Odom impresses amid pain

J.A. Adande can be reached at To read more by Adande, go to

With so much weight on his shoes, it’s amazing Lamar Odom can even move, let alone lead the Lakers in points, rebounds and assists.

It’s not the black ink that’s so heavy, it’s the emotional burden carried by every handwritten word on his sneakers.

Odom sits down at his locker and places his white, purple and gold Nikes in front of him. Cathy, it says across the toes. That’s for Cathy Mercer, Odom’s mother. She worked for the New York City traffic department, then spent a year and a half as a corrections officer. Her primary occupation was being mom.


“She used to always come to all of my games, give me the sneakers I needed to play,” Odom says.

Cathy died of cancer when Odom was 12. He started writing her name on his shoes for some games in high school. When he came to the NBA with the Clippers in 1999, he wore her name for every game, his way of saying, “We made it, Ma.”

Three years ago, Odom added another name, on the inside of the shoes near the heels. Grandma. That’s for Mildred Mercer.

“She was about values and morals and respect and principles,” Odom says. “She always had a way of telling me things. A really smart woman. She went back to college and finished college at 50 years old, you know what I’m saying?”

When Cathy died, Mildred took the responsibility of raising Odom, whose father left the family when he was 6.

“She used to tell me when I was wrong, of course,” Odom says, “But she always stood by her grandson.”

On the outside of the shoes is the latest addition. The toughest addition. New for this season. Baby J. That’s for Jayden, Odom’s 6 1/2 -month-old son who died when he suffocated while sleeping in his crib last summer.


“Even though he was only here for a short period of time, he impacted a lot of people’s lives,” Odom says. The shoes are on now, and he’s flexing his foot to show off his son’s moniker. “My mother was the youngest of the five children. I’m the baby’s baby. Then my son, of course, he was the baby’s baby’s baby.”

On a hanger behind Odom is a T-shirt with a drawing of Jayden’s Disney character-cute face, on a shelf are framed pictures of Jayden alone and with Odom’s two other children. It’s heartbreaking to think that this adorable baby never got a chance to take his first step or say his first word.

You’d think Odom would want to shut out all of the pain as he prepares to play. How can you win when you’re surrounded by so much loss? Instead, Odom prefers to keep as many reminders as possible.

“Just the way that I try to just always remember them,” he says, tapping Cathy’s name on his toe. “As time goes by, sometimes it’s human nature to forget.”

It would be human nature to lose trust and faith as well. When you keep losing the people you love for no good reason, it would be hard to justify the investment in another relationship. Odom admits he can be leery of new people. He gives his grandmother credit for raising him through adolescence, but because she was so much older, he also had to grow up on his own.

“I’m not a street kid, but I’m from the street,” Odom says. “Where I’m from, you have to be like that. You have to be on defense. There’s been times when, of course, I’ve been taken advantage of by being too trusting. So I’ve learned to trust in God. You trust in yourself, you trust in your family.”


Everyone else needs to prove themselves.

“To gain Lamar’s trust, you’ve got to be straightforward with him and be on the same page that he’s on,” said Anthony “Mac” McNair, one of Odom’s closest confidants. “Other than that, he’s going to look at you and think that you’re not for real.”

McNair showed his colors last summer. On the day Jayden died, McNair caught a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to New York to be with Odom. When McNair returned to L.A., he got a tattoo of Jayden on his right arm. That’s commitment.

Coach Phil Jackson hasn’t gone to that extreme, but he quickly figured out the way to work with Odom last season, their first together.

“He’s not one that you hit him with a paddle and expect an accelerated effort,” Jackson said. “He’s the kind of guy you put an arm around and say, ‘You can do better.’ And he does better with that type of approach than the hard-[nosed] approach where you get after him. I recognized that right away.

“You understand that he really wants to please a coach. He does things to work in your favor. When he doesn’t, he feels bad. There was a time last year in the locker room, he kind of had a hang-dog feel about him. I just gave him a big hug. I said, ‘You just looked like you needed a big hug right now.’ Surprised the heck out of him.”

Not the move you’d expect from Jackson, who might be Zen but isn’t very touchy-feely. And maybe this start isn’t what you predicted from Odom. Quite understandably, he didn’t think about basketball much last summer. Yet somehow, with all of this swirling inside his head, Odom has looked mentally sharper than ever. Ability never was the issue with him, blessed with a 6-foot-10 frame and slick ballhandling skills. It was just a matter of him putting it all to use every night.


Now it’s hard to recall his last bad game. He finished the 2005-06 season strongly, then dominated Phoenix’s Shawn Marion in the first round of the playoffs. He has been the Lakers’ best player in their surprising 3-0 start. Odom’s everywhere: making three-pointers, leading the fastbreak, skipping passes along the baseline to Luke Walton (the Lakers’ second-best player so far) for open jumpers. He’s averaging 28 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

“He knows what he can do,” Kobe Bryant says. “Everybody could talk about how talented he was -- and he’s very talented -- now he knoooows. He knows he’s talented. There’s always been an issue with him not knowing how good he really is. Now he’s got that swag

Odom feels comfortable in the triangle offense, whether in the post or at the point. “I know where to find my shots,” Odom said. “I’m making ‘em.”

He has even found a way to meld his game with Bryant’s, no easy task for a pair of players who both need a large amount of quality time with the ball.

It’s not just his play that’s impressive. It’s his demeanor. He still walks as tall as ever, back straight as a yardstick.

“God, family, my children -- I’ve got so much to stand up for,” Odom said. “There have been times where I feel like the weight of the world is on my back. There’s been times when I’ve been broken down to one knee. But I always feel like I’m going to overcome that.


“I held my child for three hours with no more life in him. I’ve seen my mother on her deathbed, looking me in the eyes, dying. After that, I don’t think there’s too much that can beat you down.”

And there’s no weight too heavy. Not a team, not even a shoe full of family members.