Fallen NBA star Lamar Odom’s post-Kardashian Philippine rebound
- Four years ago, he was found comatose in a brothel from a near-fatal drug overdose. Now he’s playing for the Mighty Sports Philippines travelling team
“Considering his age and what he’s been through, it’s amazing that he can even still do what he’s doing,” said Charles Tiu, 30, the team’s coach. “Everywhere we went fans were excited to see and meet him. People everywhere wanted photos. I’m really happy for him.”
Odom played for the team at last weekend’s Dubai International Basketball Championship, cheered on by a crowd of Filipinos – local media reports estimate that 450,000 live in the United Arab Emirates.
The love for NBA stars runs deep in the Philippines – the biggest name now in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) is Renaldo Balkman, a former first-round draft pick of the New York Knicks. Another NBA alumnus, DerMarr Johnson, played for the PBA’s Barako Bull Energy squad in 2012, and Cedric Ceballos, a one-time NBA all-star, made a stir for the San Miguel Beermen in 2003-2004.
The Rappler news website, which has an entire page devoted to Odom, reported that the 208cm-tall star was “mobbed by fans at the airport” before heading to a team practice to prepare for the 10-team tournament in Dubai.
“It’s big news to have a championship calibre player like Lamar Odom represent the country. His entire stay in the Philippines had heavy coverage from the media,” said Bustamante.
In a feature story on February 4 about Odom’s visit to a Manila shoe store, a Slam reporter described him as “Grounded. Reserved. Gritty” and “courageous enough to take one more shot at playing competitive basketball, even if it’s thousands of miles away from where he used to be.”
The adulation also came with a heavy dose of doubt, however. “Naturally, fans were curious how good Odom still is,” said Bustamante. “Especially after being away from the game for a few years.”
This concern wasn’t lost on Odom, who last played in Spain in 2014. He gave typically frank remarks to the Philippine press. “I know everyone here knows my story. I was knocking on death’s doorstep, so to just have the opportunity to play basketball is a win-win,” he said. “This is my first time in the Philippines and the Filipino people have been very welcoming. And if it goes [well] here, I can see myself maybe playing basketball here.”
Supporters like Paul Kennedy Lintag, a sports reporter at ABS-CBN, the Philippines’ largest news media outlet, are holding out hope for Odom’s comeback.
“I could be a little biased towards Lamar because I’m a Lakers fan,” Lintag said, “but just knowing his story and his near-death experience, you can’t help but to root for him to truly bounce back.”
‘HAPPY FOR HIM’
There is much goodwill for Odom, even if his statistics do not exactly match up. In his first competitive game in five years, he scored four points, seven rebounds and two assists in a rout of American University in Dubai. But, as ESPN reported, “his lefty lay-up off a blow-by move in the second half received the biggest ovation from the huge Filipino crowd.”
Tiu, the coach of Mighty Sports who began working as an assistant for the Philippine national team when he was 22, said that Odom worked hard every day and never complained. Tiu is an analyst for CNN Philippines who also coaches Go For Gold, last year’s champions of the PBA Developmental League.
“Lamar Odom was great. I never got a single attitude issue from him. He was always just one of the guys, trying to make his comeback, and I truly appreciated that,” said Tiu, whose brother is a former star of the Philippine national team.
“I do wish he was able to help our team a little bit more on the court, but we have to put things in perspective. This guy had how many strokes and heart attacks? He was in a coma for three days, couldn’t talk or walk for weeks, and yet here he is playing basketball again.”
Odom saved his best game for last: racking up eight points, five rebounds, two assists and a block in a third-place victory over Homenetmen of Lebanon on February 9. The Filipino crowd roared every time he touched the ball, according to Rappler, and Tiu called him “an inspiration.”
Mighty Sports has no new tournaments on the horizon, so Odom’s services are in limbo for the moment, Tiu said. But he has not ruled out working with the ex-Laker in the future. “We will see where he ends up next. He may be playing in the Big3, so we will see how that goes and see what the future holds.”
For Bustamante, the Slam editor, the Philippine stage of Odom’s comeback was something of a surprise for everyone. “When Lamar was here, it genuinely looked like he was taken aback at just how much [our] country loves basketball, and how much the fans embraced him,” he said.