It was just over five years ago when Metta World Peace and Lamar Odom embraced on the parquet floor of Staples Center. The Los Angeles Lakers had just won their 16th NBA championship, and for World Peace and Odom -- who grew up playing AAU basketball together -- the professional title surely brought back memories of their New York City youth basketball dominance from a bygone decade.
With the heartbreaking news that former NBA Sixth Man of the Year Odom was hospitalized on Tuesday, World Peace posted a throwback photo on Instagram of that AAU team, the Riverside Church Hawks.
Looking back, that Hawks roster is chock-full of soon-to-be pros. World Peace -- then known as Ron Artest -- and Odom were joined by the likes of now-NBA veteran Elton Brand on a borough-based team whose fellowship was its most formidable trait, according to its coach.
"The big thing I’ll always remember about that team is the chemistry that they had," then-Riverside coach Ernie Lorch told the New York Post in 1999. "The camaraderie was unbelievable. We tell our teams today about those guys; about how willing they were to play together."
Odom drives and scores at the hoop during one such AAU game.
Deemed the “most dominant [AAU] team in the 1990s” and the second greatest ever by one group's ranking, the Hawks’ store of offensive firepower simply blew away the travel teams that challenged them.
One year in particular was remarkable for Riverside Church -- the spring and summer of 1996, during which the squad breezed past all competition to the tune of a 69-1 record, according to The New York Times.
Their one loss? To a club from the opposite coast -- Team California -- that was led by eventual NBA stars like Baron Davis and the Collins brothers, Jason and Jarron.
"They really believed in it’s not who scores as long as we score,” Lorch continued. "We told them, ‘Feel good about your teammates success and you’ll feel good about your own success.’”
On a day in which the basketball world is holding its breath in anticipation of news on Odom’s health, World Peace reminded us of the sway and swagger L.O. has had on the hardwood for decades.
Here’s hoping that we see him back on the floor soon.
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