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Column: Lamar Odom almost died in Las Vegas. Now it’s where he’s finding a fresh start

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Former Lakers power forward Lamar Odom is playing professional basketball once again in the BIG 3 league.
(Chapman Baehler / 795 Photo Inc.)

Lamar Odom is sitting in front of me but his mind is somewhere else.

Just named a co-captain along with Gilbert Arenas for Enemies, a team in the BIG 3 league, Odom is having a difficult time collecting his thoughts when asked about returning to professional basketball for the first time in five years.

“My memory is really bad,” Odom admits as he stares at nothing in particular in the corner of the hotel room before momentarily burying his head in his hands.

“I can’t remember anything. My short-term memory is really bad. … I wish I could explain it but I can’t. It’s tough and it’s really frustrating. If there’s a poster child for Alzheimer’s, I’m probably it. It’s something I’m scared of. I think I need to go see a doctor at some point and see if I can work on that. It’s scary.”

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Odom was found unconscious in a Nevada brothel four years ago this October and was in critical condition at the Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center in Las Vegas.

As he sits in a hotel room five miles from the hospital, Odom says he suffered 12 strokes and six heart attacks while in a coma, and doctors had all but pronounced him dead to friends and family who came to see him for what they thought would be the last time.

“My doctors say I’m a walking miracle; they’re amazed that I’m here,” Odom says. “I always knew I had a strong will. I think my will is even stronger than I believed it was. It’s a testament that God is good. When I woke up and I couldn’t talk or walk I never thought I would be here. I never thought I would play basketball again or talk to you. Just to be here is a win for me.”

Odom, 39, hasn’t played in the NBA since his 2012-13 season with the Clippers and hasn’t played pro basketball since a brief 2014 stint with Saski Baskonia in Spain.

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While in good shape, Odom says he’s often reminded he’s not the same player since the aforementioned hospital stay. The movements that came so naturally as a 6-foot-10, 220-pound forward who could also play the point are no longer there.

“I can’t dribble the basketball the way I used to,” Odom says. “That was a gift from God. It was just so natural for me. It was a mismatch for me with my size to be able to put the ball on the floor the way I did.

“I guess God gave me life so he had to take something so I guess he took away some of my natural ability, which came easy to me. Ball handling and dribbling is still an issue but I have a month to work on that before the season starts.”

The BIG 3 conducted its annual draft Wednesday night in Las Vegas, and Odom smiled when asked about starting the next chapter of his basketball career in the city where he nearly took his last breath.

“It’s crazy because I have so much history with Vegas,” Odom says. “I almost went to school here. I almost died here. It’s crazy that this is happening for me now here. A lot of life-changing situations happened for me in Vegas. Hopefully this will prepare me to go play one season overseas. That’s what I really want to do, and then I’ll hang it up over there. I want one more run.”

As Odom tries to map the rest of his playing career, he can’t help but look at the struggles of the Lakers, who he won back-to-back titles with and helped lead to three straight NBA Finals.

The demise of Odom’s NBA career and downfall of the Lakers can be traced to his trade to the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 11, 2011. That deal was made after he and Pau Gasol were involved in a three-team trade that would have brought Chris Paul to the Lakers but was vetoed by the league commissioner.

Since the Dallas trade went through, the Lakers have missed the playoffs for a franchise-record six consecutive seasons and haven’t won a playoff game since 2012.

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“That hurt,” Odom says. “I love that team. I love the people who own that team. That trade hurt me. I was never the same after that. I think back to where I was at in my life. My cousin had just been killed and the team knew about that and where I was at after the loss of my son.

“I’m not going to say that should have protected me but I was coming off a Sixth Man of the Year winning season. I couldn’t believe they would just trade me like that. It hurt.”

Odom’s longtime friend and assistant Anthony “Mac” McNair says that trade was a turning point for the Lakers and Odom.

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“They lost their backbone when they lost Lamar,” McNair says. “He was the foundation; the heart and soul of that team. For them to trade him the way they did was bad. They didn’t even tell [head coach] Mike Brown. Mike was calling my phone, asking why Lamar wasn’t at practice and I said we were in the car on the way to take a physical after the trade. He didn’t know about it.

“That was the downfall for Lamar. That hit him hard. He was depressed in Dallas and was never the same.”

Odom says he believes LeBron James will lead the Lakers back to the playoffs next season, and that James had made an impact on him before the superstar arrived in Los Angeles. He says watching James play all 82 regular-season games two years ago and pushing the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in his 15th season inspired Odom to make this comeback.

“When I saw what LeBron did in his last season in Cleveland it got me wanting to get back into the gym and embrace the humility of not being myself,” Odom says. “If this dude could have arguably his best season at 33, I can go out here and give it my all and ball again. If I fail, I fail, but there’s no failing in just getting on the court and balling again. I’m winning just by being here.”

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