[Editor's note: C.A. wrote this in 2011 after Lamar Odom's time with the Lakers came to an end, and considering recent developments, it felt like a good time to dust it off and bring it back from the archives. Get better, LO. - Drew ]
Over the past few years, whenever anybody has asked me who my favorite Los Angeles Laker is, the answer has left my mouth as instantly as the question is asked: "Lamar Odom". Invariably, especially if the question was asked by a non-Laker fan, the follow up is: "Not Kobe?" No, not Kobe. Lamar. LO. The Candyman. Kobe Bryant has been responsible for so much of my love of the game of basketball. It is primarily because of him that I have enjoyed the glory of rooting for five NBA championship squads (that I remember) in my lifetime. He's provided so many magical moments that my love of the game will always be tied to him. But since this particular Lakers squad returned to relevance, Lamar has always been my favorite.
Maybe it's because he was the team's everyman, providing whatever it was they needed on any given night. Not whatever it was the team needed on every given night, mind you. Lamar was nowhere to be found on plenty of occasions in which the Lakers could have used one of his many, many skills. But, over the past few years, Lamar has deputized as needed in a variety of areas: primary rebounder, primary creator, best help defender, even a couple cameos as knock-down sharp shooter. LO rarely puts the whole package together, but he is capable of being so good at each individual piece that his game is more than the sum of its parts, even though he never bothers to actually sum up the parts.
No, that's not why I love Lamar Odom. I love him because when I look at who he is, when I look at what he does, I see myself. When I look at his struggles, at what he's gone through and how he's handled himself, I don't see injuries and dollar signs and the multitude of other "concerns" basketball stars normally have to deal with. I see reality. The way Lamar Odom found redemption in his life through basketball gave me hope that maybe I'll be able to do the same somehow, someday. Lamar Odom was symbolic of the rest of us common folks in a way that most basketball players can never come close to. And that makes Lamar's exit from Lakerland all the more tragic.
Despite the athletic godliness, incredible skill set, and the roughly $100 million dollars paid to him over the course of his career, Lamar Odom has actually been dealt a pretty shitty hand by life. He's not the only NBA star to have a troubled childhood, but losing one parent to drugs (Lamar's father is alive, but the relationship is estranged) and another to cancer by the age of 12 is incredibly rough. He endured a hellish summer (2006) in which his grandmother (the most important figure of his childhood) died, his infant son died of SIDS, and he was robbed at gunpoint. As a basketball player, he has long been defined as an NBA disappointment, blessed with tons of talent, but unable to gain any level of consistency or focus.
But, in Los Angeles, as a Laker, he had finally found peace. He was happy, as a player, as a teammate, as a husband, as a person. He found a group of guys that loved him for who he was, and did not expect him to be someone that he wasn't. He found love in the most unlikely of places, right in the midst of the most blinding social spotlight this town has. Over the past couple of years, Lamar has had everything he ever wanted. Then, that happiness was ripped away from him by the "business" of the sport, when it was reported the Lakers traded him away. Except the trade fell through, so he had a chance to get a reprieve. Instead, devastated by the news that he would lose his teammates, his basketball family, and the ability to play in the city and for team that he loved, Lamar Odom demanded to lose his teammates, his basketball family, and the ability to play in the city and for the team that he loved. This was his basketball life, and he was told it was over. Then, miraculously, it wasn't. He could have counted his blessings and pretended the whole thing never happened. Instead, he committed suicide and took that basketball life away from himself.
In the grand scheme of things, Lamar Odom's departure from the Lakers is of far less significance than the multitude of tragedies and happy moments that have made up the sum of his life experience. All he has done is change his address of employment. That's not more influential than (essentially) being an orphan, or losing an infant child. It's not as meaningful as being a father, or a husband. For all the symbology at work here, Lamar is hardly destined for misery from this point forward. Maybe he'll do great in Dallas,or maybe he won't, but that point is irrelevant. Life is about more than basketball, even for an NBA athlete, and to say that Lamar Odom will never find happiness again because of this situation is overly melodramatic. For a man that has been through so much, where he gets paid millions of dollars to play basketball shouldn't even register.
But Lamar Odom deserved better. He deserved better from life, which has already given him so much loss. He deserved better from the game of basketball, to which he has devoted his life. He definitely deserved more from the Lakers, for whom he re-invented his game, sacrificed for the team, and was an overwhelmingly positive influence in some dicey situations. He played the way the Lakers wanted him to play, assumed the role they asked him to take. He was paid less money because of those actions, and took even less money than that to stay with the franchise that made him feel complete for the first time. Finally, no doubt due to all the other parties that failed to give Lamar Odom what he deserved, Lamar ended up deserving better from himself. Lamar Odom is no longer a Los Angeles Laker, and we can blame any combination of reasons and events for that fact. But Lamar cannot. He can only look in the mirror and blame himself.
It's a tragic ending to the Laker career of one of the team's most admirable, and flawed, characters. Lamar Odom, you will be missed.