Friday, October 16, 2015

Playing the Lamar Odom Blame Game: Who's Responsible?

Nostalgia. It's the single greatest reason why people follow sports. Even though you probably didn't feel as fondly about them at the time, pondering back into time and recalling the great qualities of past players is one of the best feelings in sports. Lamar Odom is the perfect example of this. When he was actually playing, he was the single most frustrating player of all-time. Not because he was bad, but because how good he COULD HAVE been. But when you look back at his career, almost everyone remembers his game in a positive way. How good was Lamar Odom? There's only one answer: Not as good as he COULD HAVE been.

I always said if God granted me the wish to be a professional basketball player, out of anyone in the history of the league, I would ask him to give me Lamar Odom's body and physical ability. That includes Lebron James, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson. Lamar Odom is the only player in NBA history that can play all 5 positions effectively at both ends of the floor for large chunks of the season. I wish I could write more about LO's physical abilities and compare him to Lebron and Magic but that would be an entirely different article. Let me just say this. The one part of Lamar I would definitely ask to leave out is the mental aspect. Give me Jordan's brain and Lamar's body and I will give you the single greatest basketball player that has ever lived or probably will ever live. Hell, forget Jordan's brain. Give me my own brain right now in Lamar's body and I will get you multiple championships. That's how great Lamar Odom's physical abilities were. So what happened?

Like many black athletes, Lamar Odom had a rough childhood. We all know the story. Rough neighborhood of Jamaica in Queens, NY. Absentee drug addict father. The thing that makes Lamar's childhood even sadder is that his mother passed away when he was 12 and he was raised by his grandmother, who also passed away when he was fairly young at 20 years old. I can't even imagine how a person is supposed to mature into a fully functioning normal adult, let alone a multi-million dollar athlete when they are dealing with these challenges. As if this wasn't enough, in 2006, Lamar's 6-month old son, Jayden passed away of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) while sleeping in his crib. And this happened while Lamar was at a funeral for his aunt!

Are you kidding me? How much misery can a single person take? I am a fairly normal person who had a good childhood, solid parents, supportive family, and a strong support system with relatively little exposure to drugs and alcohol in my early life. I have an infant daughter and if this had happened to me, even with all of those things in my life, I am pretty certain you would find me using SOME FORM of drugs to cope with the loss. For someone like Lamar and the sadness he has experienced in his life, who grew up in an environment ripe with drug addiction, no functional parenting, and now has an unlimited amount of resources to secure drugs, to be perfectly honest, its a fucking miracle he made it as far as he did in life without ending up dead from drug use.

This was another major event in Lamar Odom's life. In September of 2009, Lamar Odom married reality star Khloe Kardashian. But do I blame the Kardashian publicity whore machine for Lamar Odom's troubles? Absolutely not. Here's why. First of all, Lamar Odom won his second championship with the Lakers DURING his marriage with Khloe Kardashian. He was the NBA's Sixth man award in 2011 DURING his marriage with Khloe Kardashian. So this notion that somehow Khloe Kardashian and her reality show cameras were responsible for Lamar Odom's basketball game deteriorating is a false one. The fact of the matter is, Lamar Odom knew exactly what he was getting into with Khloe. He knew what she was about and he was ok with it. He chose that life. And to be honest, he liked it. His NBA peak came at the same time as his reality show peak. In the end I was actually surprised the marriage lasted as long as it did. More than half the marriages in America end in divorce. So in that sense, Lamar and Khloe were no different from anyone else. I am not going to speculate on what happened between a man and his wife. All I know is Khloe Kardashian wasn't responsible for Lamar Odom's basketball decline. The real cause behind that was something that happened in his professional career.

Lamar Odom has always been an emotional player. There's nothing wrong with that. But the problem is that he never learned to channel that emotion in a positive way on the court. There are plenty of examples of emotional players channeling their negative feelings to become better players. Michael Jordan. Kevin Garnett. Kobe Bryant. But Lamar Odom simply wasn't wired that way. If he wasn't in a positive frame of mind, he wasn't able to perform to the best of his ability.

After losing in the playoffs in two consecutive seasons, the Lakers knew they had to make a change. With Lebron James joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in 2012, and the emergence of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, the Lakers knew they needed multiple superstars to compete for a championship. Andrew Bynum was injury riddled, Pau Gasol was aging, and Kobe Bryant was on the wrong side of his prime. Chris Paul, one of the greatest point guards of all-time was suddenly available and the Lakers had to pull the trigger. Unfortunately, that meant they had to give up Lamar Odom to New Orleans. Can you blame the Lakers for trying to trade him? Absolutely not. At the end of the day, this is a professional business. As a professional, you have to be able to take emotions out of it. Lamar had a great run in LA and the Lakers compensated him very well for his services. But Lamar Odom took it personally. After David Stern blocked the trade for "basketball reasons" (Don't get me started...) Lamar Odom was never the same player and the Lakers knew it. He had multiple meetings with team management and they ended up trading him to Dallas for a trade exception that ultimately helped them land Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. So at the time, it seemed like a great move for the Lakers. And I don't blame them one bit for making it. Had Lamar been a professional and not gotten butt hurt because the Lakers tried to trade him, perhaps he would still be a Laker.

Whatever the complex reasons behind Lamar Odom's troubles are, in the end I will remember him for being one of the most unique players to ever play in the NBA. For not being what he COULD HAVE been. For having all that talent and not making a single All-star game. For sacrificing for the good of the team and agreeing to come off the bench. For being one of the biggest pieces on two Laker championship teams. For being a left-handed beast in every facet of the game. For having one of the saddest lives a person can experience. For experiencing the loss of an infant child that I would not wish on my worst enemy. For falling into a drug addiction that almost any person on Earth could have fallen into. The good news is that it looks like he will recover from this latest incident. Perhaps he can write a happy ending to that long sad story. But in the end, he has to be the one to write it. All anyone else can do is cheer for him and not play the blame game. Because the only way to win that game, is not to play it at all. 

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