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Their First Game | Lamar Odom

Posted on December 21 2019

 

In this ongoing series, The Chucker, High Volume Shooters’ resident historian, digs into the professional debut of some of the game’s all-time greats. Today: the uber-talented Lamar Odom.

For Lamar Odom, it was a long, winding road to an NBA court.

A tumultuous childhood included an absentee father, the passing of his mother, and three different high schools. Yet his prodigious talent on the hardwood helped him overcome the swirling instability.

One of 1997’s top prep prospects alongside the likes of future NBA mainstays Tracy McGrady, Shane Battier, and Baron Davis, Odom signed with UNLV. The New York-bred basketball phenom, however, left Las Vegas amid an NCAA investigation and never played a game for the Rebels. 

Odom returned to the East Coast and enrolled at Rhode Island, where he spent his freshman year not playing to crowds, but rather trying to gain academic eligibility. As the 1998 NBA draft rolled around, pro scouts largely agreed that Odom, even despite a year of inactivity, was a first-round lock on potential alone. Scouts praised his combination of size, scoring ability, and selfless play, some even generating comparisons to Magic Johnson.

Despite those prospects, Odom decided to remain at URI, where he averaged 18 points and 9 rebounds per game for the 1998-1999 Rams – no basket more important than a buzzer-beating three to down Temple in the A-10 Tournament championship game.

After the Rams’ season ended following an overtime loss to Charlotte in the NCAA Tournament’s opening round, Odom declared for the NBA Draft, where the L.A. Clippers – the league’s futile punching bag – selected Odom with the fourth overall pick. 

On Tuesday, November 2, 1999, Odom strolled onto the Clippers’ home court – the first NBA game held at Los Angeles’ new $400 million Staples Center – for his NBA debut in front of 17,847 fans. An admittedly anxious Odom, just days shy of his 20th birthday, dazzled with 30 points on 10 of 18 shooting while also collecting 12 rebounds. It wasn’t enough to secure victory for the downtrodden Clippers, though, as Seattle won 104-92. 

“I was just trying to play, stay focused, stay in it,” Odom said following a game in which he started and played a team-high 43 minutes. 

Impressed by Odom’s effort, Sonics coach Paul Westphal said: “I think we all know why the league is buzzing about this young guy.”

Odom would go on to average 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists in his opening NBA campaign en route to earning All-Rookie honors alongside two former AAU teammates: Elton Brand and Ron Artest/Metta World Peace.

Odom, however, couldn’t turn the Clippers’ fortunes, while his time in L.A. was also derailed by substance abuse issues and corresponding suspensions. After his fourth season with the Clippers, Odom left for Miami where he enjoyed a resurgent season with the Heat. He was soon back to L.A., though, traded to the Lakers in the deal that brought Shaquille O’Neal to the Heat. With the Lakers, Odom enjoyed the best years of his career, winning a pair of NBA titles as well as Sixth Man of the Year honors in 2011. (He also gained pop culture fame when he married into the Kardashian clan.)

Odom’s last on-court NBA action came on May 3, 2013, in a Clippers playoff loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Over a 961-game NBA career, Odom averaged 13.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 3.7 assists.

 

"The Chucker"

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