Lamar Odom's foray into European professional basketball officially ended — for now, at least — this weekend after just two games and 23 total minutes, thanks to a lower back injury.
The 34-year-old forward, a 14-year NBA veteran who last played for the Los Angeles Clippers in May 2013, signed a "short-term" contract to join Saski Baskonia of Spain's ACB back in February. He found himself without any stateside opportunities following a tumultuous summer that featured accusations of drug addiction, an arrest for driving under the influence "of alcohol and possibly drugs" and a reportedly short-lived stay in a rehabilitation facility, and marital difficulties that led to his wife, Khloe Kardashian, filing for divorce in December.
The Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers, with whom Odom won two NBA championships and the league's 2011 Sixth Man of the Year Award, each reportedly had some interest in his services shortly after the start of the 2013-14 NBA season, but both chose to look elsewhere to fill out their rosters, leading Odom to pursue a two-month deal with the Vitoria, a Spain-based club. After making just two appearances and scoring only two points, though, lower-back issues prompted Baskonia to send Odom back to the U.S. for evaluation and treatment, leading to the eventual conclusion that he won't be returning to the ACB before the end of this season. From a translation of the team's announcement:
Tests conducted in New York by Lamar Odom's personal medical team, with knowledge of the club, have determined that the player suffers from lumbar radiculitis that could keep him out of action for a period of up to two months, so the player's current contractual relationship with Baskonia will end. The American power forward will conduct his recovery in the United States.
Baskonia is confident that Odom's recovery process will be positive and leaves open the possibility of resuming the commitment once he has overcome his injury. Saski Baskonia would like to thank Odom for his involvement during the time he has been in Vitoria, and leaves open the possibility of resuming the relationship depending on the development of his condition in the coming months.
And here's Odom himself, from the team's website, thanking his Spanish employer and its fan base for sticking with him:
I am thankful for the support and for the understanding that the people — not only of the Baskonia basketball organization, but the people of Vitoria — have shown. The appreciation that they show for me as a person, not just a basketball player. It goes so far beyond the basketball court, and so I would like to say thank you for the support, the continued support.
This is something that's beyond my control. This is beyond any one of us, anyone's control. There's a difference between when you have a part of your body that's hurt and a part of your body that's injured. It's up to me as a responsible athlete to, if I'm injured, take care of it. I think everything happens or a reason. Now I have, in Vitoria and Baskonia, a home away from home all the time. There's a place where I will always come back to, and I look forward to getting back and getting on the court as soon as possible. I want to treat this injury and be aggressive, treat it, get it done and taken care of, and then hopefully get to show that I'm feeling better on the court.
What we manifest sometimes come true, like not playing well at first, because it's been so long [since I played competitively]. I was going to take that in stride and that with pride, actually, and be proud just to be on the basketball court. What Baskonia did to me in a short period of time is let me know, "This is why you're a good person. Look, people like you. Look at the [graffiti on the] wall. People like you. Look who they have you on the wall with. Look what you mean to us." And now, the journey's not over, so I'm going to take care of the injury, and I'm doing it proudly, I'm doing it here and still in representation of Baskonia. I'm going to do it to try to get back on the court and give you guys a show and give the people of Vitoria a show. But I want to do it with integrity and pride, and I want to do it where I'm not hurting the organization or the team or myself.
Me, Lamar Odom, as an athlete, is a little embarrassed. But at the same time, I'm proud to be able to say that I'm hurt and I have a team that understands that I'm injured and is still supportive. That means a lot. It helps me on and off the court, because it puts confidence in me, saying, "Somebody believes in you this much that we're going to say, 'Go ahead and take care of yourself, and we're going to sit here and wait for you to get better, become a better man.' And I have a lot of respect for that and admiration toward that.
Odom averaged four points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.5 combined steals and blocks in just under 20 minutes per game for the Clippers during the 2012-13 season. His offensive game was severely lacking, but he was a legitimate defensive piece for then-head coach Vinny Del Negro, who said this past September that he believed Odom could still play at the NBA level. Here's hoping Odom can get healthy enough and clear enough for us to find out whether that's true next season.
Hat-tip to SLAM.
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