The news about Lamar Odom was finally good. A week after being found unconscious in a rural Nevada brothel, the former Lakers and Clippers star was stable enough to be flown Monday night from a Las Vegas hospital to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Yet the news about Odom was still unsettling, because accompanying him on that flight was one of the Kardashians.
As one of the many media members who fell in love with Odom's sweet soul during his 12 seasons as a pro baller in Los Angeles, I watched in sadness last week as he fought for his life after being found unresponsive in a brothel. Police reported that witnesses said Odom had been on a binge that lasted several days in which he used herbal sex stimulants and cocaine.
Yet the horror increased when it became apparent that even his most dire moments were going to be stolen by the tacky reality TV show that had already taken so much.
The Kardashians, led by Lamar's estranged wife Khloe, showed up over Odom's comatose body, and suddenly the narrative changed. Odom wasn't a former NBA champion, he was a reality TV star. Odom wasn't a deeply troubled and vulnerable former athlete, he was the guy who was keeping Khloe from hanging out with her new boyfriend, James Harden.
Suddenly, all the prayers weren't only for Odom, but for the poor Kardashians and all their pain, reality TV's freak show pulling in Odom one more time, capitalizing on his celebrity one more time, overshadowing his real struggles one more time, creating an irony both somber and profound. The Kardashians came across as Odom's intensive-care advocates when, in fact, his appearance in their warped TV world was part of the self-destructive slide that led him there.
I wrote that once. I wrote it as it was initially happening. It was the only time the affable Odom was ever angry with me. I learned much about the goodness of his heart during our confrontation, much more than anyone could ever learn by watching him on that horrible reality TV wreck.
It was the spring of 2011. The scene was a news conference at a Los Angeles International Airport hotel. The honored guest was Odom, whose life was dominated by three big events.
First, he had won the NBA's sixth man award. Second, he was leading the Lakers into the postseason one year after they had won a second straight NBA championship.
Third, he was in the middle of a filming a Kardashian reality TV spinoff, the "Khloe & Lamar" show, based on his life with Khloe Kardashian, whom he had married about 18 months earlier after dating for just one month. The show began airing two weeks earlier, and the results were already official.
The basketball star never stood a chance against the Kardashians.
Odom should have refused to be part of the show, but he never refused the request of anyone close to him, even if it hurt him, and, man, this show hurt him.
I noted that while he was being celebrated in this ballroom as a powerful and popular Laker, Odom was being emasculated on television by a family whose hunger to exploit was more dominating than any opposing power forward.
In the ballroom, he was cheered by loyal Lakers teammates, yet on television he was scolded by Khloe for being too loyal to his best friend.
In the ballroom, he spoke passionately about the selflessness required in being a sixth man, yet on television his brother-in-law was ridiculing him for not making the All-Star team.
The Lamar Odom that everyone loved was not the Lamar Odom that the Kardashians were attempting to create, and I cited two examples of how the television fallout was already affecting him on the court.
On the night of the show's debut, Odom had only seven points and three rebounds in a loss to Oklahoma City. A week later, before the second show was televised, Odom showed up late for the playoff opener against New Orleans and finished with 10 points and one rebound.
Also in attendance at the ballroom on that day was Khloe Kardashian. I approached her and challenged her motives. Without ever looking me in the eye, she responded, "The show has been therapy for Lamar. It's been a real release."
A release of what? His pride? His strength? None of it made sense, and I ended the column with, "While Odom's sixth man award was a tribute to his ability to escape the bench, he hasn't been so lucky with the Kardashians."
Yeah, he wasn't too happy about that. A few days after the column ran, I heard he was angry with me and wanted to talk. I approached him in a locker room in New Orleans after a playoff game. I figured he was like most athletes who only confront writers in front of teammates so they can gain strength in numbers.
Turns out, Odom was different. I should have known he would be different.
"Hey, I don't want to make a scene in front of everyone, I don't want to embarrass anyone, let's go outside in the hallway," he said quietly.
We adjourned to a quiet corner of the arena tunnel where Odom looked down, placed his hands on my shoulders, and spoke firmly in words I still remember.
"Look, I know you don't like the show, I get it," he said. "It's Hollywood, it's not real, but I get that you think it's hurting me, and I appreciate your concern."
He shook his head.
"But when you're taking personal shots at Khloe, just remember, that's my wife. That's the woman I love. Rip the show, fine, but do not rip her personally, because that's my wife."
He finished, I nodded, he hugged me, he said we were good, and that was that. Odom could never stay mad, not with me, not with the Kardashians, not with anyone. He was deeply loving, fiercely loyal, and if you wonder why seemingly the entire NBA family has been rooting so hard for him this past week, that is why.
History will show that the Lakers were eventually swept out of that 2011 postseason by Dallas, Odom's playoff numbers slipped, and he never wore a Lakers uniform again.
Four years later, he's returned to Los Angeles to face a much bigger fight and, in the cruelest of twists, his celebrity "family" has shown up with him.
Pray for his return to health. And pray the Kardashians don't have the obscene gall to put it all on television.
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