As Twitter messages of support go out to a spiraling Lamar Odom, his career in the NBA is on indefinite hold.
Multiple reports in recent weeks depict Odom in the grip of drug use. In the early morning hours last Friday he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence after a California Highway Patrol officer pulled him over on the freeway for driving too slowly. Odom was unable to complete a field sobriety test and later refused to submit to chemical testing. His driver’s license, the CHP says, will probably be suspended.
His team last season, the Los Angeles Clippers, appeared to be waiting as long as possible to bring back the 6-foot-10 unrestricted free agent. But as more grim reports surfaced, the Clippers instead turned to veteran free agent Antawn Jamison. After 14 seasons, 12 spent with either the Lakers or Clippers, Odom’s status, on and off the basketball court, seems to be the worst kind of day-to-day.
Personal tragedy has long been inseparable from Odom’s life. He lost his mother to cancer when he was 12. The grandmother who raised him through a rugged childhood in Queens dies in 2004. His 6-month-old son died of sudden infant death syndrome in 2006. Two summers ago, in the fateful summer of 2011, he watched over a young cousin who passed away in a New York hospital bed, and then a day later Odom was a passenger in a car involved in an accident that killed a 15-year-old boy.
Odom, 33, has always been a deeply emotional and sensitive sort constantly seeking approval and acceptance. But he also seemed capable of staying a step ahead of the sadness. A self-destructive path had never seemed to lure him before.
But that summer of 2011, and into the fall as the NBA season was postponed by a labor dispute, may have served as a trigger point, a time when a swirl of personal and professional chaos collided.
We obviously don’t know all the intimate details, but before the summer of 2011, Odom was soaring at the height of his basketball career and presumably his personal life. He grew from something of an aloof talent to an integral contributor to back-to-back championships with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010. And in 2011, although a three-peat bid ended abruptly for the Lakers, Odom was recognized as the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year. He got married in 2009 to celebrity Khloe Kardashian after a brief romance, and the newlyweds publicly celebrated their L.A. lifestyle on reality TV.
Also revealed on the show was Odom’s shock when his agent, Jeff Schwartz, called to tell him the Lakers might trade him. Then they did, to the New Orleans Hornets. Khloe couldn’t get in touch with Lamar, but heard her husband’s somber voice on the radio talking about the trade: “He is so passionate, emotional, wears his heart on his sleeve,” Khloe said on the episode. “Hearing him on the radio and how heartbroken he sounds, it’s now sinking in that Lamar’s not going to be a Laker anymore. It’s sad.”
The trade, however, was never approved. Yet the crestfallen Odom told Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak to trade him anyway. Schwartz called Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who was fresh off winning the 2011 championship but who had not re-signed key players from that team. Cuban quickly made the deal believing it was a steal, acquiring one of the game’s most versatile forwards to solidify the reigning champs’ revamped roster.
Odom arrived in Dallas noticeably out of shape, and from the moment he took the podium at his introductory press conference, he appeared sullen and gave the impression that his heart was broken. His sluggish play through the early season suggested the same. Although he often spoke of turning a corner, he revealed little zest to compete.
Cuban and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle defended Odom for months, remembering the player he was the season before. They had his back through a bizarre, 10-day absence bridging the 2012 All-Star break. Finally, Cuban reached his breaking point in early April. He confronted Odom in the locker room in Memphis and soon after dismissed him from the team.
By the end of June, Odom seemed to get the reprieve he needed to rediscover his spirit. The Clippers traded for him. It wasn’t the Lakers, but it was a return to the comforts of L.A., to the team with whom he started his career. He would move back into his home with Khloe, be close to friends, reap the full $8 million on the final year of his contract and, of course, join forces with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on a contender.
Odom still struggled offensively, his numbers (4.0 points, 5.9 rebounds a game) well below expectation, but he served as a 20-minute-a-night reserve who got crunch-time minutes for his defense.
What’s happened since and where Odom goes from here is a mystery. Odom has always been well-liked, and he will get another shot with another team if he can escape whatever is dragging him down. His reputation had never been that of a troublemaker, at least before his short time in Dallas.
Hopefully, family and friends can lift Odom and push him through the issues that now prevent him from starting a 15th NBA season. Hopefully, a career on indefinite hold will not become permanently closed.