Houston when he’s in town, like last week when he was with the Kings. Sometimes she arrives with a birthday or Christmas poster-board card for him, customized with playing images of him and memorable messages exchanged between the two of them.
About a week away from turning 30 on Dec. 31, Rodriguez said she’s in a “more stable place” in her life mentally, and has even strengthened the relationships with her sisters. However, it’s still not the same with her parents. Temple has encouraged her to talk to them, but it’s only had a bad effect on her.
He’s also aided her family’s recent financial hardship. After she and her sisters were laid off from her father’s company in August 2015, they’ve been behind with their rent and bills. So Temple, along with Dee-1, made a donation to their GoFundMe account.
“I cannot even imagine my life without him,” she said, starting to cry. “He’s been a light in my life when I felt like I was in a dark place. He keeps me motivated to keep chasing my dreams.”
Reflecting on when he first tweeted her a little more than seven years ago, he just did what he thought was right: responding to a fan. And she appreciated him when most fans didn’t.
Together, their lives took on a new meaning in more ways than either could ever imagine.
“Not many things are stronger than loyalty,” he said. “There will never be another Andi.”