Despite personal struggles, the two-time champion will always be loved by ex-teammates and coaches 'like a brother'
POSTED: Oct 14, 2015 5:44 PM ET
Lamar Odom, usually a bright light of positive emotions and maturity, was the guy you wanted to have around.
Tuesday night, as the wrenching news from Nevada started to trickle out and a layer of darkness descended on the NBA, Luke Walton received several texts in Oakland as he was preparing to coach the Warriors against the Nuggets in a 7:40 tip.
Lamar Odom, a former Lakers teammate, was found unresponsive at a brothel in Pahrump, had been taken to a hospital about 60 miles away in Las Vegas and was fighting for his life.
Golden State and Denver played. They finished just after 10 p.m. Walton did not check his phone for updates. He got to the interview room for the typical postgame press conference, part of the task of interim coach while Steve Kerr recovers from two offseason back surgeries, at about 10:15. He still had not checked his phone.
Walton, fearing the worst, was afraid to know the latest.
It's different like that with Lamar Odom. A lot of names conjure respect among ex-teammates, a lot of faces bring back a flood of smiles and good memories, but Odom has a particularly special place in the NBA, even now. He last played in 2013, but the relatively short timeline since retiring, recent enough that many peers are still playing, means nothing. Two years, 20 years -- Odom will always be remembered as one of the quality people of a locker room.
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It may be strange to say for someone whose life included so many of the personal demons that apparently continued to rule his life in Pahrump and whose public reputation would become shaped when he married Khloe Kardashian and the nonsense factory swallowed up part of his life in the name of TV ratings. It may be contradictory to be known as such an uplifting teammate when his own life was marked by tragedy -- the loss of a 7-month-old son, the loss of a 24-year-old cousin, his own mother passing when Lamar was 12 -- until Odom put it this way to Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times in 2011: "Death always seems to be around me."
It's true, though. In 14 star-crossed NBA seasons with the Clippers, Heat, Lakers and Mavericks, and especially the seven years and two championships with the Lakers, Odom was usually a bright light of positive emotions and maturity. And, yes, stability. He was the guy you wanted to have around.
"A lot of people don't know that Lamar Odom probably is the most popular player in our locker room," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said at the presentation as Odom was named Sixth Man of the Year for 2010-11. "And that's not because of the way he plays basketball. That's because of who he is."
"Lamar is a brother to me," Walton said in that postgame media session in Oakland, trying to grasp the situation. "I absolutely love that man."
There would be a lot of similar sentiments around the league Tuesday night as the grim developments circulated and then throughout Wednesday amid speculation but no word from the hospital or officials on his condition. Odom the person. That's what jumped to mind when former coaches and teammates talked about him, not the versatile offensive threat who could handle the ball at 6-foot-10, score and rebound the ball at a decent rate for a small forward.
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People loved to be around him in a basketball setting. He was helpful to reporters, not merely regularly giving his time in obligation as part of the job but offering insightful answers and honesty. Within a team, having Odom the person on the roster was regarded as a positive in itself. Odom the basketball player, when he was on, was valuable as well.
"I sometimes have to stop and remind myself how much this guy has been through and how much he's lost," Derek Fisher, his Lakers teammate at the time, told Sports Illustrated in a 2009 story. "I'm sure there is anger and disappointment inside of him, but to have his spirit, to have his approach to everyday life, I don't know how he does it."
It's why Odom still has a special place in the NBA years after retiring, because he is so well liked and held in such high regard despite the personal struggles that have unfortunately marked his life after basketball. It's why friends don't want to check their phones, because they are afraid to find out what comes next when having him around had been such a good thing.
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