He didn’t have to stand for it. He could have complained to the coaching staff, run his mouth off to the media and pouted in games until he got his way. But as many of us who have kept a close watch of his demeanor off the court, and stand in amazement at his abilities on it, we’ve learned that anger and defiance are not the materials with which Lamar Odom is built. He is, instead, made purely of team-first mentality and a can-do attitude, and for this way of life on the hardwood, he is more than just deserving of this season’s Sixth Man of the Year Award; he is long overdue for it.
Receiving the vast majority of first place votes, and creating a large gap between him and second place, Jason Terry of the Dallas Mavericks, Odom is finally being rewarded for what his individual accomplishments have contributed to his teams. Though this award is theoretically based on what he did for the Lakers this 2010-2011 season, and how his performance stood relative to other reserves in the NBA, this recognition began long before the first game of the season. It started last summer with Team USA.
It can’t be said enough how Odom’s participation, along with Chauncey Billups’, helped the United States finally attain that gold medal in the 2010 World Champions. It was not only a testament to the good example that Odom provided for his much younger teammates, but it was a display of his ability to lead, something that’s not always needed on a Lakers team with the likes of Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher. The gold medal gave Team USA an automatic bid to the 2012 Summer Olympics. Unlike the 2008 Men’s Basketball team, 2012’s team doesn’t need to play in a qualifying tournament before the opening ceremonies in London.
And what he has given to this Lakers team, especially in the last three finals runs, can’t be heralded enough.
“A lot of people don’t know that Lamar Odom is probably the most popular player in our locker room,” Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said in today’s press conference. “And that’s not because of the way he plays basketball. It’s because of who he is.”
And who he is professionally is a disgustingly talented ball player who has the passing savvy of a point guard, the speed and scoring range of a shooting guard, the body and bulk of a forward, and the length of a center. He has been described, and rightfully so, as the most versatile player in the league and the x-factor, the difference maker in every game. He can play any position, and he can play it well, but he has often suffered criticism for constantly performing under the radar; playing like a #2 or #3 option when he could’ve been #1; passing when he should be shooting. But it is exactly this philosophy of his game that has made Lamar Odom such an invaluable piece to this Lakers team. Without him there would be no back to back championships, and they know that. Still, as fortunate as his teammates are to have him on their side, Odom is diligent about expressing how he is the lucky one. That is yet another side of who Odom is – a constantly grateful soul.
“I’m blessed to be around you guys,” he said from the podium as he looked on at his teammates sitting in the audience. And when they gave him a standing ovation, he responded jokingly with, “Get outta here man, sit down.”
Despite a further magnified personal life as the husband of a Kardashian sister, Odom remains humble, never failing to give credit to his team, his friends, his family, and of course the mother and grandmother who raised him.
“There are a couple of people who I wish [were] here to see [this],” Odom managed to say, despite the lump in his throat. “But I want you all to know that I’m thankful.”
Asked on the Mason and Ireland show how he stays so calm and together in his life, he replied again, alluding to the women who raised him, “It’s having a certain type of love instilled in me. I’m just so lucky. I’m just blessed.”
Failing to make this year’s All-Star team was a disappointment for Odom, and he mentioned it remains a goal of his after receiving today’s award. Despite being overlooked, however, he merely said, he would keep working hard and credited the fans of Los Angeles for providing him with so much support.
“Ever since I came off the bench, the crowd would give me this energy right when I checked into the game,” he said. “And it’s done something for me. It’s given me this boost and this shot of confidence.”
Asked if he was given the choice to start or come off the bench next season, he said so very characteristically that he would do whatever was needed of him. “Do whatever it takes to remain a Laker…whatever it takes to keep this team together…whatever it takes just to be a part of this city.”
That, in his own words, is why Lamar Odom deserves this award and why his role on this Laker team is significant beyond explanation. He is more than the 32 minutes, 14.4 points on 53% shooting, 8.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. He is more than the defensive rebound, fast break to a finger roll. He is more than the guy howling after a layup and-1. He is more than the first player off the bench to pound the chest of a teammate after a good play; more than another celebrity with a reality show.
Lamar Odom has experienced more loss in his life than many of us could fathom, more mistakes than the average person would care to admit and make amends for, and he has been overlooked more times than is fair for a professional with his talents, skills and accomplishments. He is as humble and thankful a human being as they come, not to mention as determined and mentally tough a man as they come. It makes you wonder – maybe that cologne of his isn’t such a gimmick after all.