LAMAR ODOM AS NIGHTCRAWLER

In the fourth part of a five-part series comparing the Clippers bench to the X-Men band of superheroes, Lamar Odom's versatility and chance at redemption are compared to Nightcrawler.

Redemption. A word that’s used so often when describing athletes and superheroes it’s lost some of its luster, but every once in a while, we find a hero and/or athlete who truly embodies the definition of the word.

For the X-Men, that hero is Nightcrawler, the acrobatic, teleporting circus performer who endured a life of ridicule and isolation from the outside world, but was able to find a place among the X-Men and reinvent himself as a hero. His road to redemption was an arduous one, but he proved that even in the face of adversity, maturity and determination triumphed in the end. For the Clippers, they have a player seeking his shot at redemption as well. That player is Lamar Odom. While on the surface it may seem as though Nightcrawler and Odom don’t share any similarities, there is a sufficient commonality that exists between their lives. Here’s why:

Born in Germany with a prehensile tail and fine blue-black fur covering his body, Nightcrawler’s appearance immediately made him an outcast, but he found a home performing in the circus. There, audiences naturally assumed this devilish looking figure was simply a human in disguise. His acrobatic ability made him a crowd favorite, and his faith and spirituality kept him grounded and sane. But, things didn’t last.

In the comics, Nightcrawler’s circus was bought by a Texas millionaire who planned to move the circus from Germany to the United States. The new owner wanted Nightcrawler to be a part of the circus’ freak show because of his look, and went so far as to drug him to keep him in captivity. He eventually escaped with the help of a fellow mutant, and it was upon returning to his hometown in Germany that his trouble truly began. Nightcrawler’s foster brother, Stefan, had gone mad and committed a number of horrific crimes in the town. When Nightcrawler found his brother he fought him in an attempt to stop his rampage, but during the struggle, unintentionally killed Stefan. When the villagers saw Nightcrawler, they assumed from his appearance that he was a demon responsible for the crimes that had swept through the town. Before the angry mob could kill him, however, Nightcrawler was saved by Professor Xavier, who offered him a safe haven among his team of X-Men. In the film X2: X-Men United, Nightcrawler spoke about the discrimination and ridicule he faced throughout his life: “Outside the circus, most people were afraid of me. But I didn't hate them. I pitied them. Do you know why?  Because most people will never know anything beyond what they see with their own two eyes.”  Despite the hardships he had endured, Nightcrawler stayed true to himself and his beliefs, and as a newly initiated member of the X-Men, learned to use his acrobatic versatility and teleportation power for good. He was given a new life, and more importantly, a life with purpose.

While Lamar Odom may not be a teleporting acrobat like Nightcrawler, his size and versatility have made him a dynamic, one of a kind player just like his X-Men counterpart. At 6-foot-10, Odom has shown he can be a threat from anywhere on the court. Coupled with his rebounding skills, Odom can post up defenders, shoot the midrange jumper, and even be a threat from beyond the arc, a place he’s shooting near 50.0% since Feb. 23. Former Miami Heat head coach Pat Riley once said of Odom, “He is the only player to come into this league who had the ability to play like Earvin Johnson.”

Odom’s unique ability to space the floor and contribute consistently on both ends helped him win two NBA titles as well as a Sixth Man of the Year award in 2011. It seemed like nothing could stop this power forward from piling on the accolades for years to come. However, just as Nightcrawler had to endure a life in the circus before joining the X-Men, Odom had to endure his own adversity before rejoining the Clippers.

When Odom was traded from the Lakers to the Mavericks prior to the 2011-12 season, it seemed like a natural fit for both parties. The Mavs were the defending world champions and had just lost a key player in Tyson Chandler to free agency. With the acquisition of Odom—the NBA’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year—the Mavs envisioned that he would step right into their lineup and help them defend their title; something Odom had experience in from winning back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010 with the Lakers.

But, the relationship between Odom and the Mavs quickly soured. Odom never quite seemed to settle into his new role with the team. He averaged a then career-low 6.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. The criticism Odom received over his stay in Dallas from both fans and the media seemed relentless. It was like the angry villagers in Germany screaming for Nightcrawler’s head.

So, when Odom was traded back to the Clippers during the offseason, it was no surprise that many people questioned the move. But, like Nightcrawler, Odom viewed this new chapter in his life as a chance to prove himself again. During his introductory press conference, Odom addressed the hardships he’d faced in Dallas, saying, “You never know what life is going to bring you. Obviously, the things we go through prepare us, right, for things to come. And I'm a lot more prepared to go through adverse times."

And, while Odom’s numbers this season may not compare to those in seasons past, his leadership and championship experience has made him a key component to a Clippers team looking to establish themselves as legitimate title contenders. That’s not to say he hasn’t shown flashes of his old self, though. In a victory over the Utah Jazz last month at Staples Center, Odom scored a season high 18 points while grabbing six rebounds. His teammates were quick to take notice of his performance and effort. Said Clippers point guard Chris Paul: “L.O. was unbelievable. Without his spark and aggression, we don't win this game. When he's aggressive, it changes the dynamics of our team.”  Odom, himself, acknowledged after the game that he was finally starting to get back into form. “I'm starting to get my legs underneath me. I'm just trying to stay at it, work hard," he said. “I'm trying to fit in and do whatever I can do to help the team win.”

For Odom, his return to Clippers this season offered him a chance to start anew. Like Nightcrawler, he was given a chance to redeem himself and be a contributing factor for his team. With the playoffs nearing and Odom’s body finally returning to game form, you can be certain that the Clippers will look to their dynamic power forward to add even more versatility to an already deep bench. And for Odom, he’s a part of the circus nowadays as well: the acrobatic show called Lob City.

Coming Soon: Ronny Turiaf as Beast. 

Colin J. Liotta is the co-founder of the website The Sports Hero along with his wife, Bushra, and acts as the Editor-in-Chief. The website combines sports and comics into one place for fans of both genres. See more of Colin's work at www.thesportshero.com