By Joseph Staszewski
Lamar Odom was beloved in Queens growing up, and remains so during a tumultuous time in his life, because of his humble nature and giving spirit.
“He was a happy-go lucky kid as a youngster with an enormous personality,” said former youth coach and mentor Gary Charles. “I never knew anyone who didn’t like Lamar.”
The former Christ the King star and South Jamaica native, who made millions later on in life, had a tough upbringing. His father Joe Odom was a heroin addict and Lamar was raised by his grandmother Mildred Mercer after his mom, Cathy Mercer, died of colon cancer when he was 12. On her deathbed, she told her son to be nice to everyone.
Odom lived his mother’s words throughout his life. He took care of those close to him, almost to a fault. Charles said he felt Odom needed to learn to say the word “No.” Instead, he would take off for two or three days as an escape so he wouldn’t have to.
“He was a giver,” said Christ the King varsity assistant coach Artie Cox. “Lamar was a giver all the way. To this day he is probably the same guy inside, but he is struggling with the vices.”
Odom has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in recent years. There was his public breakup with wife Khloé Kardashian and his smashing of a paparazzi’s camera. On Oct. 13, Odom was found unconscious in a Nevada brothel. He was left fighting for his life in a coma, before regaining consciousness last week.
“I’ve always been afraid of getting a phone call like this,” Charles said.
Odom’s downward spiral started in 2011, when he was crushed by being traded from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Dallas Mavericks soon after winning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award. He was out of the league two years later, and was busted for drunken driving. Odom recently lost two friends, former CK player Jamie Sangouthai and Bobby Heyward, to drug related deaths, leaving those close to him worried about how he would cope, according to reports.
“When he got traded from the Lakers his life unraveled a little bit basketball-wise and then he got involved with the Kardashians and clearly that wasn’t healthy for him,” Cox said. “He’s never been the same since.”
Plenty of prayers and well wishes were sent Odom’s way over social media. Many of his former teammates visited him in the hospital. He was recently moved to a Los Angeles hospital, according to reports. He is speaking and is receiving physical therapy, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.
“Maybe this is a wake up call,” said Kenny Pretlow, who coached Odom as an assistant with the Riverside Church travel team. “Hopefully life will be better for him. He is still a great person.”
Odom, a 6-foot-10 forward, was drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers in 1999, and won two NBA titles with the Lakers before becoming a reality star on E!’s Keeping up with the Kardashians and Khole and Lamar.
He was a star in Queens long before that. Odom came into his own as a sophomore at CK and became the superstar of the city. A growth spurt shot him up from 6-foot-1 to closer to 6-foot-10. He played three seasons in Middle Village before finishing his high school career at two different prep schools for academic reasons.
Cox said it was disappointing to see him leave, but he left plenty of good memories behind. Odom led the Royals to a CHSAA intersectional title in 1995 and the team lost to Rice in the final a year later. He was named the most valuable player of the playoffs in ’95 after scoring 36 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a 74-70 victory over St. Raymond in the championship game.
“He’s got Hall of Fame talent,” Cox said.
Odom also played on one of the best summer travel ball teams ever with Riverside. The squad included four future NBA players in Odom, Metta World Peace, Elton Brand and Erick Barkley. The combination of World Peace and Odom provided plenty of laughs and points. Pretlow called him a favorite in New York City.
“He was just silky smooth, could handle it,” Pretlow said. “He had the sweetest finger roll that I ever saw.”
Those close to Odom see a return to his family and his two children as a key to getting him back on track. Cox would like to see Odom return to New York where he has a support group of friends, family and teammates he can lean on. Charles said he would hug him, love him and then slap him to deliver some tough love.
“I pray for him,” Cox said. “I hope he can get back on his feet and enjoy his life.”