Section 316 is a weekly essay series by TLN Writer Andrew Rafner. Each Friday Andrew will explore a theme relating to the deeper world of Lakers basketball. This week’s essay…
The New Sweatshirt
And his coat is torn and frayed,
It’s seen much better days
Let it steal your heart away
- The Rolling Stones
I have this black sweatshirt.
I have worn it to the point of decay. It has a couple holes on the elbows, the pockets are ripping off the body and the drawstrings on the hood have frayed at the ends.
And although I do cherish the warmth and pseudo-security that I get from putting it on at some point each day, the time had come for me to purchase a replacement.
So, this past week, I mustered up enough courage to head over to the local vertically-integrated, Downtown Los Angeles-manufactured, disgustingly-hipster-elitist clothing store with all intentions to put my old, tattered black hoodie to rest.
When I finally got home and it was time for me to put on my new sweater, I just couldn’t do it. It felt wrong. I even washed it a couple of times in hopes that I could somehow rid it of its foreign newness.
It didn’t work, and at this very moment, I am writing this essay wearing my beat-up, faded, holey hoodie, while its freshly washed counterpart hangs in the closet.
I don’t know when I will start in with the new sweater-era, but for some crazy weirdo reason, this quandary reminds me of Lamar Odom.
For the past ten years, Lamar Odom has played basketball in his beat-up, faded, holey hoodie, while a brand-new one hung pristinely in his closet.
Now, you may know his sweater by a different name: potential.
Since Lamar Odom was a standout at Christ the King High School in Queens, NY, he was touted as God’s gift to basketball in the new millennium. He was a multi-skilled hybrid that could reinvent the game with his spindly frame and natural talent.
This prognostication continued while Lamar attended the University of Rhode Island, while he was a Rookie with the Clippers, and over his first five seasons with the Lakers: Lamar Odom could be GREAT.
Unfortunately, that Lamar Odom doesn’t exist. He never really did.
Unlike the Kobe Bryants and LeBron James’ of the world, Lamar Odom’s cosmically bestowed talent and potential are not viewed by him as a gift, but as a burden.
A cruel joke.
Giving a man with such intrinsic generosity the power to be so deadly and offensively potent should not have happened… but it did.
Giving a man who possesses such emotional vulnerability a career in which he is expected to valiantly lead his comrades should not have happened… but it did.
We all know of the tragedies Lamar Odom has experienced so far in his young life, but for someone who should be so damaged, he is not. He remains seemingly unscathed, neither being bruised nor conversely inspired by these tribulations.
So what do you make of a man like Lamar Odom?
What do you make of a man whose fleeting moments of passion late in fourth quarters have quickly become more thrilling and heartwarming than that of his teammate, Kobe Bryant?
What do you make of a man whose entire career has been predicated and stunted by his inability to fully assert himself, suddenly and shockingly putting together a stretch of the five best and most complete games of his career?
For ten long seasons, and possibly even longer, Lamar Odom resisted becoming who he was destined to be. Now, suddenly, and surprisingly seamlessly, he has realized that all he needed to do was take that leap and just make it happen: To just suck it up, and put on that new sweater.
Maybe the moment has finally come. Somewhere in between halves at the Boston Garden on that Thursday night, Lamar Odom put on his new hoodie, and much to his surprise, it was just as warm and just as safe, it didn’t have any holes and sure enough, the drawstrings were not frayed at the edges. It felt good to be aggressive and assertive. It felt good to play without pretense. It felt good to wear the new sweatshirt.
With the possibility of another Playoff run without Andrew Bynum becoming more and more likely, Lamar Odom’s basketball life will be forever defined by these next four months.
He has the chance to erase every negative word the pundits have ever spoken; he has the chance to etch his name in Laker lore forever. He has the chance to become not the prototype for a new breed of NBA player destined to change the way the game is played (that burden now rests with Golden State’s Anthony Randolph), but the NBA’s archetype for redemption and albeit late, self-realization.
Lamar Odom has the tools to accomplish this, not because of his physical acumen, but because of the fortitude of his character: a man who fought greatness tooth and nail, only to serendipitously fall into it.