Lamar Odom insists on taking advantage of every opportunity
After getting accidentally elbowed last week in the Lakers' 120-99 preseason victory against the Golden State Warriors, Odom and teammates joked about the mishap. They remarked on the irony of the Lakers' training staff treating him as if he were a boxer only one year after taking boxing lessons to help sharpen his footwork and awareness. The boxing analogy further extended to when he sprained his left thumb in the same game, a body part that after Wednesday's practice remained bandaged.
The incidents revealed two things: They were another example of Odom's insistence that he play through any circumstance, regardless of injury and fatigue. And it shows he's doing it all with a smile, as his infectious enthusiasm has rubbed off on the rest of the team. The only consolation entailed sitting out the Lakers' final exhibition game Friday against Golden State, but that was just so he could temporarily rest up for what will be a long and intense NBA season.
"The strength of my game is to kind of keep pushing, play when I'm tired, outrun and try to outwork my opponent," Odom said after Wednesday's practice at the Lakers' facility in El Segundo. "I'll get a chance to rest after this season. It'll probably be a long off-season anyway."
Odom's latter comment refers to the possibility that the NBA will go through a lockout if the league, owners and players' union can't reach consensus on the next collective bargaining agreement after the 2010-2011 season, leading him to joke that he'll vacation in Puerto Vallarta for a while. So clearly his desire to test his endurance level goes beyond wanting to sustain the momentum he created during the 2010 FIBA World Championships as well as his preseason success when he averaged 10.9 points on 46.9% shooting and a team-leading 10.7 rebounds in 31.7 minutes per contest. It also speaks to his realization that, as an 11-year veteran, he wants to maximize whatever talent he has left before a lockout, age, fatigue or injury ends his career.
"That's something we talk about," said Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, a 15-year veteran who has handled his fair share of questions regarding age, fatigue and injuries. "It's important for us to take advantage of each moment. That's something I preach here and is something that's Phil's preached, particularly this team because this team is older than teams we've had in the past."
That includes 37-year-old Theo Ratliff, who logged 17 minutes in the Lakers' season-opening 112-110 victory over the Houston Rockets despite nursing a swollen left knee. Odom says he would even consider pursuing something similar to Ratliff's 19-year career if his body was willing and a team expressed interest. But that's too far down the line to think about. Instead, Odom insists on going full speed this season. Even while collecting five fouls against Houston, Odom finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds in 33 minutes, proving especially instrumental in the second quarter where he scored 10 points, grabbed five rebounds and recorded a steal.
Odom's intensity goes beyond the basketball court. It extends to his celebrity. He and his wife Khloe Kardashian plan to launch a unisex fragrance in February. It also extends to how he manages to keep close relationships with a personal, genuine and laid-back touch even through his busy schedule. That's why it wasn't surprising that among the sentimental testimonials shared among players at the Lakers ceremony, Odom's speech about Lakers forward Ron Artest sounded the most profound.
"I usually get nervous when I have to talk in front of people, but tonight I feel like I'm at home," Odom said in the video below around the 4:45 mark. "It helps because the next person I'm going to bring out is a person I've known since I was 12 years old. When we were 12 years old, he was really quiet. Now he takes his clothes off on 'Jimmy Kimmel' and he raps. But there's nobody like him. I can't say enough about him. We come from the same family tree in New York City of basketball. And I just want to let him know his family is proud of him. The one and only Ron Artest."
I noted to Odom that a few of his teammates mentioned the difficulty of summing up their sentiments about a teammate, and I later remarked that his introduction for Artest succinctly described him in a nutshell.
"I prepared mentally a little bit," said Odom, who also called the Lakers' ceremony "a proud moment for me as a basketball player. I had an idea about what I was going to talk about. I didn't know where I was going to go with it. But it's kind of easy for me to introduce Ron."
It's equally easy for Ron to express how much Odom's introduction meant to him.
"It was great to have a chance to be introduced by Lamar," Artest said. "Just playing basketball with him since I was 12, it's like a dream. Almost 20 years of basketball. I watched him develop over the years. He watched me develop. He was the fourth pick in the NBA draft [in 1999] and I was the 16th [in 1999]. It's unbelievable."
Odom isn't just inspiring a friend he grew up with on the AAU circuit, however. He plans to give his son, Lamar Jr., his 2010 championship ring after already receiving his father's first ring as well as the 2010 FIBA World Championship gold medal. The FIBA medal represents Team USA's first gold in the world championships since 1994, but it also symbolically shows how Odom embraced and excelled in a fulfilling a jack-of-all-trades role and a locker room presence, a responsibility Clippers guard Eric Gordon says helped him realize how driven Odom is.
"I remember him talking about how he's an older guy and it'd be good for him to win something like this," said Gordon, whom Odom described as "amazing." "It was something to just make it more meaninful to a lot of the younger guys on the team."
Gordon said the message resonated, considering Odom's two NBA championships. But even if Odom has already tasted success and has the basketball mileage to prove it, dialing things down no longer seems to be an option for him. So long as his body allows it.
"You live once, you know what I'm saying? Who knows. They always say, you never know what you're going to get. Work while you can," Odom said. "Time is our best friend and our worst enemy. Experience makes you better, but it means you're running out. You do want to maximize your time and take advantage of situations and the opportunities that present itself. I can't take advantage if I'm watching or not doing anything."
Photo: Lakers forward Lamar Odom tries to keep his balance as he looks for a teammate after beating Rockets center Brad Miller to a rebound. Odom was called for a foul on the play. Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times.