The Lamar Odom era in Dallas may have been short and bitter, but his failures this season have secured a historical standing as this organization’s greatest instance of missed opportunity. Steve Nash’s departure was a calculated decision that was not at all unfounded. The 2006 Finals were a golden opportunity, but ended with a run-in with the supernatural. But Odom’s downfall in Dallas (now cemented by a mutual agreement by Odom and the Mavs to part ways) wasn’t a product of betrayed reason or an encounter with the divine. It was solely a shortcoming of men, and an unfortunate — if common — triumph of flaws over circumstance.
Odom has had a rough run — in life, and certainly of late — but it was his introversion that did him in this season. He surveys the interior of his head with the same scrutiny that focuses his ever-impressive court vision, but a man can only peer through darkness for so long before it starts to take him. There are surely others who would have taken Odom’s situation in stilted but continuous stride, yet with this specific combination of events and this specific man, it was all a bit too much.
We all have our limits, and this season, Odom found his. It’s not the first time that some event or another has weighed on Odom’s psyche (and goodness, does he carry the weight for a whole mess of men), but this was the first time in his career that he was paralyzed by what befell him. It’s still silly to make the man a villain merely for being a man, but in a sporting culture where immortality is more than just an ideal, I can’t say I’m all that surprised that the narrative has been spun the way it has. Stories of mortal exploits are rich if parsed in a suitable way, but will nonetheless come up short next to the mythologies of the on-court gods. Odom didn’t rise above it all, he didn’t overcome adversity, and he didn’t make hardship into a personal triumph. He ducked his Hollywood ending and did what all of us do and have done from time to time — submitted to circumstances that, for whatever reason, got the better of him.
When Donnie Nelson acquired Odom in exchange for a sheet of stamps and a sock-full of quarters, the Mavericks were presented with an incredible chance for makeshift improvement. Dallas had lost Tyson Chandler (and Caron Butler, and J.J. Barea, and DeShawn Stevenson, and Peja Stojakovic…), but had managed to add a hugely talented player despite their complete lack of cap room and dearth of tradeable assets. That’s nothing short of a modern basketball miracle, and that Odom’s surprise acquisition presented Dallas with so many tantalizing lineup possibilities only made his non-start that much more disappointing. The light just went out for Odom, and while I don’t blame any Maverick player, coach, or fan for being frustrated with what’s transpired over the last four months, that feeling seems rooted in a want for what could have been.
He should have tried harder. He should have cared more. His head and heart should have been with this team at this juncture. But the time for all of that has passed, and now too, has Odom’s tenure. There’s no specific reason why Odom didn’t or couldn’t find some kind of success with the Mavs, other than the fact that he’s as flawed as the rest of us. He’s unfocused and wholly imperfect, and although his recent failures may make him unique relative to his driven peers, they cast him as but one of many who have been bested by the unfortunate hazards of being human.