In many of my previous columns, I have been a severe critic of Lamar Odom. He has nearly the same set of physical skills that Magic Johnson had. However, he rarely used them, and through the years he raised inconsistency to a high art form. He has remained in the NBA, mostly because of his'potential.' After all, a well coordinated athlete, who is 6'11" tall, does not come along everyday.
It has been widely reported that Odom lives on a diet of products like M&Ms and Oreos, and other similar food groups. So, last week I suggested that the Lakers make these available to him before and during the game. On Monday night's game against the Suns, he scored 19 points and he also had 19 rebounds. He has played in 79 previous playoff games, and this is the highest number of rebounds that he has ever had. Did the Lakers read my column? Is this just a coincidence? I think not!
If they keep Odom saturated with sugar, they will not only score easy victories over the Suns, but also over the winner of the Celtics-Magic Series as well. Odom's contributions to that of Kobe Bryant and Paul Gasol are much more critical to the team's success, since Andrew Bynum has been slowed by injuries.
It appears that Kobe Bryant has been waiting for this game since the year 2007. The Lakers were eliminated from the Playoffs by the Suns that year. The pain of that defeat has been festering inside Bryant, since that time. When you want revenge, you can never be certain, that you will ever have the opportunity to get it. However, as it happens, things worked out, and the Suns were served to Bryant on a silver platter. They will get no mercy from the Lakers, and Bryant will be their chief tormentor.
While the performance by Odom was a pleasant surprise, Bryant did what was expected of him. He scored 40 points, and he willed his team to victory. It seemed to be that his mission was not only to defeat the Suns, but to punish and to demoralize them as well. It will be some time before we know if the Suns can bounce back from an opening-round defeat. Some teams have, while others have not. In a seven-game Series, it is not over, until one team wins four games.
I was very impressed with Alvin Gentry, the head coach of the Suns. In the third quarter, it became clear to him that the Lakers were likely to win this game by a very large margin. He was wired for sound, so we can hear what he was telling his team. He did not yell, scream, or express any anger to them. He urged them to continue to play hard, since there were six additional games that they had to play. He was concerned with keeping their spirits up, so that they can try to win on another day. He wanted them to accept this defeat, without hanging their heads, and to have them ready to make a better effort next time. I think that he prevented any backbiting, or finger-pointing, the way that Phil Jackson often does.
Bryant demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that he is the most dominant athlete in the NBA. He not only has this incredible talent, but he also has the absolute will to win.
It is incredible to watch him play, and I think a little bit frightening. I don't think any of us would want to be the obstacle between him, and something that he really wanted.
He does not appear to be happy, although he has made a fortune doing exactly what he likes to do. It makes one wonder about the kind of demons, who may be living inside him. Magic Johnson was a happy player, who enjoyed winning games, and he seemed to be having a wonderful time while he did so. He seemed to be more concerned with his team winning, than defeating their opponents. Bryant, on the other hand, seems to want to punish his opponents, in order to show them that they should not have had the audacity to challenge him. He has a large assortment of scowls, grimaces, and other facial contortions which he uses from time to time. Maybe they express his inner feelings, or possibly he hopes they will intimidate his opponents. I know that if I could play basketball, and I played against him, I would be frightened.
Watching some of today's athletes reminds me of when I was a teenager in Mount Vernon, New York. There was a playground, and we would play three-man basketball nearly every day, and during the summer, we would spend every day there, from sun up to sun down. In three-man basketball, the winners stay on the court, and face additional teams. I was on one of the better teams, and we won most of our games. There were times when we had to play against a team that was led by Big Leroy. Sometimes Leroy could sometimes play a pretty good game, but he was always the most ferocious fist fighter that any of us had ever seen. When we played his team, we would try to see if he was in a good mood. If he was not, we would make sure that we lost. From time to time, a team would play against Leroy for the first time. Then, if they won, they might make their nearly fatal mistake of taunting him. No one ever did that more than once. After they survived his beating, I don't think that he actually killed anyone, they would certainly treat him with a great deal of respect.
Bryant is now a worldwide icon. When his basketball days over, he will be paid handsomely to just show up and to be himself. Let me be among those who encourage him to continue his personal development, and his ability to communicate. The bad behavior and lack of courtesy from most athletes is the result of them not knowing what the appropriate behavior should be. So, many of them decide to be antisocial, rather than allow the public to see how insecure they really are. He might consider emulating Barack Obama rather than Barry Bonds. He will be happier if he does.