You might know Lamar Odom(notes) as the candy-loving, smile-having, super versatile power forward for the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. That would make sense since he is all of those things. However, he's also a true blue, dyed-in-the-wool American who just so happened to be a part of the disappointing 2004 USA men's Olympic basketball team which finished third in Athens. Now he's back for a chance at his first world championship with Team USA. I sat down with Odom Wednesday morning at Niketown in New York City to talk hoops, his hometown, and the team that hip-hop loved.
Trey Kerby: You played on the 2004 Olympic team and a lot of things have changed for Team USA since then. What is the main difference in the way the program was run in 2004 and the way it is now?
Lamar Odom: It's just the way you said it — it's more like a program rather than throwing guys together last minute. The selections, how they select you, even when you talk about the guys that didn't make it, they'll still have a chance to make it for the Olympics. It's just kinda more like a program. I think that helps the mentality of the players, understanding their roles, and so on and so on.
TK: When you played back then you were one of the younger guys playing with guys who were more established. Now, the roles are reversed a little bit.
LO: I think when you've been around winning you look at the game different. You understand what it takes to win on a high level. Winning is a mindset, more than anything. And that's why my team [the Lakers] meditates together. Meditation is like a form of prayer when you think about it, and it gets you in the mindset of what it takes to win. When you think about it, anything less than reaching your goal is considered a loss.
TK: How do you prepare differently playing for an NBA title and for a world championship?
LO: You won't. A game is a game. I don't care if it's John Madden, 2k — you have to visualize yourself being victorious. Winning doesn't happen by accident. That's an understatement.
TK: A lot of the big guys for Team USA have got hurt or pulled out. When you play for the Lakers, one of your biggest values is playing on the perimeter, and really being able to play anywhere, but with a lack of traditional big guys how will your role with Team USA be any different than with the Lakers?
LO: It won't. This is basketball. International is even a more spread-out, wide-open game. There's not too much post play or bangin' down low, and if there is, we've got the size and the quickness to combat that and still be able to rebound.
Like any basketball game, it comes down to stops and rebounds. We've got enough scorers and guys that can get out and run, but in any sport defense wins championships. Football in the Super Bowl, you've gotta get stops. Baseball, you gotta have pitching. As long as you get stops and secure that stop with a defensive rebound, this team should be OK.
TK: You're from New York, and basketball's obviously a big, big part of New York. What does it mean for the city to have the World Basketball Festival here?
LO: It's part of the culture, it seems like they go hand-in-hand. Think about Niketown. Think about sneakers. Harlem. Queens. Staten Island. Us playing at Radio City Music Hall. Jay-Z playing after.
LO: Yeah. Just the culture of basketball, of hip-hop, of the streets, and of course with Nike and corporate America emerging, it just seems like it fits. It's a fitting relationship [to have the WBF in New York].
TK: Great. Last question — the 2000-01 Clippers are a lot of people's favorite team. Tons of young guys who were real exciting and athletic. What was it like playing on that kind of team when you just came into the league? You and Darius Miles(notes), man, that was one of my favorite teams ever.
LO: Yeah. I think that team was the hip-hop generation's team. Hip-hop is world wide. It's not just a New York thing, you can go anywhere. I remember I went to Puerto Vallarta and I saw kids all over with the fitted hat, twisted to the side a little bit, and I could tell they love rap music. And if you remember that SLAM cover that we did — with the headbands and the do-rags and fitted hats on, jerseys backwards, each of us wearing the other's jerseys. That was a team, man, that hip-hop loved. And it was real.
Big ups to Lamar Odom for taking the time to stoke my basketball nerditry. And thanks to Shelly Peng and Niketown for making that happen.