From the Archives: Odom reflects on death of infant son: ‘I feel a little lost sometimes’
Lamar Odom sat down, placed his Bible on a table and, with damp eyes, told the story of his summer.
His infant son died while sleeping in a crib, a loss that has tugged at him since it happened in June.
The autopsy report labeled it an “unremarkable” death, a seven-month-old’s life snatched by sudden infant death syndrome, the latest in a line of losses traceable through Odom’s years.
Odom was in New York for the funeral of an aunt when Jayden Odom died.
Odom used to remember June 28 as the date of his grandmother’s death. His son died the same day, a few years later, at Odom’s home in Atlantic Beach, N.Y. Attempts to revive him at a nearby hospital were unsuccessful.
“He was gone already,” Odom said Thursday. “I thought they were close to getting him to breathe again. That wasn’t the case. I stayed with him for hours and hours after that, just holding him, talking to him.”
Odom and his longtime girlfriend, Liza Morales, have two other children, Destiny, 8, and Lamar Jr., 5.
“I have to be strong for them,” the Lakers forward said. “I feel a little lost sometimes, but God right now is keeping me strong.”
Odom remained in New York most of the summer, trying to cope, when he experienced a loss of another kind. While walking at night near a family member’s home in Queens, he was mugged at gunpoint by a teenager who fired a warning shot, then took Odom’s watch and cash, a combined total of under $5,000.
“When this kid put a gun to me and held it to my face and, first he shot it, then pointed it at me, I thought he was going to harm me,” Odom said. “I was thinking, ‘Help me brace for this bullet.’ I’d never been in this kind of situation before. When that happened, I said, I’ve got to get a little closer to the biggest icon in the world. It ain’t Michael Jordan. It ain’t Bob Marley, Che Guevara, even John Lennon. It’s Jesus. Nobody’s got more followers.”
His son’s death, coupled with what Odom described as the near-death experience of his own, pushed him away from basketball, his longtime comfort zone.
He has since tried to stay busy, painfully active, starting a record label called “Rich Soil” and unveiling a religious apparel line.
“Where I’m from, we’re really not unified,” said Odom, who was born in Queens. “I’m looking for something to bring these young people together. It’s like nobody’s happy for each other. It’s hard times, the economy’s down. Drugs in the inner-city neighborhoods are running rampant, really taking over, destroying communities, destroying lives.”
Odom’s life has been filled with misfortune.
His mother, Cathy, died when he was 12 of colon cancer. He honors her by writing her name on every new pair of basketball shoes he wears. He wears jersey No. 7 because it was the lucky number of his late grandmother, Mildred Mercer, who became his role model after his mother’s death.
He recently had a tattoo artist inscribe the image of his son on his chest, just above his heart. His mother’s image is on his back.
Basketball has been an afterthought for Odom this summer, although he acknowledged an eagerness to return to it. The Lakers begin training camp Tuesday in El Segundo.
“There was a time where I didn’t think basketball was going to be able to heal this wound, but as I come back home -- L.A.'s my home -- and get around my guys, get around my coaches, stuff like that, I feel a little better,” Odom said. “It’ll take me some time because I haven’t taken the time just to, I guess, mourn. I’ve kept myself so busy. I almost was probably too strong.”
The second-best player on the Lakers, Odom started slowly last season and acknowledged having difficulty with the intricacies of the triangle offense, but over the last two months of the regular season averaged 16.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists while shooting 55.1%.
“I think it’s going to make me a better basketball player as far as the mental approach to the game,” Odom said of his summer. “I take my time right now, more than ever, at everything I do. I feel a maturity now. I’m not going to growl at the referees. My walk and my talk is a lot different than the last time you saw me.”
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