Only a year after recovering from a potentially serious spinal condition that prevented him from playing the entire 2008-09 season, former Georgia Tech guard D'Andre Bell faced another life-threatening test of courage of a different sort.
A must-read story in Thursday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution details Bell's escape from his girlfriend's third-floor apartment last Friday after her downtown Atlanta complex erupted in flames. He had just finished unloading all his clothes, memorabilia and video games at her place because they were going to share a storage locker together, but all he had time to remove before climbing out a window was a Bible, his spiral-bound journal, keys, cellphone and wallet.
Bell didn't realize there was a fire until honking and screams from outside drew him to the balcony, where he saw smoke and flames emanating from beneath him to the right. After opening the front door and seeing more thick smoke and flames, he shut it, briefly considered whether to attempt to salvage any of his girlfriend's valuables and then thought better of it as the gravity of the situation hit him.
He went to her bedroom and opened the window, which was being pelted by rocks from bystanders below. He broke off the screen, tossed his things over and lowered himself over the ledge. Dangling from three stories up, he thought about dropping to a lower window or jumping into pricker bushes below.
"This girl is yelling, 'The worst that you can do is break your leg; it's better than burning up,'" Bell said.
Amid all the voices telling him to jump, he heard another voice telling him to wait. An off-duty worker, Bell is not sure who or how, had a ladder on his truck nearby. Bell pulled himself back up through the window and waited.
As smoke seeped under the bedroom door from the living room, Bell lowered himself down the ladder the stranger provided him. He was safely on the ground by the time fire trucks finally arrived.
The full Journal-Constitution story is definitely worth a read, but to sum it up, Bell is relieved to be alive even if he had to wear the same gray Georgia Tech T-shirt and dark shorts four straight days after the fire. He's set up a blog that includes a place where well-wishers can donate money to help him replace some of what he lost.
Bell's girlfriend will move back home with her parents in Decatur and he's leaving for Las Vegas to train in hopes of catching on with a professional team next season.
NBA scouts may have some doubts about aspects of his game, but it's safe to say nobody will ever question his courage or his character.