Minutes after signing his first NBA contract, Lamar Odom sat down on a couch in the Clipper offices Thursday and gave a big sigh of relief.
It was as if Odom, who will not turn 20 until November, had just realized a dream that he hopes will give him a fresh start in life.
"Everything is going so positive, the ball is rolling finally now," said Odom after putting his signature on a three-year, $7.8-million contract. "People go through adversity to get here, to reach the mountaintop. To look down at the doubters and to sometimes say, 'I told you so.' It's a great feeling of accomplishment."
Odom, selected fourth overall in this year's draft after playing one season at Rhode Island, will earn $2.4 million his rookie season, $2.6 million in 2000-01 and $2.8 million his third season. The Clippers hold the option for the fourth year at $3.5 million.
Between now and the start of training camp on Oct. 5, Odom wants to get in as much work as possible to get ready for his rookie season.
"I'm a rookie who hasn't proven himself," said Odom, who like the Clippers' top pick last year, Michael Olowokandi, does not have a driver's license. "I've got to work on every aspect of my game to be efficient at this level."
Odom quickly dispelled the rumor that he didn't want to be a Clipper and that Los Angeles may be the wrong city for him to start his career.
"I am from New York," said Odom, a Queens native who recently celebrated the one-year birthday of his daughter, Destiny. "Everyone has doubts. There's always going to be someone out there trying to stir things up.
"Life as an NBA player has temptations anywhere. I've been through a lot and I know how to conduct myself."
The Clippers plan to use the 6-foot-10 Odom at small forward and to take advantage of his ballhandling and passing skills. It sits well with Odom, who not only said Monday that he plans to be named rookie of the year next season but also that the Clippers will make the playoffs.
"[Turning the Clippers around] is going to be what we make different, it's not going to be given," said Odom, who averaged 17.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists at Rhode Island. "Getting 40 wins is not going to be given. Fifty games is not going to be given. . . . We have to get together as a team and do whatever we have to do to make the playoffs. We have to take pride on the court and to take pride in your teammates. . . . It's going to be a process."