Would Lamar Odom Still Be Playing in the NBA if Tragedy Never Struck?

Posted in: Op-edSports News
January 13, 2020 7:15 PM

Odom's career surely would have been longer if tragedy hadn't so persistently tailed him. But he was already in his mid-thirties when he was traded to the Clippers, his physical abilities clearly diminishing.

  • Lamar Odom recently appeared on Vince Carter’s podcast.
  • The former Lakers star believes he’d still be playing if not for his 2015 overdose.
  • The likely reality is more complicated.

Lamar Odom’s life almost ended before it should have been halfway finished.

In October 2015, he was found unconscious at a Nevada brothel. He was immediately rushed to the hospital, where he was comatose and on life support for three full days before regaining consciousness.

Doctors initially expressed doubt about Odom’s ability to make anything close to a full recovery. But four years later, the two-time NBA champion seems no worse for the wear – and is adamant he’d still be playing basketball at the highest level if not for his brush with death.

‘I Probably Would Still Be Playing’

Odom recently appeared on Winging It With Vince Carter, a podcast from The Ringer hosted by the Atlanta Hawks’ 42-year-old wing.

During his discussion with Carter and The Ringer’s Annie Finberg, Odom recalls meeting Carter at a Hawks game recently and being filled with regret about the lost opportunity to continue his NBA career. Odom says:

One of the most hurtful parts about that night is that… I think about the way I played, and my skill level. I’m like, ‘If that didn’t happen, I probably would still be playing.’ You know what I mean?

In July 2018, Odom announced that he was making a comeback in professional basketball. Though his initial goal was to play in the Chinese Basketball Association, his return ultimately came in the Philippines last February.

Odom’s playing stint abroad proved short-lived. He was back in the United States last summer, captaining The Enemies of Ice Cube’s BIG3, but struggled enough in his first game for the league to deactivate him for the season’s remainder.

Wishful Thinking

Odom’s dreams of a comeback are over. Odom says:

Just recently, I gave myself to Christ and got saved. I think he took some of my natural ability away, put on the floor. It don’t bounce up the same… I can’t go between my legs and go around my back the same.

Reality is that Odom’s effectiveness in the NBA was waning long before his hospitalization.

His last successful season came in 2010-11, when he won Sixth Man of the Year with the Lakers. Odom was then traded to the Dallas Mavericks, with whom he played just 50 games before the parties mutually agreed to part ways before the 2012 playoffs.

Players, coaches, front office personnel, and owner Mark Cuban were all opaque when discussing the circumstances of Odom’s departure. It was revealed shortly thereafter that his lack of commitment and professionalism, even more than Odom’s disappointing play on the court, is what prompted Dallas to sever ties with him.

Odom was subsequently traded to the LA Clippers, reporting to training camp out of shape and averaging career-lows in minutes and points per game.

It’s undeniable that Odom’s performance in 2011-12 and 2012-13 wasn’t befitting that of an NBA player. But just as obvious is that his life-long association with tragedy – Odom’s infant son died in 2005 and his mother died of cancer when he was 12 – drastically affected his mindset during his final seasons in the NBA.

In August 2011, Odom attended the funeral of his 24-year-old cousin, who had been murdered. The following day, a car he was riding in struck a motorcycle, killing 15-year-old pedestrian Awsaf Alvi Islam. Odom told The Los Angeles Times:

Death always seems to be around me.

Odom’s career surely would have been longer if tragedy hadn’t so persistently tailed him. But he was already in his mid-thirties when he was traded to the Clippers, his physical abilities clearly diminishing. It bears mentioning that other than Carter, there’s no player older than 39 currently in the league, either.

Would Odom, 40, still be in the NBA if not for his 2015 overdose? No way. But his career was definitely cut short by the traumatic hardships he couldn’t escape.

This article was edited by Gerelyn Terzo.

Last modified: January 22, 2020 11:39 PM

Jack Winter

Jack Winter lives in Portland, OR. A veteran NBA writer, he also has experience covering the NFL, US politics, and pop culture. Follow him on Twitter at @armstrongwinter, or reach him directly at john.armstrong.winter@gmail.com.

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