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GLENDALE, Calif. – Lamar Odom strolled to the back of his restaurant on an August evening, realigning a patio umbrella to sit in the shade. Being drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers brought him here nearly two decades ago, and all those glorious seasons as a Laker cemented Southern California as his year-round home, an adopted son from the streets of New York.
“I’ve been here 19 years and I ain’t going nowhere,” Odom says, biting into his catfish and potato salad.
Odom, 37, never wanted to leave here, and his trade from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 offseason still haunts him. Odom was an integral component on two Lakers championship teams in 2009 and 2010, and he relied on the franchise’s stability and the foundation around Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and then-coach Phil Jackson. He played 14 NBA seasons, but the final four pro years with Dallas, the Clippers, in the Euroleague and with the New York Knicks seem like a blur.
“That trade from the Lakers basically ended my career and purpose,” Odom told The Vertical. “I was never really myself ever again. Being in L.A., the structure, the people I knew, it hurt leaving. I had great memories with the Lakers, with Kobe and Pau. That was a special time in my life.
“I got traded the season after we lost to Dallas in the playoffs, and I had won Sixth Man of the Year for the team. To trade me after winning Sixth Man of the Year … what else do I got to do? Why?
“I think about it all the time, about how much I had left in the tank. I had issues going on. But barring injury, could I play in the NBA today? I could play. I should still be playing.”
Odom has been public about his issues with drug use, and he makes it clear that he’s blessed to still be living. He had a life-threatening drug overdose in a Las Vegas brothel in October 2015, when he suffered multiple strokes, kidney failure and was in a coma and on life support. Odom recently sat inside Sista Mary’s Soul Food, a restaurant he co-owns with his longtime friend, business partner and confidant Greg Nunn, and made it clear his priorities are his son and daughter now.
At some point, Odom will come full circle in Los Angeles, with plans being discussed for him to sign a contract to retire as a Laker in training camp.
“My family looks forward to me retiring as a Laker more than me,” Odom told The Vertical. “I’m not really emotional about being praised, about signing for a day. I’m shy at the end of the day. For my son, for my family, for my fans, they may enjoy that day. It’s for them.
“I ain’t celebrating not playing no more. In life though, I’ve learned to live with regrets.”
The Shaquille O’Neal trade in 2004 sent Odom to the Lakers after one season in Miami and started more lessons for Odom. He was forever a reluctant star – a versatile juggernaut who could play all five positions thrust into Kobe’s world. Once, he walked into practice with the Lakers and witnessed Bryant smash Sasha Vujacic with an elbow to the face, with no warning, no rhyme or reason.
“It was like, ‘[Expletive], this mother [expletive] Kobe is really serious,’” Odom says. “He’s thuggin’ at 10 in the morning.”
Sure enough, Bryant became a partner for Odom, someone whom Odom still cherishes as a fierce competitor.
“No one was close to Kobe for me, his competitive spirit,” Odom told The Vertical. “I mean, D-Wade and Chris Paul … Chris Paul is second with his competitive drive, but Kobe Bryant, man, in the morning, man. He taught me to really finish off. To finish. Finish everything. I already had the Heat mantra instilled in me, lifting weights every day, which I started that season in Miami. I was cool with that, being around Kobe. You want to be strong, defend your spot and your territory when you play with Kobe.”
For Odom, one of his earliest regrets was his handling of his predraft meeting with the Chicago Bulls, who held the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft. Odom had been kicked out of UNLV in 1997, transferred to Rhode Island, where he sat out the 1997-98 season, and then led the program to the NCAA tournament in 1998-99. He was a potential No. 1 overall pick.
Nevertheless, Odom derailed his chances of being selected No. 1. Then-Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, who died in March, and then-coach Tim Floyd waited seven hours at the airport for Odom’s predraft visit to Chicago, Odom says, but he no-showed and spent the day on Jones Beach in Long Island.
Odom gave the Bulls every reason to pass, including a disconcerting interview with team officials at the predraft combine, and they eventually selected Elton Brand No. 1 overall.
“At the time, it was a blessing because I don’t think I wanted to be No. 1,” Odom told The Vertical. “Because the questions that Jerry Krause was asking me were inappropriate, I thought at the time. Jerry Krause was asking me questions about my father’s health, about his past. That was none of his business. That had nothing to do with me being drafted, me being a player. After talking to him, I didn’t really want to be No. 1. It worked out for the best.
“At the end of the day, it all worked out. It would have been cool to be the No. 1 pick, to have in your bio as a basketball player, though, so that’s a regret. It would have been special, but it didn’t happen, and things happen for a reason.”
Odom was a lean, dynamic 6-foot-10 point forward who was able to score inside and outside, with the vision of an elite point guard and the rebounding of an elite big man. Yet, it didn’t translate to wins when he went No. 4 overall to the Clippers. On the court, nothing went right, and Odom left as a free agent after four seasons but not without leaving a lasting impression.
“I first met Lamar at the ABCD camp in the mid-’90s, and I saw this near-6-11 kid from New York going underneath the legs, crossing over guys and hitting step-back threes. What the hell?” former Clippers teammate Keyon Dooling, now an official for the players union, told The Vertical. “We were all 21, 22 at the time later on with the Clippers, and Lamar was the leader and best player. He was so unselfish that guys loved playing with him.
“Everyone who has been in Lamar’s life will always remember him as a compassionate, radiant, caring, real person. His smile – he impacted everyone around him positively.”
After leaving the Clippers, Odom’s one season with the Heat had a profound effect on him. He said he had never worked out before training camp until joining the Heat, and he understood then that Heat executive Pat Riley would change his life.
“I learned how to play hard, and what playing hard was,” Odom told The Vertical. “There was one game when we played in Puerto Rico against the 76ers, and I shot the ball bad. But I had a lot of rebounds, had two ‘and-ones’ in crunch time, and I was like, ‘Damn.’ I was down. Pat runs up to me, reads me the stat line, and says, ‘Yeah, O. I like that [expletive]. I like how hard you went.’
“In Miami, if you don’t go hard, you can’t play there. That’s why I respect their program and their tradition and their style of basketball even to this day, even though they didn’t make it to the playoffs last year. Because I played there and I understand them, I can still watch them. I know what they’re going through in practice. They’re getting pushed to the limit. So if you have talent and you go to Miami, it’s going to come out and be maximized.
“We had [Dwyane] Wade, Caron [Butler], Eddie Jones, Rasual Butler, Rafer Alston, Brian Grant. We had a good nucleus. We had a gritty team, blue-collar. I took the Heat philosophy for my whole career. When I watch basketball now, I watch it through the eyes of somebody that played for the Heat.”
Odom spent seven seasons with the Lakers after his trade from Miami and remembers making a similar decision to the one Andre Iguodala made this offseason when the Warriors forward received lucrative offers to leave Golden State but elected to remain with the champions. Odom says in 2009 he chose the Lakers over a more significant proposal from Portland.
“If I thought about leaving the Lakers at the time, the only thing that would get me to consider it is money,” Odom told The Vertical. “If someone brought me something crazy. Portland was in it, no lie. After we got Pau [Gasol in 2008], it was easy for us. I just kept that in mind. It was a wrap after we got Pau. His first game was amazing, and he didn’t even know the triangle. Playing with him, playing off of him, he was easy to play with. He knows the game so well, and he’s so talented. Right hand, left hand, right hook, left hook, back hook, fadeaway.
“He’s another competitor. People don’t give him enough credit for that. He competes.”
In this way, Odom relates to Gasol.
“When you play a finesse game, you get labeled soft,” Odom says. “Early in my basketball career, I thought people labeled me soft because of the game I played. I took you off the dribble, rocked you, took you to the rim, smoked by you. You get labeled soft. People never credited me for my defense. I never thought people credited me for my defense, my rebounding. Pau brought it, too.”
He had partnered with Gasol and Bryant to help lead championship teams for the Lakers, and that summer of 2011 thinned Odom’s basketball lifeline. The NBA lockout was underway, and Odom didn’t work out in the offseason while mourning the death of his cousin. In fact, he never returned to the court between the end of the season and reporting to the Mavericks after the trade. Odom had performed his whole life amid the death of loved ones, including his mother, grandmother and son, but this was when his body, mind and game crumbled.
“That was a hard year for me because my cousin had just got killed,” Odom says. “It was the lockout year, so I didn’t work out any, none, before that season. I spoke to [Mavs owner] Mark Cuban, and I told him the situation I was in emotionally, that this is what you’re getting, the player you’re getting. There were hard feelings over the course of the season. I thought I would return to my old form.
“It’s too bad that it didn’t work out there because I really could have flourished with Dirk Nowitzki. I could have taken advantage of his skills and my skills. It’s too bad that I wasn’t at the top of my game mentally or physically. I couldn’t perform.”
The animosity between Odom and Cuban grew as the season wore on. But now, both Odom and Cuban say: no hard feelings, nothing personal.
“I felt bad for him,” Cuban told The Vertical. “No hard feelings at all. We worked hard and tried everything to get him emotionally and mentally to a place where he could do his job. We got him every resource available, worked closely with [then-wife] Khloe [Kardashian]. We tried to do everything we could think of. It just never happened.”
The Lakers discussed a player-development coaching job with Odom several months ago, but he didn’t commit. He spent time around the organization during the predraft process, watching prospects work out alongside former teammate, friend and head coach Luke Walton and the Lakers’ brass. Odom still needs more time to work on himself, to decide on his pursuits in life.
“I’ve thought about coaching with the Lakers, but I don’t know if I’m ready to commit myself,” Odom told The Vertical. “It was cool being back around that environment, watching Lonzo [Ball] work out. You could tell he will be special.
“It’s always good to be back around the Lakers’ facility. There’s nothing but good memories, besides that trade.”
One league Odom does plan to pursue is Ice Cube’s BIG3, with which Odom has begun discussions to play next season. He attended the league’s games at Staples Center on Aug. 13 and was sold on its longevity.
“I might play in the BIG3 next year,” Odom says. “It would give me something to do. That league is going to last. It’s not going anywhere, and more dudes will get down with it. Getting $100,000 for playing, and three-on-three is nothing to these guys. They can play still. It was fun watching them, seeing the stars come out.
“I think the BIG3 could become international. It could tour. Basketball is an international game, and the four-point shot is entertainment. The reason it’s going to last is Cube – and celebrities come out for it.”
Odom is calm here, a long way from the bottoming out of his life in 2015. He’s working on himself, his body, family, lifestyle and business portfolio. Odom is establishing two upcoming reality television projects under his Black Pyramid Productions and working on a tell-all book for 2018 and his clothing line, Rich Soil. Life is coming full circle for Lamar Odom in the Valley, in the Southern California warmth where he vindicated his talent with the Lakers and exemplified career success in the face of personal mishaps and setbacks.
“I’m still here, man,” Odom says.
“I’m still here.”
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