Throwback Thursday: Lamar Odom

Lamar Odom was born in South Jamaica, Queens, New York. Being raised by his single mother, Cathy Mercer, Odom was brought up during New York’s crack/cocaine epidemic that ended up getting his father, Joseph Odom. Cathy did everything she could to get Lamar away from that lifestyle, so she brought basketball to him at an early age. Once he put the work in, Odom would become one of the most electric, well-rounded players the game had to offer.

Odom’s game was starting to come together at a young age, fitting his physicality and athleticism skill that he possessed. However, he went through some traumatic situations during his childhood. Mercer passed away from colon cancer when Odom was only 12 years-old and had to move in with his grandmother, Mildred Mercer. Mildred guided a young Odom to focus on his studies and basketball so that he would stay away from the streets. Once Odom got to high school, all the attention came his way on being one of the best basketball players in the nation. He attended Christ the King High School in Queens and Redemption Christian Academy in Troy, New York during his earlier years. Once he was a senior, Odom attended St Thomas Aquinas in New Britain, Connecticut where he was gaining massive praise. The accolades added up his senior year, winning “Player of the Year” with Parade magazine and USA Today’s All-USA first team. During all of that time while playing in high school, Odom got to play AAU league with Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest and Elton Brand. Sonny Vaccaro commented on a young Odom saying he had a “$2 million dollar smile,” and that Adidas executive could see the bright future that would be taking place.

lamar odom high school

Once Odom graduated high school, it was a matter of either going straight to the league or playing in college. He even sat with Kobe about what his future holds and if he should spend some time working on his game before entering the NBA. Odom chose the college route and decided to play for UNLV, a storied college basketball program. However, things went south, as Sports Illustrated wrote an article questioning his ACT scores, as well as revealing an arrest Odom had for soliciting prostitution. UNLV eventually revoked Odom’s scholarship as more information came out that a booster gave him money as well.

Once the dust settled, he transferred to the University of Rhode Island where he would re-unite with his old high school coach Jerry DeGregorio. Odom had to sit out that 1997-1998 and could have cost himself another year because of vanishing before his finals. Luckily two inspirations helped him through his academic struggles: DeGregorio and his grandmother who returned to school in 1980 at age 56 and got her degree. Once Odom figured things out he was eligible to play for the 1998-1999 season for Rhode Island. His freshman year he averaged 17.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists on 48 percent shooting. Odom was the clear leader, and helped Rhode Island win the Atlantic 10 championship for the first time in the team’s history thanks to his buzzer-beating three-point shot vs Temple. By the end of the year, he would earn First Team All-Conference honors and was named the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year. They would enter the NCAA tournament, but lose in the first round vs Charlotte in overtime. That would be Odom’s last time playing for Rhode Island, but he made quite the impression.

lamar odom rhode island

Odom declared for the 1999 NBA draft, even though he considered going back for one more year. His game was NBA ready, and it was unique compared to a lot of big men. He was a 6’10” forward who had the handle of a point guard. Odom wasn’t physically dominating, but his game was well-rounded and that caught the eye of the Los Angeles Clippers, who drafted him fourth overall. This team was consistently a laughing-stock and Odom being there might change that. However, if that was going to happen it would have to be after his rookie year, because they were still terrible. They finished 15-67 in the 1999-2000 season, which was dead last in the league. Odom’s numbers were impressive though, 16.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists while being a solid defender. If the Clippers were going to be any good, they would need more than just Odom.

lamar odom clippers

The 2000-2001 season was the birth of an exciting Clippers team that included Darius Miles, Quentin Richardson and Corey Maggette. This young core put the Clippers on notice as they would put on a highlight real every game. Lots of flashy dunks and exciting moments that even great teams would admire from afar. They didn’t make the playoffs, but improved their record to 31-51 and the improvements were clear as day. Odom lead the team in points, rebounds, steals and blocks and seemed to keep up the leadership role. Playoff aspirations would come the 2001-2002 season as they would acquire Elton Brand, and the young guys would improve yet again. Things seemed to finally look up, but then it didn’t. Odom would be out most of the season with a wrist injury and only played 29 games. The Clippers would lose their last seven of 10 games and would once again miss the playoffs, finishing 39-43. Odom’s numbers went down across the board, and missed an opportunity to lead the team to victory. That would be the last ounce of hope for the Clippers, as the team didn’t play much as a team and looked forward to free-agency.

After finishing the 2002-2003 season 27-55, Odom would look elsewhere to play. It also didn’t help that Donald Sterling was a cheap, racist owner who refused to pay players. So Odom signed with the Miami Heat where he would team up with rookie Dwyane Wade. With Odom, Wade and veteran Eddie Jones there was playoff aspirations there. They would actually make the playoffs that season, finishing the season 42-40 and grabbing the fourth seed. Odom averaged 17.1 points, 9.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists, which was top-three on his team in each category. Finally Odom had a chance to show-case his abilities in the playoffs. They would play the New Orleans Hornets in the first-round, where it go all the way to seven games. The Heat would end up taking that series, where Odom would have a 25 point outing in game-four and was a huge reason to winning game-seven. Odom, along with Caron Butler, would carry the scoring load and he would end up getting four steals in game-seven. Unfortunately they would have to face the experienced Indiana Pacers and would fall in six games. Odom and Wade would be the only two players showing up that series, but the future was bright in Miami with these two.

lamar odom heat

Well, the future could have been bright, until the Heat traded Odom after one season. Where did he go and who did he get traded for you ask? The team he was going to was the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that won three titles in a row while he was on the other Los Angeles team. The problem was the Lakers were sending Shaquille O’ Neal who was one of the biggest reasons to winning those titles. After the falling out between Kobe and Shaq, one of them had to be traded and off Shaq went. Odom is back out West, this time paired-up with Kobe Bryant, someone he grew up with. The problem was the team didn’t really have a direction, or much of a team. It was Kobe, Odom, Butler and not a lot of talent, which made the 2004-2005 season tough to watch. They finished the season 34-48 and would miss the playoffs, which is very unlike the Lakers as of late.

The 2005-2006 season was better in terms of record and who they had leading the team. The Lakers re-hired Phil Jackson and winning came back to the franchise, but there was one problem. Kobe took it upon himself to shoot the ball at a ridiculous rate. Now, when I say a lot, I don’t mean just leading the team in shot attempts by five or something obvious. I’m talking about twice as much as the next highest, who happened to be Odom (27 to 12 shot attempts). However, they would the playoffs but wouldn’t go past the first-round after losing to the Phoenix Suns in seven games. Kobe would be massively criticized for being passive in the second half of game seven, and the Lakers would get blown-out. The 2006-2007 season would be the same exact story, Kobe taking a lot of shots, Odom being the only good player who actually like Kobe and would be knocked out of the first-round yet again by the Suns. Their record was worse, the teammates were worse and there didn’t seem to be a lot of hope in Los Angeles. Kobe was demanding a trade if things wouldn’t get better so the Lakers had to act fast before it got ugly.

New Orleans Hornets v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Two

The Lakers finally made something happen in 2007, they would acquire Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum would take the next step and Derek Fisher would come back. Odom was finally with a contending team to win a championship season. The team jumped to 57-25 and with the team knowing their roles, the championship was right at their fingertips. They ran through the Western Conference before facing a team just as hungry as them; the Boston Celtics. The Lakers found themselves down 0-2 before getting one at home in game-three and seemingly blowing out the Celtics in game-four. Then the Lakers blew a 24-point lead on their home court and the writing was on the wall. The Celtics won the series in six-games and the Lakers would go home ring-less yet again. Odom had a solid series, but it just wasn’t enough to move the needle.

This Lakers team was willing to do anything, including Odom who did something he never had to do before. He took a back seat, and played as the sixth-man role while letting Trevor Ariza start. Odom saw the determination that Kobe had to win, and knew it was something that had to be done. And it worked, they went 65-17 for the 2008-2009 season and found themselves in title contention. The Lakers dominated the Jazz, went in a weird seven-game series with the Rockets and Kobe and Carmelo Anthony battled it out for a Lakers win before reaching the Finals yet again. It would be against the Orlando Magic lead by Dwight Howard. It was dominate effort by the Lakers, as everyone played well within their roles and finally came out on top. Odom won his first title ever, after years of going through mediocrity and drama. He had seen dysfunction, teams give up on him and the Lakers be criticized for every move they made. It was worth it for Odom, learning from a legend in Kobe and Phil Jackson.

lamar odom big 3

The 2009-2010 season, the Lakers wanted to keep that streak going. A key piece to keep was Odom, who was a free-agent. He could have re-signed with the Heat and gotten a bigger role, but the Lakers came calling. Odom loved Los Angeles, and there was no way he was going to turn down the Lakers. They also brought in Metta World Peace (then known as Ron Artest), and the veteran squad went back to work. Once again, the Lakers found themselves as contenders and they didn’t have a problem going through the Western conference. However that changed when they would have a rematch with the Celtics. This was a bloodbath until the end, which would have the Lakers on top in game-seven. Odom didn’t have his best series, but what he lacked on offense he gained on defense. He locked down, making sure nothing came easy to the Celtics. Odom would once again become a champion, he was at the top of the world.

Age was catching up to the Lakers, but not to Odom. He had his best statistical season in years, averaging 14.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and three assists on 53 percent from the field and 38 percent from three. It earned him a sixth-man award that he so desperately deserved. This was Odom’s first award since earning All-Rookie first team. After years of just missing the All-Star game he got something that meant just as much to him. And the Lakers were still great, ending 57-25 and another chance to go to the Finals. They beat the Hornets in six games, and would face the Mavericks in the next round. What happens next, nobody saw coming. The Mavericks swept the Lakers, the champions were taken down. Nobody had a good series, and that would be the last time the Lakers would be in contention for a title.

lamar odom sixth man

The Lakers had to make moves, and Odom was someone that would be brought up in trade rumors. Chris Paul was supposed to be the new Laker point guard, but we all know what happened there. Odom felt disrespected by the organization that he sacrificed a lot for, so he demanded a trade. He would be sent to the Mavericks, the previous champions. It didn’t work, and why didn’t it work? Because Odom hated playing and living in Dallas and Mark Cuban. The team felt he wasn’t putting the work in and de-activated him for the season. He played one more year, going back to where it all started with the Clippers. Odom played the mentor role his 2012-2013 season, and that was the end of Odom’s career in the NBA. It ended shorter than we thought, given how two years prior he was having the most efficient year of his career.

Odom was a team favorite, showing his love for the Lakers organization and was unselfish. He could do it all, shoot from anywhere, had a great handle and could rebound with the best of them. A jack of all trades, he had “The Goods” (a listed nickname on basketball reference). His only regret was not being more selfish to get more accolades early on, as he explained on an interview with Chris Haynes.

“I should have been more selfish in my career,” he tells Haynes while talking about his numbers. “You give me two more buckets, brings me from 13 to 17 a game and I’m an All-Star.”

lamar odom 2019

Unfortunately, the things that happened off the court and after his career are what Odom is remembered for. Whether it was his relationship with Khloe Kardashian, his addiction to sex and cocaine or his child passing away after a year are what constantly get brought up when we speak on his name. No one talks about his versatility on a basketball court, and it’s time we do. Odom has seen enough tragedy for a lifetime, it’s time we give him the respect he deserves. Odom was a professional on the court, a great teammate and most importantly a champion.

 

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