Lamar Odom was a basketball phenom. It's impossible to overstate just how gifted the man was on the court. As a high schooler, he was dubbed the next Magic Johnson -- a title he rejected, as Odom simply wanted to be himself. Like Johnson, at a young age he was equally adept at filling up the basket and putting his teammates in scoring position. If he'd joined the NBA in 2009 instead of 1999, he'd be the perfect modern basketball player in a league that's emphasizing small-ball and positional versatility. Yet for all his gifts when it came to the game, life dealt Odom numerous tragedies. This is his story.
NBAE/Getty ImagesAndrew D. Bernstein
A difficult childhood
Things were tough from the start for Lamar Joseph Odom, born in Queens, N.Y. Of his hometown, Odom told ESPN, 'Where I'm from, you're a square if you go to church, or if you decide to read the Koran or Bible. You're not cool unless you're standing on the corner selling drugs or smoking weed.' His father battled substance abuse, and his mother passed away from colon cancer when he was 12. He grew up with his grandmother and became one of the best young basketball players on the planet. In high school, he befriended future NBA star Ron Artest and was named Parade Magazine's High School Player of the Year in 1997.
From high school standout to college scandal
After his high school dominance, Odom chose to attend the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and enrolled for classes in the summer of '97. Questions about his standardized test scores led to his release from UNLV later that summer. He was accused of taking money and benefits from a Las Vegas booster, a dentist Runnin Rebels players reportedly called 'Dr. Tooth,' according to the Las Vegas Sun. Odom was allowed to transfer to the University of Rhode Island but had to sit out the '97-98 season. Once he hit the court, Odom reminded the world of how spectacular he was. He led the Rams' offense as a scorer and playmaker, hitting a buzzer-beater in the 1999 Atlantic-10 tourney to give the school its first A-10 title.
Getty ImagesJed Jacobsohn
Making the leap to the NBA
Odom heard his name called fourth overall in the 1999 NBA Draft behind Elton Brand, Steve Francis and Baron Davis. Amid the character concerns that followed Odom out of college remained one of basketball's best young prospects, a player with a Swiss Army Knife-like skill set and the unselfishness to put it to use. Odom's ability to create and distribute as a point forward boosted him into the top of the lottery and helped create an early-2000s Clippers team that made up for its lack of success by becoming one of the league's most exciting teams.
NBAE/Getty ImagesAndrew D. Bernstein
Back-to-back suspensions in 2001
In March 2001, Odom was banned five games for violating the NBA's substance-abuse policy, a suspension matching the league's max punishment for marijuana use. Odom later tearfully admitted to use during the '01 season, but at the time he told reporters, 'This will definitely not happen again. The fans have been great to me since I've been here, and I hope it continues. I hope everyone doesn't pass judgment on my mistake. I've made a couple and I may make a couple again, but hopefully they won't be as big as this one.' In Nov. 2001, Odom was banned again for violating the same policy. Teammate Sean Rooks told reporters at the time, 'I don't think he's a person who is out of control.'
NBAE/Getty ImagesAndy Hayt
Two teams in two seasons
Odom entered restricted free agency after the 2002-03 season and signed a six-year, $63M offer sheet from the Miami Heat. The Clippers did not match. When he joined the Heat, Odom said, 'I expect us to be fun to watch and competitive every night. We'll make a run for the postseason.' He backed up his words, averaging 17.1 points and 9.7 rebounds for the Heat. A year after Miami won just 25 games without Odom, the Heat made the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. After the season, however, Odom was traded to the L.A. Lakers in a package that brought Shaquille O'Neal to the Heat.
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Odom loses the woman who raised him
In the summer of 2003, Mildred Mercer, Odom's grandmother, passed away. Odom shared that he wears No. 7 as a tribute to Mercer: 'My grandmother, who raised me, was a big-time bingo player and playing the slots in Atlanta City. 7 is her lucky number.' Years later, Odom reflected on the emotional state in which he found himself after his grandmother's death: 'It was weird, in the middle of the game, I found myself way too emotional. I had to catch myself. You can't carry this with you like this. I'm a mentally strong dude -- I've been suspended twice, my mother died, my gradma died as soon as I got to the Heat -- but there was one time where I thought I might mentally break down and really lose it.'
Getty ImagesJemal Countess
Odom buries his son, then faces violence
Three years to the day after losing his grandmother and attending the funeral of an aunt, Odom's 6 1/2-month-old son Jayden passed away in his crib from SIDS. Odom described how he found out about the tragedy from his ex-wife, Liza Morales: 'When she called me, she was like really frantic. She couldn't really speak. I was told not to go home, to go right to the hospital. And then I got to the hospital, they just told me that they couldn't revive him.' Shortly thereafter, Odom was mugged in his hometown: 'I thought I was going to die because I could see the devil was in the dude that night,' Odom later said. 'I was talking to my Man, saying that's what is going on -- that's the problem (here) -- that some (expletive) is going to get props for robbing me with a gun.'
EB via Getty ImagesRafa Rivas
Becoming a champion -- twice over
Odom became an integral part of the Lakers. He was willing to take a backseat when necessary as Los Angeles featured Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the frontcourt, but his multi-faceted game allowed him to play alongside his fellow big men and give the Lakers a look that opposing teams simply couldn't stop. And when Bynum was injured, Odom enabled the Lakers to keep winning without missing a beat. He wasn't necessarily the best player on those Lakers teams, but without Odom, Kobe Bryant would likely have less jewelry, as the Lakers won the NBA title in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.
NBAE/Getty ImagesJesse D. Garrabrant
Then adding another ring for good measure
After reportedly meeting at a party for Ron Artest in August 2009, Odom and Khloe Kardashian were engaged within a month. During their short courtship, the couple was described to People as 'very, very happy' and 'literally inseparable' by Khloe's sister Kim. Odom and Khloe Kardashian were married on Sept. 27, 2009, with the marriage broadcast on reality television.
NBAE/Getty ImagesAndrew D. Bernstein
Tragedy piles on top of tragedy in New York
In July 2011, Odom's cousin Curtis Smith died, shot and killed in New York. While back home to attend Smith's funeral, the car in which Odom was traveling reportedly struck a motorcycle which collided with a 15-year-old pedestrian. The young man passed away, and Odom said he watched the whole thing happen and knew the child had died. 'Death always seems to be around me,' Odom told the LA Times in a low tone after the incident. 'I've been burying people for a long time. When I had to bury my child, I probably didn't start grieving until a year and a half later. I think the effects of seeing (my cousin) die and then watching this kid die, it beat me down. I consider myself a little weak. I thought I was breaking down mentally. I'm doing a lot of reflecting.'
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Betrayal or business?
The Lakers nearly completed a trade for Chris Paul in Dec. 2011 before the transaction was vetoed by commissioner David Stern in his capacity as acting manager of the Hornets. Odom was one of the players the Lakers would have sent to Charlotte, which made him feel unwanted and betrayed by the Lakers. 'To me, I would think it's better to stay away (from the team),' Odom told the LA Times when news of the trade broke and he missed practice. 'You know, the energy and all. I don't know how it's going to go right now. It's a little weird. Right now, I'll be a fan of the game from a distance.' Two days later, Odom was headed to the Mavericks after requesting a trade.
Getty ImagesStephen Dunn
Odom's career ends where it started
Odom's time with the Mavs was a failure on multiple levels, as owner Mark Cuban told reporters after things broke down between the two sides. Odom took a 10-day leave of absence while in Dallas to see his ailing father and mourn the recent deaths in his life. After Dallas and Odom agreed to part ways, he rejoined the Clippers in 2012-13, his last NBA season. Earlier in his career, Odom had reflected on his possible retirement: 'I wake up thinking about this all the time. I hope that I'll gain strength from what happened, but who knows? Basketball is a dream I've been living for a long time, but I also need to do things that'll make me happy. There's so much more to Lamar than basketball.'
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Marriage to Kardashian comes to a close
In August 2013 and amid numerous reports of tension in his relationship with Kardashian, Odom was arrested for DUI and had his license suspended. In December of that same year, Kardashian filed for divorce from Odom, citing irreconcilable differences.
One last try at basketball
Despite not appearing in a pro basketball game since the spring of 2013, Odom tried a comeback in 2014. He signed a deal with Spanish team Laboral Kutxa, but was declared unfit to play due to a back injury after limited appearances. He then tried to come back to the NBA with the New York Knicks, reportedly signing a contract on the last day of the season. He never appeared in a Knicks uniform and was waived that summer. Team president Phil Jackson released a statement reading, 'Unfortunately, Lamar was unable to uphold the standards to return as an NBA player. We found it necessary to free up the roster spot.'
AFP/Getty ImagesRAFA RIVAS
The loss of friends and hospitalization
Within the span of approximately a week, two of Odom's best friends passed away in the summer of 2015. The death of one was featured on an episode of the Kardashians' reality show, which reportedly angered him. On Oct. 13, Odom was reportedly found unconscious in a southern Nevada brothel. He had reportedly been at the brothel for three days. He was taken to a medical facility in Pahrump, Nev., before being transported to a Las Vegas hospital. A 911 call to the Nye County Sheriff's Department played during a press conference indicated that Odom had been using cocaine, but not since arriving at the brothel and seemed fine in the interim.