By GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES – Whether he’s on the court, in the locker room or at home with his reality-TV-star wife, Lamar Odom has evolved into the consummate supporting player.
The Los Angeles Lakers think it’s high time Odom got his own spotlight for being so willing to step back.
Odom won the NBA’s Sixth Man award on Tuesday as the league’s top reserve, easily outdistancing Dallas’ Jason Terry to win the first significant award for individual achievement in a career mostly spent supporting others.
“It’s been a long time coming. I just kept at it,” Odom said, accepting the award while Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher led a round of cheers. “I’ve learned so much from the dudes in the locker room. I’ve just been so blessed to be around you guys.”
Odom was widely expected to be a major hoops star while growing up in Queens. After a disappointing start to an NBA career spent largely on losing teams, he has achieved a unique version of that stardom with the back-to-back champion Lakers.
It all happened in a way Odom never expected: by willingly becoming a sixth man.
“There was a point in my career where people were ready to call me an underachiever,” Odom said. “Winning an award like this is right at those people that were ready to call me an underachiever. There’s still some goals I want to set. I would love to play in an All-Star game, (but) the better I get, the more I can help this team just continue to win.”
Odom averaged 14.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3 assists per game this season while playing in every game for the Lakers. He was a starter for long stretches of the season while center Andrew Bynum was sidelined with injuries, but also came off the bench 47 times.
Bryant, Fisher and Pau Gasol were among several Lakers who showed up at a hotel ballroom near the Lakers’ training complex to give a standing ovation to the player widely acknowledged as the most popular guy in the locker room. Odom choked up briefly while thanking current and former teammates for the award.
“I’m very happy for him,” Bryant said. “It’s extremely well-deserved.”
Odom is the first Lakers player to win the award, which began in 1983. Atlanta’s Jamal Crawford won it last season.
Odom received 96 of 117 first-place votes from the media panel to beat Terry, who finished a distant second with 244 total points to Odom’s 513. Philadelphia’s Thaddeus Young was third with 76 points, and Boston’s Glen Davis finished fourth with 75.
Crawford received five first-place votes while finishing fifth, and Philadelphia’s Lou Williams received a single first-place vote.
Odom was a starter during his first nine NBA seasons with the Clippers, Heat and Lakers, but moved primarily to a reserve role during the 2008-09 season at coach Phil Jackson’s request. Odom acknowledges he was ambivalent about the move when Jackson first proposed it nearly three years ago.
“My competitive spirit, at first I didn’t accept it,” Odom said. “I remember when Phil told me he wanted me to do it, I walked into the locker room. We were about to start training camp, and I looked around at Kobe and Pau and Andrew Bynum. … I understood right away it would make our team a much deeper team. We all understand how important bench play is.”
The Lakers won the NBA championship that year and the next, with Odom coming off the bench for all but five of Los Angeles’ 46 playoff games.
Odom got another individual honor of sorts when he played for the U.S. national team at last summer’s world championships, winning a gold medal with a solid effort that spread into an outstanding start to the current NBA season.
“It’s good recognition of a player that has really filled a role for us the last couple of years,” said Jackson, who advocated Odom for his first All-Star berth after his outstanding start to the season. “To be named to the USA team was really big for him, and to start on that team was important.”
A few weeks ago, Odom said he planned to put the Sixth Man trophy on the scorers’ table at center court at Staples Center if he won it.
“When I came off the bench, they started to give me a round of applause they never gave me before,” Odom said. “I don’t know if they appreciated me more, or appreciated how I handled the situation, but I know I hadn’t experienced anything like that before.”
Odom’s wife, reality-TV star Khloe Kardashian, and his mother-in-law attended the award news conference. Odom and Kardashian starred in a reality series about their married life that was filmed down the stretch of the regular season and is currently airing on the E! network.
Odom and Kardashian say they both considered the potential for distractions from the show, both while filming and after it started airing. The show is frequently a topic of conversation at the Lakers’ practices, although mostly for teasing Odom.
“Just from experience and from talking to Lamar, I don’t think it was a distraction,” Kardashian said. “Lamar isn’t the kind of guy that gets distracted by things like that. During the season, he’s very focused on what he has to do for his team.”
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