BOSTON – Lamar Odom(notes) walked out of the Los Angeles Lakers' locker room late Tuesday and into the arms of rapper Beanie Sigel. Sigel is regarded as one of hip-hop's preeminent lyricists, even though he has yet to rival the fame of his former mentor Jay-Z. He also happens to be a Lakers fan and a fan of Odom in particular.
Odom's "lexicon is broad, and it's just like the boat I'm in," Sigel said after he and his entourage greeted the Lakers forward following Game 3 of the NBA Finals. "I can't sacrifice my integrity to make songs like, 'Where dey do dat, whey dey do' or just simple stuff because that's not in me to do that type of record. And I think [Odom] is real underappreciated because people can't differentiate his talent."
Odom reminded everyone of his value in the Lakers' Game 3 victory over the Boston Celtics. He made all five of his shots and finished with 12 points and five rebounds in 28 minutes, modest numbers, but still a considerable improvement from the first two games when he totaled eight points and nine rebounds. Odom spent much of Game 2 on the sideline in foul trouble, and while Lakers coach Phil Jackson took some of the blame for not getting him off the floor quick enough, it didn't dim the criticism aimed at the forward.
"They are over," Odom said about the series' first two games. "You always hear me talk about playoff basketball and the last game is exactly that, the last game. You have a game ahead of you to worry about. You just put those games away behind you."
Odom's inconsistency has maddened coaches and fans alike for years, and his struggles in the series' first two games only reminded everyone of the 2008 Finals when he and Pau Gasol(notes) where overwhelmed by the Celtics' frontline. Boston's fans didn't treat Odom much better on Tuesday. Tauntr.com distributed 5,000 masks of Odom's wife Khloe Kardashian, and fans serenaded him with chants of "Ugly sister!" when he stepped to the foul line. Odom took it all in good humor.
"Me and Khloe's business is especially better when they know you," Odom said. "That's not even drama. It's good ratings. It equals sales in our business."
The Lakers were just happy to see Odom play better. Paul Pierce's(notes) 3-pointer with 4:09 left sliced the Lakers' lead to 78-76, but just when Celtics fans thought their team was about to surge ahead, Odom streaked down the baseline for a pretty left-handed lay-in.
"He got going," Jackson said. "He had a kiss shot that went in off the backboard. That was kind of a gift from God to him for all that stuff he's been through in the series. He just had one of those nights where he kept playing and things happened and created things for himself."
Odom might need to play an even larger role for the Lakers if Andrew Bynum's(notes) knee problems persist. Bynum tweaked his sore knee twice in Game 3, and while he says he should be able to play on Thursday, Odom also is ready to assume any minutes that might need taking.
"It's tough for teams because we are a little bit more slow when Pau and I are on the court, but we dominate on the inside," Bynum said. "But when [Odom] comes in, now we have a more of a faster game."
When Bynum was sidelined during the Finals two years ago, Odom started. The Lakers moved him to the bench at the start of last season and he's primarily stayed there except when Bynum has been hurt. Last summer, the Miami Heat tried to lure Odom away from the Lakers, likely with the promise of a larger role. But Kobe Bryant(notes) also made a strong recruiting pitch for Odom to stay.
Said Bryant: "All I said is, 'If you leave, I'll kill you.' "
Odom elected to stay, signing a four-year, $33 million contract, the last season of which isn't guaranteed. While Odom will likely end his career without a single All-Star appearance, he's willing to play a reduced role to chase championships.
"I wouldn't say I really lost a spot," Odom said. "Phil just decided to go with a certain lineup.
"I always tell people that I remember the first day of training camp [last season]. I looked around, saw what was happening. I can still do my thing. I can still [dribble] through my legs. Phil will get on me, but I still play. I got the green light to do what I want. But I know my role.
"There are so many players that got whatever, but they ain't playing in the Finals three years in a row. What would you take if the shoe was on your foot?"
Like his friend, Beanie Sigel, Odom also knows this: It's better to be respected than overvalued.
- Beanie Sigel