There are people in various corners of the NBA map trying to help the man right now. We’re talking former teammates and coaches and a clutch of confidants who don’t want their names out there because they’re not looking for attention for their efforts. All they want to see is Lamar Joseph Odom dislodge himself at last from one of the scariest downward spirals to engulf an NBA player in the 21st century.
For the most part, I try to keep these pages about basketball and what happens on the court. It’s the spirit this site was founded on and, over time, I’ve enjoyed keeping the discourse focused on what we see on the court and finding inspiration in those things to fuel the discussion between the writers and those who read, comment, and are a part of this community.
That said, sometimes things off the court have a way of taking hold of your attention and not letting go. Sometimes that’s a good thing…other times, not as much.
That’s quite a list of supporters. A legendary player, a former coach (and legend in his own right), a teammate, an announcer, and a reporter. All expressing concern, all just wanting the best for Odom. Not as a player, but as a man.
I join that group.
This isn’t about basketball. At least not really.
The reason why many of us care is because basketball has provided a vehicle for us to appreciate Odom. I can’t claim to be as close to Odom as those people referenced above, but I can claim to be captured and affected by Odom in a way that transcends what he did on that 94′ by 50′ piece of hardwood.
Odom’s is a story of perseverance and redemption. The fact that basketball was the backdrop for this story simply allowed many more people to be part of his journey.
A common theme of his life has been seeing others around him die. His mother. His Grandmother. An infant. A cousin. A man struck by a car he was a passenger in. This list is likely even longer.
Another theme is how, early in his career (and even later, if we’re being honest), he was seen as a player who was squandering his talent. But Odom turned around his career. First in Miami and then with the Lakers. His success on the court then became a symbol of his strength as a man, of how one can endure and conquer the demons that find a nesting place in people who have seen more tragedy than what can be deemed their fair share.
Today it seems Odom is back to losing that battle with those demons. This saddens me in ways I didn’t think I could be by a person who I have no real connection to besides what he did on a basketball court or said in media scrums in front of a locker.
I could probably go on and on about what Odom meant to me as a player or how much his presence on those Lakers’ teams mattered. But, to be honest, that is of little consequence right now. I simply want my favorite lefty to rediscover some peace in his life. Even if, based off his history, it will probably be only fleeting.
One of the funner bits of recent Lakers-related news is the hiring of Mark Madsen as the new head coach of the Los Angeles D-Fenders. The mere mention of Madsen’s name is invariably accompanied by references to his victory parade dance but the essence of the player was always his hustle and determination. Dubbed Mad Dog at Stanford, the tag carried over to his NBA career. It was in college however, that the iconic crash-and-burn reputation was made. Madsen routinely left it all on the floor during his four years at The Farm, helping the Cardinals to four straight NCAA appearances and making it to the final four in 1998. He was the 29th pick by the Lakers in the 2000 draft.
Mark Madsen’s nine seasons in the NBA were somewhat more measured than his collegiate years, he accepted the roles given him, played effectively, listened and learned. The true Mad Dog moments didn’t come as often but they existed, often inspired when larger opposing players tried to muscle him off the block. Madsen would get that familiar bug-eyed look and a real low center of gravity – the man was capable of clearing some room. The two-time NBA champion signed as a free agent with the Timberwolves for the 2003-04 season, played six seasons, was traded to the Clippers and waived. Madsen was an assistant coach for the D-League’s Utah Flash in 2009-10 and returned to Stanford the following year to get his MBA. He segued into an assistant coaching position for Cardinals this past season and now returns to the place where his NBA career began, shepherding players who toil on the fringes and ball for the love of the game, hoping to some day get their shot.
It’s been pointed out that the Lakers have to play the hand they’ve been dealt next season, there’s simply not a lot of other options considering current salary obligations and the new CBA. Given the obvious constraints, it’s not a bad thing to have a D-League resource that you literally share the house with – the D-Fenders practice and play at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, home to the Lakers practice and training facilities as well as management offices. The team was created by Dr. Jerry Buss in 2006 and was always envisioned as a satellite operation that could potentially pay major dividends at some point down the line. Buss, who passed away this past February, handed the D-League reins to his son Joey five years ago. The CEO/President of the D-Fenders has instituted a number of significant changes, including melding Lakers and D-Fenders benefits for fans and season ticket holders.
For the most part, player movement between the big and little brother halves of the organization has been a matter of seasoning – Devin Ebanks, Darius Morris and Robert Sacre have each served recent stints with the minor league affiliate. Going back a few years, Jordan Farmar was the first player to suit up for a D-league and NBA game on the same day. So far, there hasn’t been much reciprocity – the Lakers most significant recent call up was Andrew Goudelock, by way of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. This isn’t to say that the D-Fenders haven’t had any success placing players in the NBA. During the 2011-12 season, a record six players were recruited by 11 different teams. Included in the mix was former slam-dunk champ Gerald Green who got a New Jersey Nets call-up that year and is currently a key member of Indiana Pacers bench and one win away from the Eastern Finals.
The D-Fenders have had a bit of an uneven ride with coaches, general managers and even seasons in their entirety – they took all of 2010-11 off for some organizational housekeeping. Past head coaches have included Dan Panaggio, Chucky Brown, Eric Musselman (named 2012 D-League Coach of the Year) and Reggie Theus. This coming season will mark a new chapter – the naming of Coach Madsen was made official at a press conference yesterday.
Is Madsen the right man for the job? Predicting the future in sports is a risky proposition – the Lakers 2012-13 season stands as evidence of that fact. Still there’s a lot to be said for attitude and for varied life experiences. Remember, this is the guy who dedicated two years to missionary work before declaring for the draft. And then were the years spent absorbing wisdom from another spiritually-minded former power forward with deadly elbows – somebody nicknamed Action Jackson. Perhaps the real question isn’t whether Mad Dog can succeed within the D-League’s bubble but whether he can pay it upward to the Lakers – big brother might need a dime or two next season.
Halfway (well, 65.8%, but who’s counting) through its annual marathon, the NBA bestows upon its rank-and-file (players, coaches, hell, fans) a much-needed four-day respite from the mental and physical grind of 82 in ~175. In 2013, nowhere is this midseason oasis more welcome than in Lakerland, where, in depressingly short order, euphoria and stratospheric expectations have devolved into the most disappointing campaign in franchise history, a nightly nut-punch mad lib on the floor outdone only by incessant upheaval behind closed doors.
On a far brighter note, the NBA convenes this weekend in Houston, to celebrate its present and future, flaunt its athletic wares and, presumably, provide tuition assistance to certain ilk of “law student.” Last night, behind 40, on an unreal-even-against-All-Star-D 18-for-22 from the field, and 10 rebounds by the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried and 20 apiece from Cavs and Spurs sophs Tristan Thompson and Kawhi Leonard (who also had 10 and 7 rebounds, respectively), Team Chuck laid the wood to Team Shaq in a still-entertaining Rising Stars Challenge. This evening, the All Star festivities shift into top gear, with the always-meh Shooting Stars, underrated (seriously, I love it) Skills Challenge and All Star Saturday mainstays, the 3-point and slam dunk contests.
Though likely for the best, given the manner in which the pas three months have unfolded, conspicuously absent from tonight’s proceedings will be the Los Angeles Lakers. Not here! Infusing your day with memories of brighter days, a look back at the Lakers on All Star Saturdays past:
1984 Slam Dunk Contest
Three decades ago, the NBA lifted a(nother) page from the ABA playbook with a revival of the slam dunk contest. Fittingly, the event (re)debuted in the Rockies, where eight years earlier, at halftime of the 1976 ABA All-Star Game, a Spurs’ greats George Gervin and Larry Kenon, Kentucky Colonel Artis Gilmore, Denver’s own David Thompson and then-New York Net Julius Erving. The Doctor returned to headline the nine-man field, which included the preeminent perimeter defender of his (and maybe all) time and author of many a Coop-a-Loop, Michael Cooper. Suffice it to say, the Lakers’ inaugural All-Star Saturday performance was less than auspicious:
Though still immortalized:
1987 3-Point Contest
Three years after the slam dunk dud of ’84, Coop was back at All-Star Saturday, this time to take part in the second annual Larry Bird Invitational, err, 3-Point Contest. Accompanying Cooper to Seattle for the festivities was fellow sharpshooter Byron Scott. In a star-studded eight-man field featuring a who’s who of the game’s great shooters – and Danny Ainge (some grudges die hard) – Scott stumbled, while Cooper more than held his own, outscoring Bird, Dale Ellis and future three-time contest champ Craig Hodges in Round 1, before exiting in the Semifinals, the third place finisher.
1988 3-Point Contest
This time flying solo, Byron Scott returned to the 3-Point Contest the following year in Chicago. Scott rather emphatically avenged the previous year’s last place finish with a first round performance that paced a similarly power-packed field. Not surprisingly, as the stakes ratcheted up, so did Larry Bird’s performance. Though light years behind Bird, Scott and Dale Ellis engaged in battle for the second spot in the final round, with Ellis advancing by the narrowest of margins.
Is it wrong that this burns me up as much as any Lakers-Celtics battle of which we were deprived?
1994 Rookie Game
In a stirring homage to Michael Cooper’s showing the inaugural NBA slam dunk contest a year earlier, in the first-ever (at the time) Rookie Game, Nick Van Exel, in 20 minutes of burn, handed out six assists but turned in a rather impressive goose egg, whiffing on all eight of his shots (have you seen the defense in these things?!?), including three 3-point attempts. Oof. Let’s move on.
1995 Rookie Game
The Lakers’ first-ever lottery pick, the unheralded Eddie Jones (selected #10 overall in the 1994 draft) had quickly established himself as not only one of the league’s best young players, he’d almost immediately etched his name in the NBA’s top tier of perimeter defenders. This NBA ready defense, along with his stellar athleticism in slashing to the bucket earned him an invite to the second annual Rookie Game, where, sharing the floor with the top two picks in the draft, Glenn Robinson and Jason Kidd (Grant Hill had been voted into the big-boy game), Eddie stole the show, racking up 25 (including 4-of-8 on 3-pointers), six swipes, and handing out four assists en route to the game’s MVP award.
(I’d planned to include a highlight video of this game, but sadly was only able to find the full telecast, chopped into 20-minute clips. You can find those here.)
1995 Slam Dunk Contest
In the first round of the 1995 Slam Dunk Contest, Antonio Harvey almost set the desert ablaze, but instead became the Andy Reid of All-Star Saturday.
Later that night, Bean returned to floor as the second Laker ever to take part in the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest. With the contest on the ropes (it would actually be shelved the following year), the league had implemented the latest of what ultimately became a comedic laundry list of gimmicks, allowing each competitor 90 seconds in Round 1 to do with as he pleased, with the best of two dunks making up his final round score. Sadly, this resulted in our being limited to a scant three dunks by Kobe in his lone appearance in the contest. As one would expect, however, Kobe made good, delivering as emphatic and technically perfect a one-hand reverse as you’ll ever see for an opening salvo. By the way, the whole “keep the warmups on” bit looks a lot cooler when it’s Kobe instead of Brent Barry.
After edging out now-assistant coach Darvin Ham (perhaps owing to a bit of judging generosity, but whatever), Kobe set the house ablaze with a thunderous between-the-legs number – remember, this is before Vince Carter and Jason Richardson made a mockery of the skill – which earned him 49 points and dunking supremacy
(Bonus points for aggressively flexing with the sub-Durant physique and openly cheering Michael Finley’s last miss)
2004 Skills Challenge
Ok, who had Open Court Legend placing second in a competition that rewards speed, quickness, agility and outside shooting?
Seriously, I remember guffawing upon discovering Fisher’s inclusion in this field (in large part, probably, because the Lakers were that year’s host, but still), and simply hoped he could out-duel Earl Boykins and avoid last place. Taking out Boykins, Stephon Marbury (when this was still an impressive thing) and making prime-Baron Davis work in final?
Really not a lot to say here. 12 points for Jordan Farmar, Andrew Bynum with 7 points and 4 boards in 18 minutes.
2007 Skills Challenge
Anyone else kinda totally forget that this happened?
With the notable exceptions of the Malice at the Palace and the 1984 Draft Lottery, I’m not sure there’s an event the NBA’s worked harder to bury in history than 2007’s All-Star Weekend in Vegas. Without going into detail, let’s just say it wasn’t exactly public relations coup for the league.
That said, it was there that one of the most stealthily cool competitions in ASW history took place. It’s over in a flash (pun possibly intended), and it’d have been awesome if Kobe hadn’t flubbed the opportunity to make a run at Wade’s final time, but simply having Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Paul – and no one else – in a test of basketball fundamentals is pretty awesome.
2008 Rising Stars
A year after posting a solid, if unspectacular 12 points as a rookie, Jordan Farmar returned to All Star Weekend as an NBA soph, and quietly turned in a stellar playmaking performance. In a game whose narrative was dominated by Kevin Durant (23 and 8), Rudy Gay (22 on just 12 shots), Brandon Roy (17 and 7 assists), LaMarcus Aldridge (18 and 9 rebounds) and MVP Boobie Gibson (33 on 11 threes), Farmar played a central role, feeding (among others) Gibson to the tune of 12 assists, scored 17 points on 10 shots, ripped four steals, and made the play of the game (#8 below).
It might even have been recognized as such had that lob found, say, Kevin Durant instead of Ronnie Brewer.
2010 Slam Dunk Contest
They Let Shannon Dunk. It… was.
Enjoy the festivities everyone – no Laker losses tonight!
It’s been 20 years since he became eligible, but he’s finally made it. Today, Jamaal “Silk” Wilkes was named to the 2012 Basketball Hall of Fame class. Wilkes’ averages of nearly 18 points, a shade over 6 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game don’t necessarily scream hall of famer, but his impact on winning teams both at the college and pro-level certainly do.
And really, winning is what should define his legacy. Wilkes was part of 3 4 NBA championship teams, including during his rookie year with the upstart Golden State Warriors and then collecting two three more with the Lakers in 1980, 1982, and 1985 (though that season he was injured and missed the playoffs). He also won two NCAA championships as part of back to back undefeated Bruins teams coached by John Wooden.
He was an offensive wizard that ran like a gazelle in the open court and hit high release jumpers when the game slowed down. He was a smart cutter and always seemed to be able to find the creases in the defense where he could hurt them with a part of his refined offensive arsenal. He could make the game look easy with a style so smooth they called him Silk.
Most of all though, he seemed to play well in big games and help lead his team to the mountain top on multiple occasions. His best game as a pro will always be remembered as the one that earned Magic Johnson the MVP, but the night that Wilkes had is one of the greatest performances that rarely gets talked about. In the championship clinching game with Kareem back in Los Angeles getting treatment on a sprained ankle, Wilkes put up 37 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to help dispatch the 76ers. His full offensive game was on display that night, canning jumpers, running the floor for easy baskets, and finishing around the rim with ease.
So, congrats to Silk. He certainly earned this honor. And now with this induction, the hope is that the Lakers will raise his #52 to the rafters to join the other HOFer’s that have worn the forum blue and gold. He’s certainly earned that honor too.
Update: As commenter chownoir pointed out, Silk was also a very good defender and was named to the All-Defensive (2nd) Team in the ’76 and ’77 seasons. His length and quickness were assets on the defensive end and he could cover both forward spots well. I should also point out that Wilkes was a three time all-star and was also named rookie of the year.
At what point does a person’s income preclude him from complaining about some of life’s breaks? Is there a line of demarcation? $10 million per year? A million? $500,000? $100,000? At what point does compensation beget dehumanization?
Though I share neither their income bracket nor VIP status, I have a tendency to empathize with athletes and celebrities. Despite the immense financial rewards and public adulation bestowed upon them, in many ways they are, in fact, “just like us.”
I’m talking not about occasional trip to Starbucks or fashion and dining choices that fit within even the strictest of budgets, but preferences, comfort zones, insecurities and emotional vulnerability. A person that has successfully refined and focused a specific skill set in such a manner that it is valued, in a free market, at several million dollars annually, does not cease to be a person.
Somewhere along the line, we as a society came to equate fame and considerable financial means with the complete absence of hardship and dissatisfaction with one’s existence. You don’t need to be just scraping by to love the city in which you live, genuinely enjoy your family, hate your boss or experience heart-shattering pain. Make no mistake, a life free of financial shackles is very often preferable to one that is not, but – and I strongly doubt that you need me to explain this to you – money doesn’t equate to happiness, it simply provides the security required to pursue it on one’s own terms. I lay this before you not because I think the rich and famous are in need of a crusader (though I imagine that would pay pretty well), but because over the past few days we have seen a number of NBAers, men of considerable means all, have their professional (and by extension, personal) lives dramatically altered by forces beyond their control. And regardless of income, they have every right to be unhappy about it – none more than Lamar Odom.
We’ll begin Thursday evening when, as you might have heard, executives from the Lakers, Hornets and Rockets agreed on the terms of trade that would land Chris Paul in L.A., deposit Lakers All-Star Pau Gasol in Houston and send draft picks, the Rockets’ 1-2 punch of Kevin Martin and Luis Scola to NOLA, along with Odom, the NBA’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year. As you also might have heard, for (basketball) reasons that continue to defy explanation, the increasingly dictatorial David Stern shot down the agreed-upon swap, along with a second iteration submitted by the teams, before the Lakers officially withdrew from talks on Saturday.
In light of the nixed deal(s), there was little doubt that awkwardness would abound at Lakers camp. While an admittedly unhappy Gasol arrived on Saturday at the team’s facility in El Segundo on time and said all the right things, Odom, as deeply emotional (do not confuse this with “demonstrative”) a player as there is in the NBA, was nowhere to be found. He arrived early that afternoon but stayed only long enough to complete a physical and chat briefly (read “request a trade”) with GM Mitch Kupchak, who quickly obliged, sending Odom to the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, in exchange for a $8.9 trade exception (presumably to be used in attempt to acquire Dwight Howard) and a first-round draft pick that may or may not be utilized before the next lockout.
Surely aware that the Lakers’ attempt to trade him stemmed not from displeasure with him personality or on-court performance, Lamar’s reaction is exactly the type that sparks populist drum circles, with accompanying demands throughout the media that he “suck it up” and appreciate that playing a “kid’s game” will earn him roughly $9 million this year.
Blah. Blah. Blah.
Plagued by inconsistency and immaturity early in his career, in seven years as a Laker, Odom evolved as a player, grew as a man and found love (say what you will about the show, but over two years and nary a problematic blip). Never a selfish player, Odom emerged as a calming veteran influence on three Finalists and a pair of championship teams, doing whatever was asked of him in the name of victory. His Swiss Army knife skill set created matchup nightmares all over the floor. When called upon, he ran the point. In a pinch, he logged minutes in the middle. Despite having more raw talent than all but a few players in NBA history, in 2008, for the good of the team, Odom agreed, without complaint, to come off of the bench.
On-court sacrifice not really moving you? No worries…
If there is any player of whom “not about the money” rings most true, Odom, a favorite of both teammates and fans and by all accounts the epitome of a gentle soul, is that player. The lone non-Kobe constant of the post-Shaq Lakers, not only did Odom sacrifice on the floor, he left eight figures on the table (anyone doubt that his last contract, 4 years, $36 million, could have topped $50 million?) as a free agent because he loves living in Southern California. If all of that – legitimately checking his ego at the door and foregoing millions to play where he wanted – is somehow still not enough, credit him for the perspective he’s gained, more appropriately, had forced upon him, by having to overcome more heartbreak and sorrow in 32 years than most of us will endure in a lifetime.
He lost his mother to colon cancer at age 12. At age 24, the beloved grandmother that raised him also succumbed to cancer. Three years later, to the day, Lamar lost a child, six-month old Jayden, to SIDS. His father, a heroin addict and absentee for much of his life, has reemerged, hand out. Last summer, while in New York to attend his cousin’s funeral, Lamar was a passenger in a car that struck a motorcycle, leading to the death of a nearby pedestrian.
You really wanna call this guy a me-first prima donna?
Best of luck, Lamar. You are already missed. You’ll always have a place in Lakerland.