The Curious Case Of Lamar Odom

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 Lamar Odom is an anomaly. He’s not normal. He never has been. And just when you thought a season of mediocrity might be the beginning of a quiet, respectful descent towards an unassuming retirement announcement, Lamar suddenly burst back into the headlines after a locker room shouting match with multi-zillionaire (and fellow spotlight magnet) Mark Cuban. Let’s start from the beginning, just to put things into context.

Lamar came up in New York City. His father was a heroin addict and his mother passed away from cancer before he turned 13, leaving him to be raised by his grandmother. The same combination of size and skill that made him an offensive threat throughout his NBA career helped him to be recognized as one of the premiere high school players in the country. He was named national player of the year in 1997, and chose the UNLV Running Rebels as his college ball destination.

Potential shifted quickly to scandal, though, as evidence of shady dealings during his recruitment forced him out of Nevada to the University of Rhode Island. He was forced to sit out a year with eligibility issues before leading the squad to a conference title in his only year of college basketball.

Los Angeles became Lamar’s first professional home in 1999, as the Clippers selected him with the fourth overall pick in the NBA Draft. His impact on the team was immediate. Averages of just under 17 points and 8 rebounds per game were phenomenal, and he was named to the all-rookie first team.

While the Clippers never made the jump from upstarts to contenders, Lamar was a central piece to a team that was both exciting to watch and legitimately talented. Anybody remember him catching that full court pass in midair at the foul line and then, before landing, tossing it behind his head to Darius Miles for the alleyoop? If not, find it on Youtube. That sums up how much fun those Clippers were to watch.

In 2003, Lamar was signed by the Miami Heat, and played with them for a single season before becoming a key piece in the trade that brought Shaquille O’Neal to Miami from the Lakers. It’s with the Lakers that Lamar, after a couple inconsistent seasons, found his niche.

When he started coming off the bench to provide lethal secondary scoring, he was immediately touted as one of the league’s top sixth-men, and he played the role to perfection. In this manner, he helped the Lakers to consecutive titles, their first since Shaq’s departure.

After several seasons of sunny optimism and success, last year’s playoff annihilation at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks shook the Lakers to their core. We all remember that series: four straight wins by the Mavs, including a 36 point massacre in game four. With Laker Nation speculating on what could possibly have gone wrong, the organization decided to retool during the off-season, making a desperate bid for point guard Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets.

Odom was included in the Lakers package, which was accepted by the Hornets, but not by the NBA, who vetoed the trade. After having their trade rejected by the league, the Lakers quickly shipped Odom off to Dallas, the very team that had embarrassed him on a national stage just seven months earlier.

Which brings us to the recent past. Despite playing fairly regular minutes most of the year, Lamar never managed to find his rhythm in Dallas. As the season progressed, his play continued to decline, culminating in the previously mentioned locker room confrontation with his franchise’s owner. Since the blow up, the Mavericks have informed Odom that he won’t be suiting up again this season. However, rather than buying out his contract and getting his salary off of their payroll, the conventional route taken by team’s eager to rid themselves of troublesome players, the Mavs have decided to continue paying Odom at least until the end of the season, making it impossible for him to go and play for rival teams. So for the time being, Lamar is still a Maverick, despite the fact that he is no longer residing in Dallas.

The amazing thing about this brief recap of Odom’s career is that his time spent on the basketball court is perhaps less interesting than his time spent off it. During his time with the Clippers, for instance, he was punished by the NBA for violating the league’s drug policy. Several years later, he admitted to the use of marijuana; a relatively light offence, but still one which cast a shadow on his persona around the league.

In 2006, Lamar lost his infant son Jayden to SIDS at the tragic age of six months, a loss which wounded him terribly. A couple seasons later, just before his trade to Dallas, he was confronted with the death of a close cousin, and then, the day after the cousin’s funeral, he was involved in a car crash which resulted in the death of a young pedestrian. Combine these recent deaths with the deaths of his grandmother in 2004, and of his mother much earlier in his life, and you can’t help but feel deeply for him as a person, whatever you may think of him as a basketball player.

And then, of course, there was the more widely known story of his 2009 marriage to Khloe Kardashian, an inexplicably famous reality television star. The wedding received a great amount of publicity from an audience not traditionally invested in Lamar’s career, and thrust him onto a national stage under somewhat dubious circumstances.

But has all of this got anything to do with his shouting match in the Mavs locker room? The short answer is yes. Lamar Odom, as I said at the beginning of this article, is not normal. His game isn’t normal. He’s 6 foot 10, can rebound, has that silky point guard handle, and can knock down a three ball with a hand in his face. And at 32 years of age, it’s safe to say that he’s still got enough game to make a difference. So why couldn’t he show up for the Mavs this year?

Soon after his altercation with Cuban, a picture was snapped of him on his way out of town; he’s got the aviator shades on, the thousand dollar headphones, he’s throwing up deuces without any shame at all and, most importantly, he’s rocking a Lakers championship t-shirt. In Dallas. While he’s still a member of the Mavs.

When you look at the past few years of his life, the loss of a son, the consecutive titles, the celebrity wedding, and then more tragic loses, it’s no wonder the man wants to get everything straight, wants to get his head right. I’m not saying that he dragged his feet through his time in Dallas, but I can understand his inability to put his entire heart and soul into those games.

What the man needs right now is stability, support, and a couple big W’s, and for Lamar, that all comes in L.A. He won’t be able to return to the Lakers this year, but expect him to be hanging around Staples Center the moment he’s released from his contract with the Mavericks, itching to put up some jumpers, to get his life settled down, to take a couple easy breaths.

 

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