Story by Nick Howe, Saint Reporter
Image courtesy of Zimbio.com
When news broke that Lamar Odom had been found unconscious at a brothel outside of Las Vegas earlier this month, mass media of all forms went rampant. TMZ was in the hospital snooping around for updates. Kendall Jenner was tweeting “please don’t go.” The 24-hour news stations were giving status updates hourly. Unfortunately, the attention it brought was for all of the wrong reasons. Today, Odom is most famous for his relationship with Khloé Kardashian, but he was never a stranger that randomly crossed paths with her. Odom was famous, talented, and successful long before Khloé.
As a Lakers fan since elementary school, Odom was one of my favorite players. At 6’10”, it was amazing how well Odom could handle the ball in transition, whipping it around like a yo-yo. His unique skillset made him invaluable to any team; he is a two-time NBA champion and was Sixth Man of the Year four short years ago. But it was his attitude off the court that truly made Lamar Odom special. A silver lining to the tragedy that unfolded was the unleashed affinity everyone around the league felt for him. Magic Johnson noted that every season Lamar played in LA, he would buy each rookie two or three custom suits. Sideline reporter Ken Berger pointed out that mid-game, when Lamar made a basket, he would hear cheers and “Nice shot!” from the stands. Odom would go out of his way to find the fans in the crowd to personally thank them. Everyone who knew Odom loved him, and never negatively associated him with his drug abuse.
Behind the troubled, drug abuser is someone who hurts beyond a foreseeable repair. The “Kardashian reality star” is the one whose father was addicted to heroin, whose mother died of colon cancer when he was 12, who attended three high schools, had his first college scholarship revoked before the fall semester of his freshman year, became a subject of three college investigations, declared for the NBA draft, tried unsuccessfully to pull out of the draft, was picked by arguably the worst franchise in sports, violated the league’s anti-drug policy twice within eight months and after finally getting his life together, went home to New York City for an aunt’s funeral and wound up burying his 6 1/2-month-old son due to SIDS, then getting robbed at gunpoint. This past summer, two of his best friends died, and his marriage was all but over.
When I first heard news of Odom’s hospitalization, I personally grieved for a man I do not know. Not because I condone his behavior, or even because he was one of my favorite athletes growing up. Rather, I hurt for the man who must rationalize cocaine and opioid consumption to ignore his realities, his undying, stinging conscious. What we need to understand about Lamar Odom is not that he is tied to the most famous of families in Hollywood and makes terrible life choices, but there is a real person behind the scenes that has been destroyed by his past, and seeks a breath of happiness by disconnecting himself through drugs. As we begin to attack the opiate-abuse problem in America, Odom serves as a good lesson for rehabilitation efforts. Instead of criticism, public shaming, and viewing addicts as criminals who need to be jailed, let us offer these wounded individuals love, empathy, and support. When traumatic, stressful things happen to addicts, they consume drugs to cope with the pain. I would think, then, that bringing these people even more stress and hardships would be the last thing you would want to do. Save your judgments for people like Lamar Odom, because if you don’t have someone close to you who struggles with drug addiction already, you certainly will at some point.