Watching Lamar Odom play basketball has been a painful experience this season.
Since his unexpected and unusual departure from the Lakers, things haven't gone so well for Odom. He came into the season out of shape after a rough summer in which he lost a cousin and then was in a car accident resulting in the death of a teen while in New York to attend his cousin's funeral. It's hardly the first time Odom has dealt with personal strife and loss. In Odom's 32 years, he's witnessed the circle of life too many times, having to say goodbye far too often.
Of course, none of this matters to the average fan who tunes in to a game, doesn't know his life story and only sees the reigning sixth man. Fans haven't been sure how to react to his lackluster play, booing and cheering him over the course of the same game. But at least he knows teammate Delonte West stands beside him while he tries to figure himself out.
West, another player who has had his share of off-court issues (and continues to work through them), spoke about his unconditional support of Odom in an interview with ESPN Dallas Radio (via sportsradiointerviews.com), saying,
“We can actually relate a lot to one another because I went through a period in my career where I was dealing with some off-the-court issues and … because of our talent and the jerseys that we put on, somehow we’re looked upon like Spider-man and Superman. Like, these are our uniforms but we’re just humans. We have no super powers, you know what I’m saying? … And Lamar is one of those guys who’s an emotional guy and he’s what I would call a human being, a guy that knows how to play basketball.”
We have heard the locker room supports Odom, and hearing West speak out so strongly in support of him is a great sign. Odom put together one of his best performances of the season in the Mavericks' victory over the Rockets last night, making four of his five field goals and scoring nine points to go with four rebounds and four assists.
If Dallas wants to make noise in the playoffs this year, Odom's versatility and postseason experience are incredible assets to have. How do they make sure they get that version of Odom to show up on the court? There's never any guarantee on the performance you're going to get from any player, regardless of the money you might be paying him. The best you can do is provide them support and put them in a position to succeed, both things the Mavericks seem to be doing with Odom.
What West brought up is the lesson that all players have to learn eventually; that most fans are not going to care about what happens to you after you leave the arena. Athletes are held up to be superheroes, and in the process are sometimes held to superhuman expectations where emotions like grief and sadness are expected to be pushed aside, or turned off when the ball is thrown up into the air.
West explained how he's supporting Odom, while also sending a message that more people need to understand: at the end of the day, regardless of profession, salary, or situation, we're all humans existing together on the same crazy planet. Seems somewhat fitting that it's West who is giving us this reminder:
“You’ve gotta keep encouraging. You gotta keep letting guys know that you’re there for them. … The fans (aren’t concerned) if you got in a car accident or anything on your way into the gym. They just want you to go out there and score 20 points and keep your mouth closed. And at the end of the day we’re all humans, man, we gotta pull together. The more we show as a team rallying around him — he’s gonna come on at the right moment. But we’re more concerned about him having the right mind state … because basketball will be over one day. It’s just a sport. I know fans, they pay a lot of money to come see us play at a high level but more important than that is peace of mind. He’s someone’s son, he’s someone’s parent, he’s someone’s husband, and he’s also someone’s superhero, and all that turns into one. You can’t have one without the other."
Wise words, Mr. West. It would be nice if this story gets a happy ending where Odom can build on his performance last night and get back to being the player we've grown used to seeing. It would be even better if Odom could get himself right off of the court so basketball can start being fun for him again.