LAS VEGAS (AP) — Lamar Odom didn’t last long at the glittering intersection of championship success and Hollywood celebrity.
Cut loose by his beloved Los Angeles Lakers, followed everywhere by reality television crews, the humble kid from Queens who married into the Kardashian clan saw his life spiral out of control, and so did everyone else.
Khloe Kardashian tried to hide his addictions, then told the world she couldn’t save him. The two-time NBA champion landed on Skid Row, a regular tabloid target.
Then he seemed to drop out altogether before he was found unresponsive in a Nevada brothel and hospitalized, bringing his estranged wife, his former teammates and the world’s attention back to his side on Wednesday.
Hospital authorities would not comment on the condition of the 35-year-old former NBA forward, but the Rev. Jesse Jackson was among his visitors. Jackson said Odom was on life support and improving.
“Apparently from what the doctor said, he was much better off today than yesterday. He at least has some responsiveness now,” Jackson said. “He’s got tubes in him now but we felt inspired by his presence.”
“We’re just holding hands and hoping he can bounce back,” Jackson added.
Odom, who was embraced by teammates and television fans alike for his Everyman approach to fame, was found face down and alone Tuesday after spending four days at the Love Ranch, a legal Nevada brothel.
Odom started “throwing up all kinds of stuff” after a 911 operator told brothel workers to turn him on his side, Love Ranch owner Dennis Hof told The Associated Press in a phone interview. Odom had “spent time socializing with some of my girls,” but wasn’t seen taking any illegal drugs, Hof said.
Investigators have sought a warrant to obtain a blood sample to determine if Odom suffered a drug or alcohol overdose, Nye County, Nevada, Sheriff Sharon Wehrly said.
Odom spent most of his 14-year NBA career in Los Angeles with the Lakers and Clippers, becoming a fan favorite before he sought even more fame.
His one-month courtship of Khloe Kardashian before their huge 2009 wedding was taped for the E! network, and Odom appeared on nearly two dozen episodes of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” He also appeared on “Kourtney & Kim Take Miami,” and his marriage was chronicled on the “Khloe & Lamar” show in 2011 and 2012.
Odom seemed to get loving attention on the show. Khloe would call him “Lam-Lam” and worry openly about him. Even after they split up in 2013, cameras recorded her calling him and checking on his welfare, worried that he was in a bad place.
People have always seemed to root for Odom, whose prematurely weathered face wore the impact of his personal tragedies in a friendly way, seeming to acknowledge his lowest points even when he reached the heights of pop-culture fame.
News of his hospitalization brought an outpouring of dismay and encouragement from his basketball friends and teammates. Kobe Bryant joined Kardashian and some of Odom’s childhood friends at his bedside Tuesday night after the Lakers played in an exhibition game in Las Vegas.
“Lamar Odom is one of the greatest people I’ve ever known,” said Derek Fisher, the New York Knicks coach and Odom’s longtime teammate with the Lakers. “I don’t view him through the prism of choices that he’s made. I view him through the heart and soul of the person that he really is. I’m obviously hoping that he can pull through this, and that in some fortunate way this becomes the beginning of a different ending.”
Authorities were called to the ranch in Crystal, Nevada, about 3:15 p.m. Tuesday, the sheriff said. The 6-foot-10 Odom was too tall for an available helicopter, so an ambulance took him about 65 miles to Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center in Las Vegas.
Hof told the AP that his staff had picked up Odom from a home in Las Vegas on Saturday, and he seemed “happy, he was sleeping every night,” while visiting.
“He was polite and reserved, and he told multiple employees that he was there to get some privacy and spend some time relaxing,” Hof added in a statement.
“He largely kept to himself, and at no time did he engage in any drug use in the presence of anyone in the house. He did drink alcohol from our bar, and was taking some herbal sexual enhancement capsules,” Hof’s statement said.
Odom emerged as one of the most promising basketball talents of his generation after a difficult childhood in Queens, where his mother died of cancer when he was 12 and his estranged father was addicted to heroin. Drugs and crime were rampant in his South Jamaica neighborhood, and he never forgot where he came from, writing tributes to his mother and grandmother on his sneakers before games.
Tall enough to play center and skilled enough to be a playmaking guard, the rangy kid with a beautiful shot and exceptional ball-handling skills drew comparisons to Magic Johnson when he played on a traveling youth team alongside Ron Artest, his future Lakers teammate.
Despite an abbreviated college career marked by scandal and an arrest in Las Vegas, Odom’s talent was so coveted that he was picked fourth in the 1999 NBA draft by the moribund Clippers. Suddenly, he was “living like a 19-year-old rock star,” he said. Soon thereafter, he was suspended for smoking marijuana.
Odom had two children during those years, Destiny and Lamar Jr., with an ex-girlfriend, Liza Morales. The 2006 crib death of another infant son, Jayden, attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, prompted Odom to consider quitting basketball. He played the next season displaying a T-shirt bearing his son’s photo in his locker.
Odom loved wearing purple and gold, and his selfless play won him the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award in 2011. He won a second straight NBA title in 2010 while playing alongside Artest, now known as Metta World Peace.
But his basketball career faded as his life became a public spectacle. He was heartbroken in December 2011 when the Lakers attempted to trade him; he eventually landed in Dallas, and reality TV crews followed.
“The year he got traded people wanted to say, ‘Oh, it’s because of the show.’ No one wanted to bring up the accomplishments he had when we were filming,” Khloe Kardashian told the AP in a May 2013 interview. “Lamar loves doing the show and he’s the one who wanted to do ‘Khloe & Lamar” more than I did.”
Still, Odom’s behavior increasingly worried family and friends. He pleaded no contest to drunk driving after an arrest in August 2013. Kardashian filed for divorce four months later and has been dating Houston Rockets star James Harden. The divorce has not yet received final approval from a judge.
Odom signed with the New York Knicks in April 2014, but never played. Rumors of drug use followed, and when cameras caught up with him on a sidewalk in August, Odom blamed the media for his downfall.
“Y’all have discredited me, beat me down, took my confidence, took everything away from me. You will not do it again,” Odom told TMZ in an interview. “To everybody that I know and that supports me, I’m sorry but it’s just it. The dog has to bite back.”
Several Lakers players visited the hospital after their exhibition game Tuesday night in Las Vegas.
“There’s not one word I could say that would make sense,” World Peace said, clearly distraught.