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Lamar Odom and the Revolving Door of Public Judgment

Lamar Odom is fighting for his life. He's been fighting for a long time.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Your reputation precedes you.

Lamar Odom's reputation has meant a lot through the years, and has stood for many different things to many different kinds of people. To understand where Odom's reputation starts for Clipper fans, particularly many Clipper fans that latched onto this team before Blake Griffin turned the franchise around, and even before Elton Brand led the team into the playoffs, you would have to do some digging.

The Basketball Player

Odom came before Griffin and before Brand. Odom also came after Danny Manning and the litany of mostly disappointing picks in between that made the franchise's front office a laughingstock. Between Manning and Odom, there was only promise that was very rarely fulfilled, and never at the level that made you think "superstar." Odom was a star from the start. He was the first Clipper I ever referred to on a first name basis, as if he was my friend or something; silly, but this has become commonplace for me and my favorite Clippers. I continued to refer to Lamar by his first name even as he played for the Los Angeles Lakers, a team I cared little for. To my friends, he was constantly referred to as "the only likable Laker."

Odom was gifted from the moment anyone saw him touch a basketball. As a youngster, he was constantly compared to Magic Johnson, and for good reason. Not many people have had the height and versatility Odom has had while being able to play virtually any position on the floor. I was talking with a friend recently about how ahead of his time Odom was, and how he'd be perfect for the league now in his prime. During high school, Odom bounced around different schools but no one could ever deny his talent, for which he was heavily recruited. Odom eventually ended up with the University of Rhode Island, and in his short time there, he did things like this.

The Clippers drafting Odom with their 4th pick was a bit of a watershed time for the team. The team didn't achieve immediate success and playoff berths, but slowly saw improvement and eventually tried to strike while the iron was hot. Odom's first two years with the club were incredible individual years for him, highlighted by a brilliant second year that saw him average 17.2 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game, 5.2 assists per game, 1.6 blocks per game, 1 steal per game, 1.1 three per game, on 46% shooting in 76 games. Good luck finding many stat lines that look that complete, geez.

The team continually improved during Odom's first three years, even if Odom peaked as a Clipper in year 2. After the 2002 season, the Clippers narrowly missed out on the playoffs finishing 9th in the conference. The team went all in the following year, a year many of you know as the "Andre Miller year." Well, things didn't quite work out. Odom often spent time awkwardly alongside another natural power forward in Brand. In the summer of 2003, the Clippers had to choose between the struggling Odom and the safe Brand. They chose Brand, and the Clippers eventually experienced one of their most successful seasons with Brand as their MVP candidate. As talented and charming as Odom was, it was the right move for the Clippers.

Odom had a resurgence of his own in Miami which included this gem. That Heat team was one of my favorite non-Clipper teams of all time: Odom, rookie Dwyane Wade, Eddie Jones (a personal favorite), Caron Butler, Brian Grant, and Rafer Alston were some of the players featured. While Jones narrowly led the team in scoring and Wade surged as the season progressed, Odom was the team's overall best player that season. The Heat made the playoffs after a slow start and proved to be a tough out for the Pacers in the second round. Their success caught the eye of Shaquille O'Neal, and Odom was dealt to the Lakers. Odom's revival changed the course of championships before he even came back to Los Angeles.

Odom became a Laker, the Lakers got Pau Gasol, and Odom became one of the more underrated basketball players to play on a title team. I'm not one to talk up the Lakers, but what a scary frontcourt. While Bryant was the team's unquestioned leader, the team's strength came up front with an absolutely absurd rotation that, when healthy, included Gasol, Odom, and Andrew Bynum. While Gasol and Bynum went through their injury woes (Bynum's never left), Odom always cleaned up the mess in a role that was perfect for him. Odom was never to be "the guy," but he was one of the best star role players you'll ever see in your life. He won 6th man of the year in 2011. As sad as I was to see him succeed on the other LA team, it was great to see him happy in a role that completely suited him.

The Lakers title team crashed and burned one Mother's Day in Dallas, Odom got ejected out of that game, and things never were the same again for him professionally. After some "basketball reasons," Odom ended up in Dallas. He never looked the same. He was then dealt back to the Clippers and played underrated basketball, particularly as a facilitator and a defender. But after that, his demons took a hold of him. They'd been knocking for a long time.

The Tragedy

If Odom's basketball story reads awkwardly, that's because the guy didn't live a normal life like me or you. That Odom's life has been loaded with tragedy feels like an understood thing among Clipper fans, but it's been missed by so much of the media that has pulled him down over the years. Breene Murphy's piece over at clipperblog summarized Odom's tragedies well (and includes a strong Jacob Weinstein image). Odom's mom passed away when he was 12 after fighting cancer. His grandma raised him after that, and she died when he was 20 and a Clipper. His dad was a heroin addict. His son died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, one of the absolute worst things I can imagine happening to anyone. Odom was in New York attending the funeral for his 24 year old cousin who was murdered, and the next day he was a passenger in a car accident that killed a 15 year old boy. Lamar once said, "Death always seems to be around me. I've been burying people for a long time." He made it a ritual to write the names of his deceased relatives on his shoes.

Odom also had bounced from school to school due to poor grades, going from UNLV to Rhode Island for college after a slew of controversy that included a messy booster situation. Odom has also had his share of substance abuse problems. As a Clipper in 2001, fans will remember he was suspended for violating the NBA's drug policy. He was suspended again during the next season, admitting to having smoked marijuana. Odom's life seemed to stabilize some with a healthy basketball life, but once basketball stopped in late 2013, Odom got a DUI and the paparazzi filled the media with rumors of a cocaine addiction.

His life was followed excruciatingly by the media following his relationship with Khloe Kardashian. After their separation, the media didn't leave him alone.

The Teammate

As news of Odom's hospitalization came, droves of teammates came to his aid. Whether it was his Clipper teammates or Kobe Bryant coming to his hospital, or all the messages of support from teammates or competitors around the league, it's been plenty evident that Odom has left his mark. Much has come to the surface about Odom's impact on his teammates whether it be in Miami or in Los Angeles, and the close bonds he's had with those players. While Odom's game was selfless, so was his personality. It would be difficult to hear anyone that's had much relation with Odom say a bad thing about him.

Odom is now fighting for his life, and he's shown signs of hopefully getting through yet another hurdle in his life's journey. While watching all these events unfold and seeing people's reaction vary from well wishes to told-you-sos, I can't help but feel like I have absolutely no idea how to judge someone like Odom. I see Lamar, and I first see him as a basketball player: a pool of unlimited talent that ended up having a pretty incredible basketball career, with teammates that loved playing with him and being around him. There are very few basketball players that have had me in such awe. As far as everything else goes, I can only imagine. I can only imagine what it's like having that much tragedy in your life. I can expand so much about his basketball career just being a Clipper lifer, but I can't comment much on how he's coped with everything aside from just feeling bummed about it. I'm sad that Odom went to the depths he went and pushed his life to the brink, a place where he still is. But aside from that, all I feel is hope. The same hope I felt when I saw Odom going through tragedy during his career. Hope that a guy that has brought me so much joy as a fan of the game, can pull it together. Hope that I can hear a few more quotes from him that'll make me smile. Hope that everyone will just stop pretending like they know what it's like to be him. Hope that people that know him as a pop personality will realize what a life he's lead, and channel a basic human instinct of empathy for a man at his lowest point. I understand that it's natural to judge someone that has made choices dabbling into drugs and alcohol, but when someone is on the brink, the negative vibes get tired.

There have been so many points in Odom's life where he could have given up, whether it was professional lows or personal tragedy. He's been hit hard by this recent string of rough time, which includes a very public separation from his wife. But he's still trying to fight, and get through more adversity. I can't help but pull for the guy. Partly because I am just as guilty of forgetting what a life he has been through.

It's been a tough few years, but the guy's a survivor. Always has been. Right now, as far as I'm concerned, that's his reputation.

Get well soon, Lamar.