dEDGE Post Scriptum
Houdini. Jekyl & Hyde. Or simply put, L.O. Lamar Odom, the enigmatic 6’10” combo-forward for the Los Angeles Lakers has had his share of disappearances since coming to L.A. from the Miami Heat as part of the Shaq trade. One day his stock is soaring with no end in sight, and as quickly as he has ascended, he goes off the radar for a stretch of games that leave Lakers fans concerned, bewildered and oftentimes angry. How could a player with such diverse talent register a total of 8 points over three games? Yet in a similar span of games he averages 18.5 points, 17 rebounds and 3 assists per contest. That is what Lakers fans have come to love, and hate with L.O. His penchant for being a team player can be assessed to a fault. But that is also what makes Lamar so special as a player. He will sacrifice scoring in favor of rebounding, or playing defense, or by being the best damn teammate there is. Lamar’s defensive prowess goes unnoticed in the box scores. He is the one pinching the ball-handler, he is the weak side help, and he is the shadow on the double-team, effectively blocking any potential escape lane so that speedsters such as Trevor Ariza can easily pick off any errant passes. He can lead the fastbreak coast-to-coast, put up blocked shots against any big in the league, out-rebound most post players, and score at will with his difficult to defend left hand. Except no one ever knows which Lamar will show up.
Odom’s baggage preceded his entrance into the league in 1990 as the 4th overall pick and the first selection of the L.A. Clippers. Lamar was anointed the second coming of Magic Johnson, and these were expectations that he could never fully live up to. He was a high school phenom and colleges across the country lined up to convince him to come to their school. He chose UNLV but never played a game for them. Lamar was accused of accepting money from boosters, and following an academic scandal, was forced to leave school. In the process, UNLV coach Bill Bayno was fired and the school was placed on probation. Odom, sat out the year and later enrolled at the University of Rhode Island, led by the former coach of UCLA and equally controversial, Jim Harrick. Harrick himself, was no stranger to scandal. He was accused of lying on a recruiting expense report and was promptly fired, after having led the Bruins to the 1995 NCAA title. That the two had somehow come together was ironic in itself. Odom had a successful year at URI, averaging 17.6 points per game. Odom applied for the NBA draft after one season with Rhode Island. And, controversy continued to follow Harrick as more scandals regarding academic fraud arose at Rhode Island as well as his next stop, Georgia University.
Lamar admittedly, suffered from the bright lights and distractions in Los Angeles. He was suspended for violation of the league’s drug policy, was seen as a trouble-maker, and became known for not wanting to put in the time to get better. When his contract expired, he was not offered a new contract by the Clippers, but instead was shown the exit. Odom signed with Miami as a free agent and came under the tutelage of former Lakers coach, Pat Riley. Odom flourished in Miami, posting 17 points, 9.7 rebounds and 4 assists per game. Teaming with rookie Dwyane Wade, the Heat beat the New Orleans Hornets 4-3 in the first round of the playoffs. They lost in the 2nd round, 4-2, to the Indiana Pacers and talk of the up-and-coming Heat had Miami abuzz with expectations for the coming season. That excitement was short-lived for Odom. In the offseason, he, along with Caron Butler and Brian Grant were sent packing, in exchange for Shaquille O’Neal, fresh off his disenchantment tour with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Lamar Odom grew up under the guidance of his grandmother. His father was a heroin addict and his mother died of cancer when he was 12 years old. That trouble seemed to follow Odom was a harsh reality difficult to face. Odom’s adjustment period in tandem with Kobe Bryant was initially awkward at best. Both found it difficult playing alongside one another, often getting in each other’s way. And as before, Lamar slowly faded away. But as that initial season progressed, and also the following season with Phil Jackson reuniting with the team, Lamar began to find his groove. He now found open slots that he could slip through, punishing the other team for double teaming Kobe. The Lakers made the playoffs that year but lost in seven games to the Phoenix Suns after taking a 3-1 lead. The biggest adjustment for Lamar came in the offseason of 2006 with the death of his infant son, Jayden, the innocent victim of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Even with a heavy heart, expectations continued to rise as the Lakers became Western Conference champions behind the emergence of Andrew Bynum and the acquisition of Pau Gasol. Throughout it all, L.O. continued to put up steady numbers, posting 14.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game before the Lakers lost to Boston in the Finals. Lamar was zinged by the media for being MIA in the series. And when Phil decided to bring him off the bench this season, Lamar’s averages plummeted with his reduced minutes. But what has always been the case throughout his career, L.O. came storming back when Bynum went down again this season. He almost single handedly pushed the Lakers to key victories over Boston and Cleveland culminating in a 6-0 Eastern road trip.
With the Lakers on the verge of making another deep run into the playoffs, there is no player more important than L.O. Lamar brought stability to an unstable and young bench. He became another leader on a roster full of them, and most importantly, he became comfortable in his own skin, no longer wary of who he wasn’t. An active Lamar Odom makes the Los Angeles Lakers much more difficult to defend. When he is aggressively pushing the ball, attacking the rim and drawing the double team, the Lakers are invincible. When he is wrecking havoc on defense, pressuring and steering opposing point guards into ill-advised passes, the Lakers are clicking on all cylinders. And when Lamar Odom is leading the Bench Mob while the regulars are resting on the sidelines, fist-bumping and chest pounding his teammates on, there is no better second unit in the NBA.