Words By Derz
It may be hard to believe for some, what with all the trash being written on the internet in the past 48 hours, but Lamar Odom made his name playing the game of basketball. And he played it in an entertaining and truly unique way that should be celebrated. He also happened to put together a successful and, in its own unique way, amazing career. Not many would have predicted the smooth, silky, and streaky 6’10 court conductor of the early 2000s Clippers would transition into a relentless rebounder, efficient scorer and overall essential cog of the back-to-back champion Lakers squads of 2009 and 2010.
After a tumultuous off-court start to his college career at UNLV, Odom transferred to the University of Rhode Island, where his final shot was an Atlantic 10 title-winning buzzer beater. With scouts drooling over his rare combination of height and fluid skills, Odom was taken with the fourth overall pick in the 1999 draft by the Clippers. He put together a classic rookie campaign, joining Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Alvan Adams as the only rookies to ever average at least 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists per game. Odom instantly became one of the best point forwards in the Association, leading his team in total points and assists – not a bad combination for a nearly seven-foot 20-year-old.
In his sophomore season, Odom jumped another level, and put together an all-time great box score line of 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.6 blocks. To put that in perspective, it’s worth noting only three other guys have ever achieved that feat: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin Garnett and Bill Walton. The Clippers started to win more games, and Lamar was seen as the guy who could perhaps finally take them to the playoffs.
But the Clippers stayed the Clippers, and never capitalized on the promise Odom provided them with a postseason appearance. Odom was eventually traded to the Heat and was the opposite centerpiece of the Shaquille O’Neal trade one year later, which led to his arrival in Lakerland.
Odom found himself down low far more often in his post-Clippers days, slowly developing into a reliable rebounder and secondary scoring option. Under the guidance of Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant, he also started to do the little things that help make championship teams, such as his no-fuss move to the bench in 2008 following the Los Angeles’ acquisition of Pau Gasol, which helped sustain the Lakers’ scoring and structure all game long. Often maligned early in his Lakers years, Odom became a fan favorite for his team-first mentality during their 2009 and 2010 championship runs.
The less said about his Dallas and second Clippers stint the better. But, all in all, Odom’s basketball career was an amazing accomplishment, and quite remarkable considering the rough upbringing he endured.
A lot of fans lament his unfulfilled potential, but the fact remains that Lamar Odom was a key part of two championship-winning squads, won a sixth man of the year award, and achieved some statistical thresholds in line with basketball’s true historical elite.
That feels like a worthwhile career to me.