Lloyd Daniels was the most celebrated basketball player to come out of New York City in the 1980s, a 6-foot-8 swingman nicknamed "Sweet Pea" who could supposedly dribble and pass like Magic. Daniels was a transcendent but tragic figure. His mother died when he was a boy and his father abandoned him. He attended four high schools, one junior college, and landed UNLV in a NCAA investigation before he could play a game. He went to drug rehab three times, was arrested for buying cocaine, and kicked off a team in New Zealand for excessive drinking. In 1989, he was shot during a drug dispute outside of his grandmother's apartment in Queens. "People used to call me Little Lloyd," Lamar Odom said.
He was the most acclaimed player to come out of New York in the 1990s, another point guard in a power forward's body, equally transcendent and potentially tragic. Odom's mother died of colon cancer when he was 12 and his father was a heroin addict. When he was picking a college -- he attended three high schools, not four -- Daniels drove over to his grandmother's apartment in Queens. Daniels survived the shooting, even played a bit in the NBA afterward, and wanted to provide counsel. "I remember he rolled up in a white Benz," Odom recalled. "I told myself, 'I want a car like that.'" He too signed with UNLV and he too sparked a NCAA investigation before he could play a game.
As he spoke, more than four years ago, Odom was sitting behind the wheel of a white Mercedes on Interstate 405 in Los Angeles. Last week, when Odom was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence, he was again on a LA freeway, again in a white Benz. There is a prayer Odom likes to say, usually when he's in the company of Jerry DeGregorio, a coach he has known since high school whom he calls dad. They hold hands and ask God for wisdom and guidance, protection and tranquility. Odom is desperate for a measure of peace right now, in the midst of a two-week spiral that has been so furious it's hard to keep up.
Report: Odom checks out of rehab after one day
There was the car accident and then the DUI arrest. He went missing for 72 hours and then he was found. He checked into rehab and then out. Most of this is according to media outlets such as People and TMZ, which usually would not be concerned with a basketball player who scored four points per game last season for the Clippers. But Odom married Khloe Kardashian in 2009, spawning two celebrities where there should have been none, and starting a saga that is feeling more every day like an E! True Hollywood Story.
Odom was initially at ease in front of the Kardashian camera crew. After all, he was famous in New York when he was 16, and he's long been drawn to L.A.'s lights. Kardashian wasn't the first starlet -- if you can call her that -- he squired while playing for the Lakers. He posted arguably the best season of his career in 2011, winning Sixth Man of the Year while filming "Keeping up with the Kardashians." It is easy to blame America's first family of depravity for his descent, but in truth, he was walking a jagged edge long before he met them. When
Odom left Christ the King Regional High School in Queens as a senior, academically ineligible, then head coach Bob Oliva thought to himself: "There's a fine line between utopia and disaster. With Lamar, there is no middle ground. His life is in a tailspin. He'll become another Lloyd Daniels." Oliva, who would later be convicted of sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy, was supposed to be one of Odom's mentors. Odom was essentially cast alone into the netherworld of agents, recruiters and shoe companies. After landing at the University of Rhode Island, then head coach Jim Harrick gave him a backpack. Odom said he'd never owned one before. Still, he would disappear from the URI campus for three days at a time and turn off his phone. "Sometimes everything seemed overwhelming," Odom said in 2008. "I'd check into a hotel just to be alone for a while."
Drafted by the Clippers in 1999, he was voted team captain at 21, a position he was nowhere near qualified to accept. In '01, he violated the NBA's anti-drug policy twice in eight months, and five years later sought therapy after his six-month-old son died of SIDS. Like many of the actors he befriended, Odom hid his pain behind an irrepressible personality, paying Christ the King tuitions for students he never met, chatting up fans during games, inviting D-Leaguers over to dinner, skipping the first bus so he could sign extra autographs. There may be no one in the NBA as affable as Odom, which is why it sounded so strange to hear teammates and executives in Dallas complain two years ago that he was apathetic and aloof. I saw him that winter on a road trip in Phoenix, and after reminiscing about L.A., he sent a locker-room attendant to fetch him $60 in Red Bull.
Odom would show up late for meetings and tail off in the middle of conversations, but it was easy to dismiss all those inconsistencies, part of the packaging for a loveable flake. The last time I spoke with Odom was in the spring, for a story about Chris Paul. He talked about going through a rough time early in the season and Paul steering him through it. "We'll always be connected because of that," Odom said. I asked what was so harrowing. "Getting into shape," he said. Maybe his only struggle was wind sprints. But in hindsight, every innocuous anecdote looks like a neon red flag.
Odom is deferential by nature -- as a high-schooler, he did nothing but pass when college scouts were in attendance, so his friends might earn scholarships -- but he was fortunate to play with Paul and Kobe Bryant, dominant personalities whose voices resonate in a way that agents and lawyers and Kardashians cannot. Men have altered their entire careers based on a call from Paul or a look from Bryant. Odom refers to Paul as "The Tasmanian Devil." He calls Bryant "Bean." It's still early September and NBA superstars aren't on the clock yet, but here's hoping for a call from the Tasmanian Devil, a look from Bean, a return to rehab.
Lamar Odom is not Little Lloyd. He's played 14 years in the NBA, won two championships, and made countless friends. Daniels succumbed to every ditch on the basketball odyssey. Odom dragged himself out. Now, it seems, he's in the deepest one yet.