That's the kind of bright outlook that makes it hard to believe Odom has such a dark past. "He's a fun-loving kid who does all the things we make rookies do, like carry the bags and place the veterans' orders when we're in a restaurant," says Clippers forward Maurice Taylor. "I think people meet him and are surprised to find out he's nothing like what they thought."
As a player, Odom comes as advertised. It usually takes only a brief look at him to appreciate the full range of his skills. In a 100-95 home win over the New York Knicks on Nov. 23, his statistical line was stuffed by the end of the first quarter, which he finished with 13 points, three assists, three rebounds and a steal. He was simply too tall for 6'5" Knicks forward Latrell Sprewell, over whom Odom shot for most of the game, and too quick for 6'9" power forward Kurt Thomas, around whom he drove as if Thomas were a detour sign on a couple of possessions. "There aren't many teams who really can match up with him," says Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "Maybe Minnesota, with Kevin Garnett, but not many others. He's going to cause a lot of headaches for people."
Stats don't reflect the way Odom often takes over at point guard late in close games, or the way the Clippers come out of timeouts in crucial moments and immediately try to get the ball into his hands. It's not unusual to see Odom bring the ball down and initiate the offense, then drop into the low post to take an entry pass. "I have to remind myself sometimes that he's only a 20-year-old rookie," Ford says. "He's just so gifted that we want the ball in his hands as often as we can get it there. He's already become the kind of player that defenses have to double-team or they'll get killed, and when that happens, it opens things up for everyone else."
Although the comparisons to Magic are apt—Heat coach Pat Riley was even moved to pull out old tapes of Johnson to show Odom a few days before the draft—Odom doesn't have Magic's halogen-bulb smile. He tends to flash sly, playful ones, which are more in keeping with his personality. He'll catch a pass near mid-court and pretend he's thinking about taking a 40-footer, then wink at his defender. His wit is as quick as his first step. After the victory over the Knicks, Clippers owner Donald Sterling came into the locker room to congratulate Odom, who finished with 24 points, six rebounds, five assists, two blocked shots and a steal. "We're not letting you go, even if it takes $300 million," Sterling said, referring to the riches Odom will command when his three-year contract expires. "Just remember you said that," Odom shot back, smiling.
Nicknames don't seem to stick to Odom any better than defenders do, which is a shame, because the Package, the tag that was briefly applied to him during his season at Rhode Island, seems to fit perfectly. Not only does he seem to have a full bundle of skills, but he also might as well have arrived on the Clippers' doorstep wrapped up and tied in a bow, courtesy of the teams who bypassed him in the draft. "I'd never tell my owner this, but we had a pretty good chance to move up and take him, and I thought he was too big a character risk," says a Western Conference general manager. "I've already seen enough to know now that his talent makes him worth almost any risk. I've got a feeling he's going to have me kicking myself for the next 10 or 15 years."
Odom won't look that far ahead. He even recoils at the mention of the Rookie of the Year award. "How can anybody be thinking 70 games down the line?" he asks. For now, Odom is satisfied that things are finally going his way. "This is how I saw it unfolding when I was 10 years old on the playground, waiting for the street lamps to come on for extra light," he says. It would be tempting to call Odom's success a happy ending, if it didn't feel so much like a beginning.