Lamar Odom’s Slow, Painful Descent Into Personal And Professional Oblivion

Below is a feature we published last summer after Lamar Odom failed to catch on with the New York Knicks. On Tuesday, he fell into a coma following a collapse in Nevada, and we thought it appropriate to share some backstory on just how tough things have gone for Odom throughout not just his career, but his life as a whole. While former teammates and NBA players send condolences and prayers for Odom’s well being, it’s helpful to track all the various catalysts that led to his recent troubles, so we’re not stuck on the more odious elements of the story.

During an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians, Khloe opened up about filing for divorce from her estranged husband Lamar Odom, whose well-documented downfall has been the subject of endless controversy and speculation.

“Lamar stuff will weigh on me for the rest of my life. The marriage didn’t work out, not because of me, it wasn’t what I wanted. So for the rest of my life I’m going to deal with that, worry about him, think about him and want just to protect him.”

We’ll always have a soft spot for Odom here at Dime as well. He’s been through a lot. More than any one person should have to endure, in fact. Death and heartbreak have haunted him and his family his entire life.

Before each game, he would write a small tribute on his shoes to the loved ones he’s lost. When Odom was just 12 years old, his mother Cathy died from colon cancer. After that, his grandmother Mildred Mercer assumed guardianship of Odom and raised him as her own. She passed away in 2003. Then in 2006, his six-month-old son Jayden died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). In the summer of 2011, Odom’s cousin, whom he had a close personal relationship with, was murdered in New York City. While Odom was in town to attend the funeral, the SUV he was riding in was involved in a fatal car accident that killed a 15-year-old pedestrian.

“Death always seems to be around me,” Odom told the Los Angeles Times. “I’ve been burying people for a long time.”

To make matters worse, his absentee father Joe is apparently a heroin addict. A rather sad encounter between Odom and his father was chronicled in an early episode of the reality show Khloe and Lamar, during which Joe shows up unannounced to one of Khloe’s book signings and later asks his son for money. Here’s what Odom had to say about his father in a Twitter post last fall:

“He wasn’t there 2 raise me. He was absent ALL of my life due to his own demons… His own demons may be the ONLY thing he gave 2 me.”

So it was just another depressing chapter in the Greek tragedy that is his life when he was waived by the New York Knicks last month, after presumably squandering what was likely his last chance at NBA redemption.

Phil Jackson, since taking over as president and GM of the Knicks, has aspired to levels of nepotism rivaled only by the Kennedys and Coppolas of the world, and signing Odom last spring to a non-guaranteed contract was justifiably met with widespread skepticism and/or outright derision.

But it was a chance for Jackson to express both his concern and his loyalty to his former Sixth Man of the Year with the Los Angeles Lakers who has been in a dangerous tailspin for the past three-plus seasons. Jackson was one of the few allies Odom had left, and it’s clear that bringing him onboard had more to do with altruism than anything basketball-related.

Odom’s career first started spiraling out of control back in 2011 when the Lakers traded him to the Dallas Mavericks. Initially, Odom was included as part of the ill-fated trade the Lakers concocted in hopes of acquiring Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets. Then-commissioner David Stern ultimately vetoed the transaction, but the damage had already been done. Odom felt betrayed, and two days later, his camp went to management and demanded that he be moved.

The Lakers eventually obliged, and that December he would join the Mavs for what would undoubtedly be his worst and most humiliating season as a pro. All this after being named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year the previous season and playing a critical role in the Lakers’ back-to-back championship runs, not to mention helping lead Team USA to the FIBA World Championship in the summer of 2010.

During that doomed season with the Mavs, Odom was routinely out of shape and noticeably disinterested in playing basketball. He admitted as much in an interview with ESPN’s Marc Stein at the time:

“… I was asking myself: ‘Was I mentally prepared to play? If I didn’t play well, was I mentally prepared to help the team?’ I had thought, ‘Maybe I need a year.’ Because of the lockout, I thought, ‘Maybe somebody’s sending me a sign that I needed this time off.’

It was the events of that previous summer – unrelated to basketball – that appeared to be at the root of his sudden, inexplicable decline. In July of that year, Odom’s 24-year-old cousin was fatally shot in New York, and while Odom was in town, he was a passenger in a vehicle that was involved in a traffic accident that killed a teenage pedestrian who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The accident occurred the day after his cousin was taken off life support.

Odom very seriously entertained the idea of taking a year off, perhaps longer, but ultimately resolved to play that season after friends and family members, namely his wife Khloe, encouraged him to do so.

“What I do is like no longer for myself,” he told Stein. “It’s for my family, for these kids in my neighborhood, for the kids that I take care of that are not mine. I’m gonna try to keep it going as long as I can play at a certain level.”

But it became agonizingly clear Odom wasn’t mentally or physically prepared to jump back into the NBA grind, especially after the 2011 lockout had postponed the start of the regular season by several months. Odom got off to a disastrous start, and by January of 2012, he was playing less than 20 minutes per game and averaging career lows of 6.6 points and 4.8 rebounds. He quickly became a pariah among fans in Dallas and was the target of endless Kardashian jokes.

By April, Mavs owner Mark Cuban was so fed up that he deactivated Odom for the remainder of the season and banished him from team activities indefinitely. The split was little more than a formality considering how categorically disengaged Odom had become from anything having to do with basketball or the NBA.

The following year, Odom had a relatively quiet (yet unproductive) season with the Clippers from 2012-2013, playing in all 82 games, but things took a sharp detour into bizarro land last fall with a string of unnerving incidences.

In late August 2013, Khloe told several media outlets that Odom had been “missing” for several days and that she was concerned he might be in the throes of a serious drug bender. Around that time, other reports started to emerge about Odom’s brief stint at a San Diego rehab facility prior to the 2012-1013 season, during which Khloe supposedly hired private investigators to stand guard and make sure Odom didn’t try to leave the premises.

She eventually admitted that Odom had been secretly struggling with substance abuse issues for the past two years. According to Khloe, Odom initially disappeared after she and other members of her family attempted to stage an intervention. He was later discovered in a Los Angeles hotel room where he had holed up with some of his friends.

In December, TMZ – the bastion of modern day investigative journalism – somehow came into possession of a homemade rap video featuring Odom and another man, during which Odom seemingly alludes to his extramarital dalliances. Rumors about his alleged indiscretions had been making the tabloid rounds since the summer.

Earlier that fall, Odom had a high-profile run-in with a particularly vile minion of the L.A. paparazzi, one Stefan Saad, who ended up suing Odom for more than half-a-million dollars after Odom destroyed $15,000 worth of his camera equipment. The incident started when Saad approached Odom in his car and pestered him about his alleged infidelities.

His legal troubles didn’t stop there. On August 30, 2013, he was arrested in L.A. on suspicion of DUI after failing a field sobriety test and refusing to take a breathalyzer. He eventually pleaded no contest and was sentenced to three years probation, a one-year suspension of his license, and a mandatory alcohol education course, in addition to various court fines and fees.

After years of turmoil, Khloe officially filed for divorce last December, just two days before what would have been the eighth anniversary of his son Jayden’s birthday.

“I still remember the day,” Odom said about his son’s birth in a Radar Online interview. “…watching [Jayden] come out, come out into the world. It was joyous, refreshing. [He] had really strong eyes. He would just kind of like watch me, and stare at me like he knew me from somewhere else.”

It’s unclear where Odom goes from here. He won’t find many sympathizers out there after all of this, particularly among “fans.” All you have to do is browse the comments section of any related article or social media update to see how cruel and contemptuous public sentiment toward him has turned. It’s not really surprising. Disappointing, maybe, but not surprising.

After all, kicking celebrities while they’re down is one of America’s favorite pastimes. It’s just another perverse form of entertainment that is starkly symptomatic of our profound, collective disconnection from human empathy, and the lens through which we view celebrity culture allows us to filter out the fact that many of these high-profile public meltdowns often come from a deeply troubled place.

Of course, that’s not to suggest that we should make excuses for Odom or his actions. He’s evidently had far too many enablers in his life already. What he needs is help. He’s clearly dealing with unresolved psychological pain that has been compounded by substance abuse issues. Anyone who’s watched a friend or family member struggle with addiction knows that it’s quite literally a matter of life and death.

Since he was a child, basketball has always been his solace. It helped him get through some of the most painful experiences of his life.

“When my mother died, I went on the court and played basketball all day, I didn’t even go in the house to eat,” he said during one episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. “Just played basketball.”

But a career in basketball may no longer be in the cards for him. What happens next is anybody’s guess, but here’s hoping Odom finds the help he needs to conquer his personal demons before he’s utterly consumed by them.

Where does Lamar Odom go from here?