Lamar Odom accident: Lakers forward no stranger to personal tragedy
Before every game, when he's preparing to lace up a fresh pair of sneakers, Lakers forward Lamar Odom rips out a black Sharpie, stares intently at the shoes and begins unleashing the emotional burden.
Every word that he inscribes on the white, purple and gold Nikes strikes a chord.
Across the toes of the shoes, Odom writes out "Cathy," referring to his mother, Cathy Mercer, who died of colon cancer when he was 12. On the inside of the shoe near the heels, Odom writes out "Mildred," for his grandmother, Mildred Mercer, who died on her 80th birthday when Odom was 20 years old. And on the outside of the shoe, Odom writes "Grandma" and "Jayden," Odom's 6 1/2-month-old son who died in June 2006, a victim of sudden infant syndrome.
Most athletes want to block out distractions and minimize negative thoughts before a game. Odom relives his various personal tragedies so they inspire him on the court.
"Just the way that I try to just always remember them," Odom once told The Times. "As time goes by, sometimes it's human nature to forget."
Odom's pregame ritual is well-known among teammates, reporters and fans. Former Lakers Coach Phil Jackson had no problem detailing the steps when writing a photo caption for "Journey to the Ring," a collaborative book featuring the work of NBA photographer Andrew Bernstein, chronicling the Lakers' 2010 championship run.
Odom's ritual may also provide a glimpse of his psyche as he currently deals with another unforeseen death.
Last week Odom was reportedly being driven by a chauffeur to a barber shop when the car struck and injured a motorcyclist and a pedestrian. The 15-year-old pedestrian suffered severe head injuries and later died, prompting Odom to tweet, "My thoughts and prayers are with the young boys family ... "
Odom's publicist didn't return multiple phone calls about the incident, but it's not fair for fans to suggest that Odom and wife Khloe Kardashian were are at fault for the accident because Odom was a passenger, not the driver, and Kardashian wasn't even in the car at the time of the accident.
Odom, who ironically was in New York to attend a cousin's funeral, has other inspiration beyond his deceased family members' names on his shoes. He has a tattoo of Jayden on his chest just above his heart, while Cathy's image is on his back. He wears the jersey No. 7 because his grandmother, who took care of Odom after his mother's death, believed it was her lucky number. And he asks God for both inspiration from his loved ones and guidance during emotional moments on the court.
But this has little to do with finding a psychological edge to boost his performance. Instead, it speaks more to Odom's desire to keep his life in perspective. That's a conversation he and one of his cousins had the night after Odom gracefully accepted his bench role last December when Andrew Bynum's surgically repaired right knee proved healthy enough for Bynum to reclaim his starting position.
"He was laughing, 'Whether you're starting or not starting,' " Odom recalled then. "But remember where we came from? At the end of the day, whatever."
That's why it wasn't surprising to see Odom's reaction when he accepted last season's NBA Sixth Man of the Year award. With tears in his eyes, Odom stood at the lectern and stared out at the crowd, thinking about the roles his mother and grandmother played in helping him become an NBA player. His mother often attended Odom's youth games and provided him with sneakers. His grandmother would get excited when Odom came home with a trophy.
"There's a couple of people I wish was here to see it," Odom said that day, choking back the tears. "I just want to say I'm thankful, man."
The teenager's family surely has plenty of anguish to handle, something Odom can certainly relate to considering his personal anguish over his own loved ones. So, even if Odom can't fully feel their loss, his sympathetic gesture addresses the similar pain that he's endured.
-- Mark Medina
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Photos, from top: Lamar Odom sits dejected on the bench during the Lakers' loss to Dallas in Game 4 of their NBA playoff series this year; Odom and wife Khloe Kardashian. Credits: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times; Juan Ocampo / Andrew D. Bernstein Associates Photography