Chapter 4: Happy to be Alive
Kobe’s Ferrari was blocking us. It’s early in 2009, and we were headed to a party in Hollywood. Luke Walton’s 29th birthday was as good a cause as any to celebrate. But we had to go all the way down to Manhattan Beach first. So the sooner they could move it, the better. Lamar stood in the players’ parking lot in the bowels of Staples Center as a parking attendant he knew by name scrambled for the keys to Kobe’s $300,000 sports car.
The Italian coupe fires to life and backs up enough to free us from the grip of the luxury-car logjam. We jump in Odom’s white 2008 Mercedes CLK AMG 65 Sedan, and soon we’re racing down the 405 toward his house in a quiet seaside neighborhood. Odom is feeling a touch nostalgic and cues up Jay Z’s iconic Blueprint. Everyone in the car knows the words.
He had 16 and 12 as the Lakers dispatched the Warriors this night, but he was still frustrated by the refs’ quick whistles. We’re at his exit in no time. As we snake through the hilly neighborhood, Odom flips the CD changer and opts for Tupac’s All Eyez on Me. The first track, "Ambitionz Az A Ridah," pours from the premium sound system.
I won’t deny it I’m a straight rider/You don’t wanna f--k with me/Got the police bustin' at me/But they can’t do nothing to a G.
The music ricochets off the million-dollar houses on his sleepy street. The bass rattles my organs. Odom pulls into his driveway, blocking the sidewalk, and jumps out in a flash to head inside. Greg Nunn, longtime friend and former AAU teammate, pops out of the passenger seat and follows. I’m sitting in the backseat with a seat belt on, the front doors open and the music blasting.
Odom returns with a huge smile, amused at how silly I look.
Fifteen minutes later, we’re back on the 405 and dive-bombing the Wilshire Boulevard exit in Westwood like it’s pit row. We head east to a steakhouse in West Hollywood. As we cruise down the empty avenue, Odom lowers the music.
“This is all Donald Sterling,” he says pointing to the pristine luxury apartment buildings passing outside our windows.
The subject of his kids comes up. It frequently does.
His 10-year-old daughter, Destiny, told her father that one of the kids at school called her a negro. If it’s the worst thing that happened to her during the school year, says Odom, he’d take it. He took comfort in the fact that his kids’ lives were so different than his had been.
“I wish in a way I could have been more naive growing up,” he says. “Sometimes I wish that I didn’t have to live the kind of life where I had to rely on street smarts. I wish I didn’t have to grow up so fast.”
He took Destiny and Lamar Jr. to their favorite place, Barnes & Noble, and bought them books on Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama and taught them the meaning of pride and tolerance. He explained to them why they are beautiful.
“I felt like I had a moment with my kids that they would remember for the rest of their lives,” says Odom. “I really felt really proud of that.”
When we arrive, Walton’s party is in full swing. Luke is giddy and endearingly embarrassing himself on the dance floor. Jordan Farmar juggles twins. People flock to Lamar for hugs. Women stand outside of a roped-off area hoping to make eye contact. Odom asks everyone if they’re having a good time. He is in his element. His cool radiates.
Odom has always answered nightlife’s call. The heartbeat of the night thumps like the bass line of the siren’s song he could never resist.
“I’m a social person,” he says. “I’m Lamar.”
On the other side of 2 a.m., we’re back in the car headed down La Cienega Blvd. After dropping me off, Odom will head back home for a few hours of sleep before the Lakers' early-morning flight that will send them on their longest road trip of the season in which Odom will play some of his best basketball.
“I love this life,” he says. “I mean, look around you. Everything is beautiful. The only thing I can do is smile. I’m a lucky man. I’m the luckiest man in all of L.A.”
Few public figures have absorbed tragedy the way Odom has. Death follows him like a black cloak dangling from his broad shoulders in the wake of his quest for stability. The ensuing grief comes in waves and cruelly congeals around his heart, bent on suffocating the remainder of his fractured spirit.
Still Odom has endured—sometimes with grace, often with tears. At other times, it’s been by making ill-fated deals with his opportunistic demons who readily feed on his need to self-medicate.
The borough of Queens provides refuge. It’s always in his heart. Stays on his mind and his sleeve. It lets him get back to good.
Except for the time it almost killed him.
Back in the ragged, muggy summer of 2006, Odom and a couple of pals were sitting on a park bench in Long Island City, Queens, near basketball courts where he had played as a kid. It was like old times: a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips, a bottle of Hennessy at the ready, tucked discreetly behind one of his size 17s. But there was something in the sticky air.
His New York street senses tingled. His eyes darted. A low-rent stick-up kid had spent the afternoon getting liquored up to muster the nerve to rob him. His casual approach was unnerving, gun in plain sight.
This is how it happens.
“You gonna rob me? Lamar Odom?” he asked incredulously. “Yeah,” the man replied. “Now shut the f--k up.”
Odom’s first thought was to run. “But I wasn’t going to let this guy shoot me in my back,” he says.
Bloodshot eyes, desperation coursing through a shaking body, one in the chamber. In this place, it’s a formula that ends lives. He put the gun an inch from Odom’s temple, turned it sideways. Cocked the hammer.
Odom saw Grandma Mildred. Felt the touch of her wrinkled hands. Remembered beautiful Destiny’s breath on his neck from when she would curl up and fall asleep on him. He could see LJ’s head in his palm. He was so small.
Odom clenched his eyes. His heart raced. The man pulled the trigger.
Odom didn’t know whether the gun jammed or was empty. He wasn’t trying to find out.
“Gimme your s--t,” the gunman screamed. Odom pulled $7,000 in cash from his deep, baggy pockets along with his American Express Black Card and New York driver’s license. He handed over the $21,000 watch he was suddenly no longer attached to.
“Now walk away,” the robber said.
Friends demanded retribution, but Odom objected. “I was just happy to be alive.”