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On Lamar Odom, Life and Trying to Live

Lamar Odom.
Lamar Odom.

I don't hate Lamar Odom. I don't dislike him. I love Lamar Odom.

He's a wonderful player and a person with extraordinary talents. Even watching him with the rival Lakers couldn't dismay my love of the game and personality Odom brought to the NBA.

I'm not mad at him for still being troubled by past tragedies. To be mad at Odom for not being able to cope with death is to be mad at him for being human.

Unlike a sprained ankle, a twisted knee or a torn achilles, recovery of the mind from a close death doesn't have a timetable. There's no specific rehab or treatment. The recovery happens, frankly, when it happens. It's all dependent on the person's mental psyche.

So no, I'm not mad at all at Lamar Odom, the human. My best wishes to him. I do, however, have a beef with Lamar Odom, the basketball player. Lamar Odom, the professional.

Odom's first few weeks were understandable. In a new city, with new teammates, a new coach and a new role. He had a summer that I wish upon no man, losing a close family member and being involved in another accident involving death.

But as the weeks dragged on, it became apparent that Odom just never was going to care. Which is what I have a problem with. I can take a missed jumper or layup when the mind isn't all there, being a constant distraction. But the lack of will or the want to try. Standing in a corner, refusing to be involved. Failing to find a body to block out. It was disgusting, pathetic effort.

And I get it. Most of us have been there, when we don't want to get out of bed to do our job because of heartache and pain due to extreme loss. Other athletes have felt it as well and many have thrived in that situation, which makes Odom's case even more disheartening.

Even worse is Odom had a teammate that practically excelled on overcoming personal struggle -- Dirk Nowitzki.

When Nowitzki's personal life was spiraling into the public sphere with Crystal Taylor, Dirk promptly put it behind him and absolutely demolished the Denver Nuggets in the 2009 playoffs. Dallas lost the series 4-1, but it had little to do with Dirk's personal drama surrounding the team, which led to throngs of media (both sports and non sports) badgering the quiet star with questions.

And if trying to compare Dirk to Odom is failed from the beginning, how about someone on a lower level: myself.

A close friend of mine committed suicide in my junior year of high school. For weeks, I didn't want to get out of bed. I didn't want to go to school. I didn't want to study or do homework.

At basketball practice, I drifted, much like Odom drifted. At our high school, 6'6'' was considered huge, so I of course supplanted myself in the paint for a majority of the time, except for those weeks.

I drifted out to the perimeter, set harmless picks and avoided my man when going up for a rebound. I never took a charge and left practice as soon as I was allowed to. I lifted less weight during weight lifting sessions. I jogged during sprints. I showed up on time, instead of early. I was miserable.

I was a wreck.

But I couldn't live like that for much longer. Eventually, I got fed up with the bad grades, the lower minutes on the court, my family not knowing what to do. Was this how I was going to honor my friend? By moping around for the rest of my existence? I slowly snapped out of my funk, thanks to close friends and family being there.

I also realized, I love basketball. For two hours after school from Monday through Friday, I had a chance to put it all behind me. To be on the court just thinking about how I'm going to slip this next screen and leak out to the short corner and rip a midrange jumper, forcing the coach to blow his whistle and lament my teammates for poor defense.

I thought about grabbing a rebound and instead of throwing the outlet immediately, dribbling up the court and ripping another jumper, as my defender thinks because I'm the size of an adult ogre, I was just going to pass the ball off once I got into the half court.

It was the ultimate release. It helped me recover. It apparently, didn't help Odom. At least not this year.

When Odom's infant son died in June of 2006, Odom seemingly kept it together on the court. He averaged 15.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists on a little over 46 percent shooting while almost playing 40 minutes a game that following season.

He had an organization and coach that gave him every opportunity this season. In perhaps other teams in other cities, the Odom drama might have spiraled into something more dominating in the news. But Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson and Rick Carlisle and his teammates ran a tight ship. Odom had every opportunity to succeed with a support group along with it.

Maybe the events of the recent summer brought back harsh memories. Maybe the culmination of his life combined with a sudden move was just too much. No one can get inside Odom's head as we try to explain why he fell apart on the court.

And that's fine. In no way am I comparing my tragedies to Odom's or any of Odom's previous tragic events. I understand completely why Odom looked lifeless on the court and couldn't pull it together. I was there, once.

He's human, just like all of us.

I'm just discouraged that he didn't try.