Lamar Odom takes the floor at Staples Center tonight and for the first time in exactly eight years, he'll be doing it without a Lakers jersey on.
The last time he did so was January 16, 2004 as a member of the Heat against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Before this season, LO spent all but one year of his career in Los Angeles — four with the Clippers and seven with the Lakers. It's a place he calls home and his return is sure to bring back some memories when he returns as a Dallas Maverick tonight.
Teammate Dirk Nowitzki thinks those memories — of seven years, two championships, the selflessness to take a spot on the bench and the will to win Sixth Man of the Year — should be enough for Lamar to get a positive reaction from the Lakers faithful when he first takes the floor.
"I'm sure he's going to get a standing ovation," Dirk said. "He deserves it."
LO said in an exclusive interview with the Los Angeles Times that he always felt a connection with those fans.
"The crowd, I consider them my friend," he said, taking off a pair of sunglasses halfway through the interview and touching the corners of his eyes. "The energy that was passed from them to me always made everything feel all right. My interaction with the crowd, when Jack [Nicholson] started a chant, you're communicating with your eyes or verbally with these people that I have all their DVDs and see their Oscar-winning performances.
"To feel them root for you because they like you and see you evolve into a man and someone who's consistently putting it out for them, it's awesome. It's the best feeling in the world as far as basketball is concerned."
But whatever thoughts cross his mind as LO enters Staples and hears the LA fans again, Lamar promises it will no impact his play once the ball goes up.
"It'll be the first time I go home to my house and have to play for another team. I mean, it is what it is," he said. "The only way I can truly help this team is to move on."
The Lakers traded Lamar to Dallas in December just a few days after a trade that would've sent No. 7 to New Orleans for Chris Paul fell through. Since then, Lamar has spent most of his time trying to adjust himself to being a Maverick and the challenges that entails on the floor.
"Our first priority is to make sure he goes to the right locker room," Coach Rick Carlisle joked. "His No. 1 job is to compete his butt off. We all got his back. He's a special guy. We love him. He has unique skills that very few players in this league have. Right now what we need from him is a high competitive level and to play his game."
Former teammate Pau Gasol told the LA Times he was looking forward to reuniting with Lamar, who he has admittedly lost touch with over the past few weeks as his former teammate settled into his new hometown.
"Hopefully I'll see him tomorrow and have a chance to talk to him directly and personally," Gasol said. "I look forward to it. He's a player that's been a part of great things here. I was happy to be his teammate and enjoyed every minute I was able to play with him. He was an unselfish and versatile guy and he sacrificed himself for the good of the team. He's the kind of a player you'd like to have on your side."
Luke Walton, one of LO's closest friends in Los Angeles, said the Lakers players miss Lamar as much off the court as they do on it.
"We miss his off-the-court stuff just as much as on the court," Walton said. He's just one of the guys that keeps stuff light all the time and makes it fun to come to work."
Lamar visits Staples tonight as a Lakers opponent for the first time since 2003 (Getty Images).
LO has been to work at Staples Center many times. He'll do it again on Monday night, but as a member of the Mavericks in what is sure to be an emotionally-charged evening.
"I just have to focus on the task at hand. You play a game," he said. "I don't know how I feel…. I have mixed emotions. Things move on. There's no hard feelings. It is what it is…. Time waits for no man. You have to put thngs behind you so you can move on and get better on and off the court."
Tipoff is scheduled for 9:30 CST/7:30 PST on TNT.