The road to the NBA is difficult. Yes, the players who make it are gifted with extreme athleticism and superhuman abilities. But those qualities alone don’t guarantee you a spot in the world’s toughest basketball league. Lamar Odom, a top prospect since he was in high school, had to endure humiliation before fulfilling his NBA dreams.
After high school, Odom committed to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas but didn’t play a single game for the Runnin’ Rebels due to some controversies. And so with the help of his agent, Odom arranged his papers to move to the University of Rhode Island.
Odom met directly with the university president, some basketball staff, and some alumni. They knew that Odom was a top prospect poised to make it to the NBA. The Queens native thought it was going to be an easy process because of his stature. But during the admission process, they threw all sorts of questions at Odom and didn’t seem impressed with his answers. Then, they made him do an exercise that caused utter humiliation for Odom.
“Then, they asked me to write an essay about my life right there in the room and then read it back to them. It was clear to me that they didn’t think I could read or write. I was humiliated. This grade-school exercise disgusted and embarrassed me. After all I’d been through, all of the low points, each day seemed to bring me a step closer to rock bottom. After reading a page and a half of my handwritten essay, I just stopped. There was an awkward silence in the room as people looked around at one another, shocked that I could read,” Lamar Odom wrote in his autobiography, Darkness to Light: A Memoir.
The admission process was just the start of his uphill journey. Odom was admitted but had to sit out his first year and maintain a 2.4 grade-point average. He agreed to the conditions. Little did he know that being away from the game, coupled with other personal turmoils, would cause him to sink into depression.
“I was so depressed that for the first time, I had to get professional help. I went to a doctor who put me through a series of tests. He then put me on Prozac, an antidepressant, to treat my depression and anxiety. I knew I was down, but I thought I was just sad. Even when things were looking up, I’d still feel like I was in a haze, and I couldn’t figure out why. I just thought it was my mood. I really didn’t know or understand what depression was. I could feel the positive effects of the Prozac as the weeks went by. It calmed me down and kept me sane. I stayed on the drug the entire semester,” Odom wrote.
But slowly and surely, Odom settled into campus life. He played in pick-up games which weren’t exactly fit for his skill level but still provided some much-needed respite. Odom admitted that attending classes wasn’t his thing. But African American Studies pulled him to stay in the classroom.
Odom finally suited up in 1998–99. And true to the hype, Lamar was the real deal. He led the Rams to the conference championship. In the Atlantic 10 Tournament, Odom knocked down the game-winning 3-point shot. After the season, he was selected fourth overall by the LA Clippers. His name dream had come true.