When Los Angeles Clippers made Lamar Odom the fourth in the NBA Draft in June 1999, it had all the makings of The NBA's perennial loser taking a player with all the necessary skills on the court, but questionable behavior off it.
However, after the first month of the season, the Clippers couldn't be happier with their selection.
Odom is a 6-foot-10 forward who can do it all-shoot, rebound, pass and handle the ball. He was among the team leaders in all major categories at the end of the first month. He was second in scoring with 18.9 points per game, second in rebounding with 8.0 per game, and tied for first in assists with 3.5 per game. But Odom didn't appear to be a safe pick entering the draft. His troubles started long before he ever played his first college game, let alone when he declared his intentions to turn pro.
Nobody disputed Odom's talent, but many teams were scared off by his bizarre road to the NBA. His resume read like a soap opera. He attended three different high schools his senior year. He left UNLU before he even had a chance to step on the court, because of a discrepancy over test scores. He sat out a year after transferring to Rhode Island. Then, after a spectacular sophomore season in which he was honorable mention All-American, things got really crazy.
Odom hired an agent, entered the NBA Draft, fired the agent, tried to withdraw from the draft and skipped numerous pre-draft workouts. Finally, when it became apparent he wouldn't be allowed back at Rhode Island, he waited to see where he would go in the draft.
But all the worrying by teams that bypassed Odom in the draft seems to have been needless. Odom has been a model first-round selection since reporting to training camp. As Clippers management has mentioned many times, Odom was only 19 at the time of the draft. Even Odom, who fumed 20 in November, brought up the age factor when discussing his past troubles.
"Of course I made some mistakes," he told reporters after being drafted, "but I'm only 19. I learned from my mistakes. Now I'm in a man's world, and that's the NBA."
If anybody still had doubts about whether Odom could handle the rigors of the NBA, he did his part to erase them in the Clippers' season opener. Odom scored a game-high 30 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a 104-92 loss to the Seattle Supersonics on Nov. 2.
Although the Clippers have struggled and don't figure to have enough firepower to make a playoff run this season, they seem poised for a bright future with Odom to build around.
Collectors have been quick to catch on. Check an Internet auction and Odom likely will be the NBA rookie whose cards are receiving the most interest. Fleer/SkyBox hasn't wasted any time either, by locking Odom to a multi-year marketing deal. The company can use Odom in advertising, promotions and offer autographed items and game-used memorabilia.