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Posted: Monday June 15, 2009 1:35AM; Updated: Monday June 15, 2009 4:19AM
Andy Staples Andy Staples >
VIEWPOINT

For Odom and fellow first-timers, NBA championship is extra sweet

Story Highlights

Besides Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, every other Laker won his first title in '09

No first-timer was more satisfied than Lamar Odom, who arrived via trade in 2004

Said Odom: "This is what I've been dreaming about since I was 10 years old"

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Lamar Odom (right) and Pau Gasol won an NBA title for the first time.
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- The tiny locker room smelled as if every grape in France had fermented and exploded at once. The empty Moet bottles sat on a table in the middle. The corks lay on the ground. Veteran reporters wore garbage-bag ponchos. Not-so-veteran reporters wore suds. As his teammates passed around the Larry O'Brien trophy and mugged for the cameras, Lakers forward Lamar Odom leaned back in a stall and smiled.

"I was visualizing this," he said. "This is what I've been dreaming about since I was 10 years old. ... I knew that one day I would win the NBA championship. I always put the icing on the cake, though. I was hitting the winning shot."

The Lakers didn't need a game-winner to close out the Magic on Sunday, so none of Odom's 17 points matched the drama his school-age self envisioned for all those years. Still, as everyone else talked about the number four (Kobe Bryant's championship total) and the number 10 (coach Phil Jackson's total), every Laker besides Bryant and guard Derek Fisher -- who also has four titles -- could think only of the number one.

Because you always remember your first time.

"I didn't know what it was going to feel like," forward Luke Walton said. "But I'm not disappointed."

For Walton, the title is special because he can now relate more to his father, Bill Walton, who won titles with the 1977 Trail Blazers and the 1986 Celtics. "He's been telling us since we were kids that it's one of the greatest experiences of his life," Luke Walton said. "Now I can share that with him."

For forward Trevor Ariza, the title is special because his Lakers beat the team that shipped him to Los Angeles because he didn't fit into the offensive scheme. For Andrew Bynum, it was special because he had to sit on the bench, injured, and watch his team lose to Boston in last year's Finals. For forward Pau Gasol, the title is special because he is the first player from Spain to win one. "The journey is what makes it so special and beautiful," Gasol said.

But it might mean the most to Odom, the last remaining member of the trio traded to Los Angeles in the 2004 deal that sent Shaquille O'Neal to Miami and broke up the team that won three titles and lost in a fourth Finals. For starters, Odom, a collegiate star at Rhode Island, entered the NBA in 1999 with zero possibility of winning a title. He was drafted by the Clippers.

Odom escaped to Miami in 2003, but he played only one season for the Heat before being shipped to L.A. At the press conference to announce the trade, Odom sat stunned. "I was shocked," he said. "I would have said no it it if it was anyone else but the Lakers."

After his second season with the Lakers, Odom lived through every parent's worst nightmare. In 2006, Odom's 6-month-old son, Jayden, died while sleeping in his crib.

"The death of my son is something I deal with every day," Odom told the Riverside Press-Enterprise in 2008. "Some days you wake up and it's harder, or some days you wake up and you think about it a little bit more. It's something that probably won't leave me for a long time."

Sunday, as he does for every game, Odom wrote "Baby J" on one of his shoes.

Though it paled in comparison to his personal tragedy, Odom also had to watch in 2006 as his former team in Miam won an NBA title. After the Lakers lost to the Celtics last season, Odom began to wonder if his vision ever would come true.

As his moment approached this month, Odom grew more anxious.

"I probably lost four or five pounds," he said. "I couldn't really eat."

In the days between Thursday's comeback win in Game 4 and Sunday's clincher, a full night's sleep eluded Odom. As Saturday night bled into Sunday morning, Odom woke every few hours to fiddle with the thermostat. "Turn it off. Turn it on," he said. "Turn it off. Turn it on."

Less than 24 hours later, the dream of a 10-year-old finally became reality. Odom slipped on his championship T-shirt. He donned his championship cap. He cradled the golden trophy. But this being the age of the 24-hour news cycle and Odom being a free agent this offseason, somebody had to intrude with a nagging question. Will Odom be a Laker next season?

"I can't let the business of basketball ruin this moment," Odom said.

And he didn't. Odom kept right on smiling, surrounded by all those empty bottles and all that laughter. He knew this would happen. He didn't quite know exactly when, but he knew it would.

"Playing with Kobe, being coached by Phil Jackson, I knew the time would come when we would put a team together," Odom said. "The time came."

 
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