Money Or Legacy? Lamar Odom Must Decide

Patrick LairdCorrespondent IJuly 17, 2009

In some ancient folklore, the quest for immortality came by way of courage, loyalty, and successful battle. No currency existed; no riches, so to speak, upon a warrior's return. The quest was more about valor and honor in one's people and purpose.

Check Beowulf. Scandinavian folklore is entrenched with those continuing to fight well beyond what could have been suited an illustrious career for a warrior.

Check the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Sumerians had little to provide for their audacious advocates of virtue. This is why according to Sumerian legend, Gilgamesh's friend Enkidu feared his own death should it not come in battle. 

Legacy made men rich. Wealth and immortality came in consecration of something great. One's financial gains does not concern legacy.

If sport is a microcosm of epic tales, then Lamar Odom must decide if greatness and financial wealth are woven of the same thread.

The twenty-nine year old forward became a free agent fresh off of winning his first NBA Championship with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers have recently rescinded a three-year $27 million offer to Odom. Reports have Odom seeking a deal in the realm of five-years and $50 million. Portland, among a few other teams, might be interested in offering Odom the money he desires.

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Portland seems like a fine destination for Odom. Brandon Roy has shown he can be one of the heavyweight scorers in the league, and if Greg Oden can possibly stay healthy the Blazers are an inside and outside force to be reckoned with.

However, Odom's best chance at winning another title in the next few years have to be in L.A. The question is, in what way does Lamar Odom want to be considered rich? Does he want his money or a lasting legacy with one of the more glorious franchises in the league?

When he first came to the Lakers via the Miami Heat, Odom became the Lakers' second option. He averaged 15.3 points a game and nearly 10 rebounds in his first season donning the purple and gold.

The Lakers saw little success during Odom's first three seasons with the team. They failed to make the playoffs in 2004-05 and lost in the first round the following two seasons. Unfortunately for Odom, much of the criticism came to him. Many said that he could not deliver in big game situations and could handle his important role with the team.

Though critics existed then, many realize now in retrospect that neither Odom nor Bryant had the supporting cast to foster a championship run.  Besides, Odom's first three seasons with the Lakers did not see a significant drop in his overall career numbers. 

The trade for Pau Gasol in Odom's fourth season with the Lakers gave them a legitimate, and consistent, third option—Lamar Odom.

Gasol averaged 18.9 points the past two season with the Lakers. Odom's scoring output dropped to 14.2 in 2007-08, the year Gasol joined. This past season saw Odom's lowest scoring average yet at 11.3. His playing time also decreased as he averaged less than 30 minutes a game during the regular season for the first time in his career.

With a minimized scoring role, albeit still an important one, Odom and the Lakers made the NBA Finals two consecutive years and finally won a ring this past trip. 

Now perhaps feeling his worth has somehow been proven to the league, Odom is seeking a big payday and long-term contract. Certainly one could argue that Odom is deserving or vice versa. For whatever reason, be it the business of the league, Odom threatens what could be his immortality in the NBA.

Should Odom stay with the Lakers, he and Bryant and Gasol have a unique opportunity of winning multiple championships the next few years.

Odom won't be remembered for winning one championship. People will talk about the leadership of Kobe Bryant after years of disparagement. They'll talk about the acquisition of Pau Gasol. They'll extol the virtues of Phil Jackson returning and surpassing Red Auerbach with ten championships.

But why do people remember the likes of Michael Cooper, Danny Ainge, and B.J. Armstrong? Do these players cement a place in the NBA lexicon without being a part of a dynasty? More than likely not. Does any fan care how much their contracts were worth? Absolutely not. Lamar Odom has that same opportunity.

Odom may be able to get the money he seeks; his hard work over the years and performance with the Lakers certainly makes him deserving. Or maybe Lamar Odom became satisfied with just one title. Maybe, after just one title, he's lost his desire for NBA gold.

Odom needs to understand what is at stake and consider what's more important. It is possible he goes to a Portland, Miami, or Dallas and wins another title. Even so, he'd still be far from being immortalized like Robert Horry.

But winning with one team, especially if it can be in consecutive fashion, is something only made of epic proportions. No, fans won't remember the numbers to this impending contract with whatever team it may be. They remember the greater good and the plural form of success.

Ancient history does not remember those who went off and won one small battle that many other men have also achieved. No—it remembers the epic heroes who returned, time and time again, and conquered over and over and over.

Beowulf didn't beat Grendel and return home to bask in the spoils of his heroism. Gilgamesh didn't weep for an eternity and pity the death of his friend. They're remembered because they picked up the sword or the ax and fought on. Not for money, but legacy.

Lamar Odom deserves his ring; the Lakers could not have done it without him. Lamar Odom also deserves to give his teammates a shot at becoming an epic NBA tale to be told for years to come. After all, if he doesn't re-sign with the Lakers, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol may go ahead and achieve that legacy without him.

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