It’s 3:26 a.m. and I can’t sleep. Instead I find myself glued to Tweetdeck, hoping beyond hope that Lamar Odom, a 14-year veteran of the NBA, and an honest-to-goodness human being, will make it through the night.
All signs point to the contrary.
To know Odom’s story is to know cruelty in the highest regard. Odom was this immensely gifted basketball player, a near 7-footer who had the vision of a point guard, the slashing abilities of a small forward, and the rebounding prowess of a big man. Off the court, Odom was a kindred soul, the kind that immediately gave off an aura of vulnerability. No one who came across Odom had anything but positive things to say about him.
But here he is today, laying in a hospital in Las Vegas, with a tube down his throat and a host of doctors by his side as his estranged wife watches on. Here is Odom, who once again finds himself surrounded by tragedy, surrounded by death, a dark shadow that has tormented his life since the day he was born.
Odom grew up in a fractured home. His father was a heroin addict and his mother passed away when he was 12 after battling colon cancer. His grandmother watched Odom grow into a basketball prodigy, and he would eventually make it to the NBA, before tragedy struck once more. His third child died in his arms at the tender age of six months in the cruelest way possible — he died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, something entirely unforeseen and entirely uncontrollable.
How could anyone possibly be strong enough to carry on, in such a public scene like playing basketball in Los Angeles? And how many could do it with a smile?
There was a time between the death of his child and his torrent post-basketball career where Odom found peace. He led the Clippers to the postseason, then he did the same with a young Heat team, before finding a home with the Lakers.
He was endearing in so many ways, fully-grown but whimsical like a child. He loved candy. He could make Kobe Bryant smile.
He became one of the best left-handed players in the league.
He became so good that he was the centerpiece in a trade involving Shaquille O’Neal.
He won two championships.
He made this pass to Darius Miles.
He was named as the Sixth Man of the Year.
He was part of the best 3-man frontcourt I had ever seen alongside Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
He was one of the few players who could suit up for the Clippers and be treated to an ovation by the Lakers crowd.
The post-career chapter of Odom’s life has been ugly, to say the least.
Odom’s life slowly fell apart, with each embarrassing detail painfully chronicled by the paparazzi. His struggles and cries for help were spun off as tabloid headlines framed around Khloe Kardashian. To millions who didn’t know Odom, he was not human, but something literally out of magazine, a fictitious tragic character putting on the most believable act, even when it was real. Odom smokes crack? Headline. Odom still loves Khloe after she files for divorce? Headline. Odom visits brothel and overdoses on herbal Viagara? Headline.
That’s just the nature of the American news cycle. Americans are obsessed with celebrities, whose entire lives become devoted towards playing puppets for an audience that resents their every move. None exemplify this better than the Kardashians. Americans want this social currency, to be able to live one life — inequities, tragedies, and joy — as a populace. And to feed our appetites, we need ritual sacrifices.
Odom, in that sense, made for the perfect vessel. Here was a literal Dickensian character who never quite escaped his demons. He was someone who we could cheer for, even in defeat.
But Odom was never a Kardashian. That’s a term reserved for people who willingly opt into the cycle, who put on a tremendous act that satisfies our darkest needs. No, Odom was a real person caught up way over his head.
He’s Wallace from the Wire.
On some level, it’s fun to have these batted balls to play around. It distracts us from real life. And the realer the story, the more we bite. The problem is that it was too real for Odom, and we somehow ignored him in our own interests.
We never turned a blind eye, but we closed our hearts in the case of Odom. We were vultures from the start, and should he pass, it would make for one last meal to satisfy our worst cravings.
Odom’s latest chapter is a play in two acts.
To some, it’s a comedy. It’s high entertainment in the best way. To them, it’s yet another celebrity who climbed to such heights only to make for a spectacular fall. And in the hearts of these bitter people, that’s why they watch. They want to see them fail. They want to see the rubble to feel better about their sack of shit lives. To them, Odom’s tragedy is the payoff for the hours that they invested.
To others, it’s a tragedy. It’s someone who could never quite run away from the problems in his life. It’s another reminder that the universe doesn’t run on just laws. It’s a cruel heartless landscape where nothing is deserved. It’s a story where bad things happen to a good person, and injustises endlessly besiege a strong man before his beaming smile becomes crooked, then non-existent.
The difference between the two is humanity. How much do you respect humanity? Because a lack of humanity is how we got here. That’s how Odom’s life was made into fiction, with every chapter leading to this logical end. And now, with Odom’s life on the line, do we remember the headlines, or the life behind it?
All the best to Odom, may he finally find some reprieve in this cruel tale, and may the universe finally show him the mercy that he showed others. May he live through the night and many more thereafter.