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Lamar Odom Returns for a Garden Party

Only 19 years old when the Clippers drafted him, the soft-spoken Odom joined the team blissfully unaware that his new franchise, owned by the penurious Donald Sterling, is thought by many to be cursed. Odom was all of six years old when high-flying Clipper Derek Smith suffered a devastating knee injury. Almost exactly one year later Clipper captain Marques Johnson ran into teammate Benoit Benjamin's ample stomach, sustaining a severe neck injury that ended his All-Star career. The Clippers, 5-5 when Johnson went down, went 7-65 the rest of the way, to finish with the second worst single season record (12-70) in league history. By the time Odom was 11, and beginning to dream about playing in the NBA, three more supremely talented young Clippers—Danny Manning, Ron Harper, and Charles Smith—had blown out their knees as well.

Odom has already experienced his share of bad Clipper business. His front-court partner, third-year forward Maurice Taylor, has been a lame duck since day one of training camp, embroiled in a messy contract squabble. He is likely to be elsewhere by the February 24 trade deadline. Odom's first pro coach, ex-Celtic Chris Ford, is already gone, fired just prior to the All-Star break.

A winner his entire athletic life, the soft-spoken Odom is battling to stay upbeat amid the mounting tide of losses, including a recent slide that saw the Clips drop 16 of 18. "Losing is tough, but I don't fool myself that things are going to change overnight here." Considering the Clippers' sorry history, that is undoubtedly the right attitude. Still, Odom says he's committed to the Clippers as well. "I'm willing to put in the time to turn this around, and New York is a place that pushes you to be mentally tough, so I'll be fine, just trying to win every game and learn as much as I can."

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