We spend a lot of time making sports more important than they really are. When we look at the life study that is Lamar Odom, we see the true value of athletic competition:
The relationships that enrich us.
The diversion that brings us relief.
The competition that motivates us.
The goals so worthwhile to hold, whether they are met or missed.
Odom is an example of how sports help us with life. He has always been at his best in basketball—bringing together a locker room with charm and honest interest in others, performing on the court with an unselfish skill set that delivers teammates whatever they need at any given time.
He was a team guy who has had an awful lot of trouble as an individual.
One can only imagine how difficult it has been for Odom in the year and three months since he was waived for not meeting the New York Knicks' standard of professionalism after Phil Jackson had given him an NBA lifeline.
Odom is now hospitalized after being found unconscious at a Nevada brothel. TMZ is reporting that he is in a coma.
Odom and Gasol were the special forces that keyed the Lakers' NBA championships in 2009 and '10 for Bryant and Jackson. As good as he was on the court, usually finishing games instead of Andrew Bynum, Odom was invaluable as a connector behind the scenes.
You get a lot of talk from guys. Odom, though, truly cared about the team.
It offended him to the core when someone punked his team. He shrugged and laughed when someone punked him.
Odom sat with his chair facing into his Staples Center locker after one game in March 2010, answering media questions while symbolically turning his back on his teammates. That's how disgusted Odom was by how "soft" his defending champion team had become—and Odom's sharp words made clear how determined he was to fix it.
The Lakers repeated as NBA champions three months later.
Now, with some greater perspective, it makes sense that Odom cherished his team so dearly. Having a team gave his existence much more direction, order and purpose than it does even the average player who savors it.
Odom met Khloe Kardashian at a party for basketball teammate Ron Artest, and when he married her in 2009 it was his basketball family that was standing at his side. Giving the best-man speech was Jerry DeGregorio, Odom's basketball coach in high school, college and the NBA. One groomsman was Robbie Davis, Odom's personal trainer for basketball. Another was Jeff Schwartz, Odom's basketball agent.
In recent years, when basketball ended, Odom lost touch with many of the teammates he helped along the way. Also lost were some of his easiest, most important bonds that came from being part of a team.
Odom's broad shoulders have been shaken by death so often, and where he lies now is shocking, but not surprising to anyone who has followed his life story.
This is a boy who lost his mother when he was 12 years old and a man who lost his son when he was 6 ½ months old. Along with "Cathy" and "Jayden," Odom would write "Grandma" on his game sneakers to remember his other painful loss.
Four years ago, Odom was a passenger in a car crash that killed a 15-year-old boy. Four months ago, childhood friend Jamie Sangouthai, also a best man at Odom's 2009 wedding, died in a drug-related accident.
Odom has previously acknowledged how his experience with tragedy has profoundly affected him—sometimes pushing him toward danger instead of away from it.
But the Odom we came to know in the NBA was at his best when he had others who leaned on him, when there were others he wanted to please.
A people-person who truly put the people ahead of his person.
It's a reminder of how having the community of sports around you is a wonderful, protective, meaningful thing.
Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.