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How did Lamar Odom fall so far?

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Lamar Odom's escape to the Love Ranch (3:36)

ESPN senior writer Ramona Shelburne details the downward spiral that led Lamar Odom to a brothel in Nevada. (3:36)

The cellphone service along Nevada state Route 160 starts getting spotty about 30 miles outside of Las Vegas. Calls drop mid-sentence, if they connect at all. The radio cuts out just past Mountain Springs. GPS endlessly recalculates. By the time you get to the turnoff for Dennis Hof's Love Ranch, a legal brothel on the outskirts of the outskirts of Pahrump, the only calls heard clearly are coyotes howling across the Amargosa Valley.

It's the kind of place a man goes when he doesn't want to be found.

Lamar Odom first called the brothel on the night of Oct. 5. It was late, but they're used to the phones ringing at all hours here. Odom put down a $100 deposit on his credit card, said he'd need a ride from his house in Henderson, Nevada, a suburb of Las Vegas, and that he would call back when he was ready. Five days later, general manager TJ Moore went to pick him up. Odom stood in the driveway wearing a green T-shirt and basketball shorts. He was bigger than Moore expected -- 6-foot-10 always looks taller in person. She felt badly when he climbed into the front seat of her Volkswagen Passat and his knees bumped up against the dashboard.

"I was so surprised at the ease of how it was to talk to him," Moore said. "There was no airs, no celebrity put on. ...It was like talking to an old friend."

The drive from Vegas to the brothel takes 90 minutes with no traffic, and in the late-afternoon sun, the high desert is stunning. In the five days after his call, Moore had seen a story about how Odom liked candy, so she had the women stock the private VIP suite he'd booked with all kinds of sweets. She'd read about his marriage to reality TV star Khloe Kardashian and how it seemed to have fallen apart because of his issues with substance abuse and affairs with other women.

"I told him that I've seen a lot on the Internet, and in the papers," said Moore, a 52-year-old grandmother of two. "I said that stuff doesn't sway me at all. I'll make my own mind up about whether I like you or not."

As they drove, Odom fiddled with the radio but didn't seem to mind when it started to fade. The weekend offered a chance to get away from noise and a world he didn't know how to be in sometimes. The past few years, he'd mostly bounced between Las Vegas and friends' homes in Los Angeles after his marriage and NBA career unraveled. Some nights he'd check into hotels just to be somewhere different, though privacy was hard to come by. The SLS Hotel in Las Vegas was a favorite haunt. A front desk clerk recounted a time when Odom stopped in the gift shop, got upset when he saw himself on the cover of a gossip magazine and bought every copy before returning to his room.

"Love Ranch is so off the beaten path," Moore said. "You can't just happen by and see something. We're hidden. If you're coming here, you're coming for a reason."

Odom had packed three changes of clothes in a small red bag. He told Moore that he planned to stay a few days, then maybe again the following weekend for Hof's birthday party, which Hof has previously co-hosted with Los Angeles Lakers part-owner Johnny Buss. Most visitors start their stay at Love Ranch with a lineup in the main parlor. Women come by and introduce themselves, then the client chooses whom he wants to spend time with. Nevada is the only state where prostitution is legal. There are 19 brothels in eight counties in the state, and they must abide by strict health and safety regulations. As independent contractors, the prostitutes negotiate their own prices and services with each client. The brothel requires that clients pay before any sexual activity. Each financial transaction is captured on a surveillance camera to avoid later disputes. Entertainment Tonight subsequently obtained Odom's itemized bill for nearly $79,000 during his four days at the brothel.

When they got to Love Ranch, Moore fixed him a drink from the Cherry Patch bar, and he spent about an hour in his private three-room suite getting settled in before choosing two petite blondes, whose stage names are Ryder Cherry and Monica Monroe, to spend the weekend with. Moore cooked steak and potatoes for them the first night. Sunday afternoon Odom sent word that he wanted KFC. "He made sure we got enough for the entire house and staff," Moore said. Sunday night they had steaks and potatoes again for dinner.

"He was a very sweet man," said Ryder, one of the women he hired for the weekend. "We talked about all the screwed up things that had happened in his life."

Divorce, death, drugs. Odom's mother died when he was 12. His grandmother died when he was 23. A son died of SIDs at 6 months old. He lost two friends to drug-related deaths this summer. His marriage was almost over.

"All of it," Ryder said. "Just pain."

Ryder said she told him that her husband had been murdered 18 months ago. She was raising her two children alone. "After my husband died, I didn't know how to get back out in the world and I thought this might help. It really has helped me because the people I've met. I've noticed they're people like me. A lot of widowers. A lot of people that are just lonely."

Ryder won't comment on the sexual acts they engaged in. Odom asked her to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but she said she wouldn't have spoken on that topic anyway. Clients need to feel like what they do there, stays there. Once you're inside, nothing is hidden, though. They sell sex toys, pornography videos "$10 each or 3 for $25," and bawdy tourist souvenirs at the front desk. Moore said Odom purchased several doses of sexual performance enhancers, sold as Reload and Super Libimax, during his stay.

Ryder said she and Monica went to Odom's suite whenever he asked. She said he would tell them when to leave, and how long to stay away so he could try to nap. He'd paid for 24/7 companionship. They watched "Interstellar" and "Mad Max," talked and ate dinner together. The two women slept in his room Saturday night, but he asked to sleep alone the other two nights.

"When people hear about three- or four-day benders, they imagine running up and down hallways naked and swinging from chandeliers and stuff," said Richard Hunter, another manager at the brothel. "There was nothing erratic or wild about his behavior. He was very polite, just sort of reserved and shy or whatever."

Moore said Odom told her he often had trouble sleeping, but was sleeping well during his stay and thinking of making it a regular hideaway. When he summoned her to his room on Sunday, he asked if he could stay a few more days.

"He gave me a peck on the lips, a motherly kiss, and I just sat on the bed with him for an hour and we talked," she said. "He brought up his mom again."

Moore was off Monday. She heard later that he stayed in his room most of the day and didn't eat as much as he had the first two days. When she asked her staff why, she was told he'd gotten upset after seeing a re-run of "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" on Sunday night. Ryder doesn't recall watching the episode with him, but said he could have watched it alone, when she wasn't with him. A little before midnight, Odom asked Ryder and Monica for some late-night snacks. He wanted to make caramel apples, so the women went to a Walmart about 20 minutes away. When they returned, he was on the bed, snoring loudly. They decided to let him sleep.

Ryder said she had her weekly visit to the doctor on Tuesday morning. Ryder said that when she and Monica entered the room around 3 that afternoon, it was clear something was wrong.

"It scared me to death," said Hunter, a brothel manager whose voice can be heard on the frantic 911 call. "The fluid that was coming out of his nose and his mouth and the sounds he was making, it was clear we had a real emergency in our hands."

Moore rushed into the room and tried to rouse him. "He had a pulse and I kept saying, 'Lamar, baby, it's TJ. I'm back.' Because he knew me; I really thought he was trying to respond."

Odom is so tall, Hunter said that he and three paramedics had to carry him out of the room in a sheet. "That image of his face is really burned into my mind now," Hunter said.

Odom was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he could be stabilized. But he was too tall to fit into the medical helicopter that was supposed to take him to a larger hospital in Las Vegas. Instead of a 20-minute flight, it took 90 minutes to transport him via ambulance to Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas. Doctors told those who rushed to his side Tuesday night that he'd suffered several mini strokes while he was unconscious. His internal organs were failing. If he survived the next 48 hours, he had a chance. But optimism was hard to come by that first night.

Some of the first headlines were shocking. "LAMAR ODOM FOUND UNCONSCIOUS AT LAS VEGAS BROTHEL." "LAMAR ODOM ON LIFE SUPPORT; 911 CALL ALLEGES COCAINE USE." "KHLOE KARDASHIAN RACES TO EX LAMAR ODOM'S SIDE IN HOSPITAL."

The Nye County Sheriff's Office held a news conference on Wednesday to say it would investigate how Odom got the drugs that were found in his system. Did he bring drugs with him? Did someone deliver them to him? On the 911 call, Hunter told the dispatcher that Odom told one of the women he was with he'd used cocaine. Grainy video of Odom appearing to take something at the bar have subsequently leaked on gossip websites, along with photos of Odom slumped over in a chair and passed out in his bed. Test results from blood samples obtained through a warrant still are pending, and authorities have not ruled out the possibility of taking action against the brothel or Odom.

According to search warrant records obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, Odom is believed to have overdosed on cocaine and other drugs before he was found unconscious in the brothel. The court document includes testimony to a Nevada state judge from Michael Eisenloffel, a Nye County sheriff's detective, on Oct. 13 after Odom was found. "I believe that Mr. Odom may be -- or may have been -- under the influence of a controlled substance," Eisenloffel told Fifth Judicial District Judge Robert Lane.

Even those close to him who feared that his downward spiral in recent years might lead to something like this couldn't believe it. A brothel? In Pahrump? How did he get here? How did he fall so far?

Luke Walton couldn't sleep that Tuesday night. The reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors needed his full attention. Walton, 35, was in charge as head coach Steve Kerr was recovering from complications from offseason back surgery. But this news about his former teammate was too much to bear.

By 4 a.m., Walton desperately wanted to fall asleep. But he was also afraid. "I was petrified my phone was going to ring," he said. If it did, that meant bad news.

He'd seen Odom over the summer while he was in Las Vegas coaching the Warriors summer league team. They'd chatted over the phone regularly. Walton has been worried about Odom for years. He saw the bizarre TMZ video in which Odom rapped about doing drugs and cheating on Khloe Kardashian. He read the stories about the drug-related deaths of Odom's best friends, Jamie Sangouthai and Bobby Heyward. So he called his friend and tried to talk with him, meet with him, help him if he could.

"We had those talks on the phone, but you can only get so real on the phone," Walton said. "Our talks were always positive. He was trying to get better. He was working out. But when you're face to face with someone and I can look him in the eye, it's different."

Walton wanted to do more. He would have if Odom had let him in.

"That was the hard thing about it. Lamar was always the guy who was there for you," said Walton, who played with Odom on the Lakers from 2005-11. "I'd be depressed about my back and maybe never being able to play again or I was frustrated about being out of the rotation, but if he saw me in a bad mood, he wouldn't even let me leave the practice site without messing with me so I'd go home in a good mood. Little s--- like that, every day for seven straight years. You're like, 'I love this man, he's as good as it gets.'"

Frustrated as he might have been, Walton was able to get closer to Odom than others these past few years.

"Obviously we've known Lamar has been struggling emotionally," longtime Lakers trainer Gary Vitti said. "Ever since he was traded from the Lakers [in December of 2011], he went downhill. You just couldn't seem to reach him.

"He wasn't returning text messages or phone calls. He just sort of dropped out. So when this happened, it was shocking when we heard this news that Lamar was practically dead. But at the same time we weren't surprised because we knew how he struggled in life.

"People have to understand that just because he's got fame and money, that doesn't mean anything. He lost all the people that he loved."

Vitti and Odom had an especially close relationship in the years he played for the Lakers. "There's people who say, 'I love you,'" Vitti said. "Those three words are pretty easy to come out of people's mouths. But Lamar doesn't just say it. He actually shows you love. If he sees you don't look right, he'll come to you and say, 'Hey, is something bothering you? You don't have a smile on your face.' And he doesn't walk away. He actually listens.

"He was the ultimate generous person. Way, way, way to a fault. If he saw you out somewhere, and you asked for your tab, he'd already picked it up. He wouldn't wait for a thank you or anything."

Walton went to the hospital over the weekend to visit Odom, but did not see him -- only medical personnel and family were being allowed in. After so long of trying to connect and find out what was really going on with his friend, it was just good to be close.

The phone has been ringing off the hook at all hours of the night at the brothel since Odom was found unconscious and unresponsive on the afternoon of Oct. 13. There are more prank calls, more looky-loos, more tourists who want to stop by to take pictures and purchase a shot glass or a funky hat.

"They're calling up, threatening us like, 'If anything happens to him ...'" Moore said.

Outside, it's quiet here at night. There's a constant gurgle from a small fountain, and a string of blue lights along the walkway from the parking lot to the entrance. Inside, the place is more like a bachelor pad. The three-room suite Odom stayed in had a private kitchen, shower and Jacuzzi. There were several flat-screen televisions, leather chairs and couches. Most of the artwork is simple. A couple paintings of tigers. A modern-looking red swirled metal sculpture. "I think Dennis just picked some of this stuff out," Hunter said. "I don't know if they mean something."

Moore hasn't been sleeping much. Around 11 p.m. on Oct. 15, she sent a staffer to buy pizza. Her nerves are frayed. She has been staying overnight at the brothel until things settle down. Extra security is on standby if anything should happen.

It's calm on this night, but impossible to relax with the phones ringing every few minutes. Callers are told the girls are "taking a break" for a few days. Potential clients are referred to their sister property, the Area 51 Alien Cathouse in nearby Armagosa. In time, the publicity might be as good for business as the HBO show "Cathouse" about Hof's original Bunny Ranch in Carson City. For now, it's disquieting.

"I completely understand why [Odom came to the brothel]," Moore said. "Especially now. If this is what his life was like, I would want to run away, too."

Odom remained in a coma at Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas for four days. When he finally opened his eyes last Friday morning, Khloe was at his bedside. She'd arrived with her mother and sister on Tuesday night and hadn't left the hospital all week. Because their divorce had not been finalized in family court, she was still his next-of-kin and, thus, empowered to make medical decisions on his behalf. She allowed his ex-wife, Liza Morales, children Lamar Jr. and Destiny, father, Joe, and aunt, JaNean Mercer, to visit him in the room, but kept everyone else away so he could rest and heal.

The hospital was crawling with paparazzi all week. There were breathless reports with staggeringly personal details about his potential for brain damage, kidney, liver and lung function. At one point, Radar Online reported that he had been "ruled brain dead" and questioned in a headline whether Khloe would pull the plug.

In this world, it can be difficult to tell where real human emotion and relationships end and the exploitative media circus begins. The Kardashians pledged to go dark on social media and promised none of this was being filmed. Still, there were breathless updates and leaks to the tabloids.

Walton has always stuck up for Khloe Kardashian when people questioned the strength of the marriage, but even he acknowledges the reality TV show and accompanying media circus have complicated things.

"I don't know all the behind the scenes and how the reality TV stuff played out," he said. "But woman to man and man to woman, that bond was strong. The more you hung around, you could tell it wasn't some publicity thing. They had those feelings for each other and they were strong."

When the two were married after a whirlwind one-month courtship in 2009, it was supposed to be a small wedding at the house of a family friend. Instead, matriarch Kris Jenner turned it into a huge made-for-TV event on the E! Channel. Two years later, older sister Kim Kardashian got an entire series devoted to her nuptials with basketball player Kris Humphries. She ended it acrimoniously after just 90 days. Humphries tried to clear his name during the divorce proceedings, alleging their relationship was fraudulent.

So how do you separate reality from reality TV? How do you live and love in this vortex?

"He wanted it," said Odom's longtime assistant, Anthony "Mac" McNair. "But I could tell some days after practice or games, he didn't want to deal with all this s---. And when he can't deal with something he will avoid it. He's non-confrontational."

Mac hasn't been around Odom much in the past year, except for a brief period last spring when Odom tried to stage a comeback with the New York Knicks. Mac said he drove Odom to meetings with Knicks president and former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, doctor's visits and training sessions. But ultimately Odom was released after he failed to report as he was required. There was some speculation around the league that Odom was worried about passing a drug test. Mac said Odom left New York to return to California to try to win Khloe back. Jackson released a cryptic statement, "Unfortunately, Lamar was unable to uphold the standards to return as an NBA player." Odom has never spoken publicly about it. He simply faded into the shadows.

"He texts all my guys in Harlem all the time," Mac said. "But he never texts me. I think he thinks I'm mad at him. But I'm not. I love that dude like a son. I love that guy. I would do anything for him."

Why didn't Odom let him or anyone in?

"I think he was ashamed," Mac said. "Because this isn't Lamar. This is the demons."

The convenient narrative is that Odom's downward spiral began when he married into the Kardashian clan in 2009, accelerated when he was traded from the Lakers in December 2011 and went into complete free fall this past summer over the drug-related deaths of two best friends.

The uncomfortable narrative, at a moment when he's still fighting to recover, is that Odom has struggled with substance abuse for years. He may have led a hard-luck life, filled with tragedy and pain, but close friends said that too often he has dealt with it by using drugs and pushing away those who tried to help him. Odom has spoken openly in interviews and on the Kardashian show about his estranged father's issues with substance abuse.

"He's never really had a male figure in his life to teach him what a man does when he's confronted with adversity," said one close friend. "That's the true test of someone's character -- not when things are going well but when they're going badly. And his example of what to do when things are going badly is to do drugs. That's his dad, that's his male figure."

Odom has failed multiple drug tests during his NBA career, earning suspensions in 2001 and 2002. In August 2013, Odom was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence at 3:54 a.m. along the 101 Freeway in the San Fernando Valley. This came just weeks after reports that he'd disappeared for three days following a fight with Khloe. His agent told ESPN at the time that Odom wasn't missing, but was instead at an L.A.-area hotel with friends who were trying to help him with a drug problem. He later pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to three years of probation and 30 days in an alcohol abuse program.

The couple has been to therapy to deal with their issues. Odom has been to rehab on several occasions. Nothing has worked. In July, they both signed divorce papers. This summer, Khloe began seeing Houston Rockets guard James Harden. A therapist told her she had to move on or he would never change.

Odom retreated to Las Vegas. He started working with a trainer, Fareed Samad, and hoped to make a comeback to the NBA. Between Memorial Day and October, he'd lost 35 pounds.

"He was trying to do his thing," Samad said. "He wanted to get back to the NBA and he wanted to finish in New York. And he wanted to do something in Rhode Island. He went to college there and wanted to do something for the Boys & Girls Club there."

Odom met with Jackson over the summer when his former coach was in town for summer league. Jackson told him he was impressed by how he'd gotten himself in shape and to keep going, and that it was good to see him looking healthy again.

Of all the coaches in Odom's life, Jackson probably got the most out of him. He recognized how sensitive Odom was early on, and how much approval he needed. How deeply he needed to be loved, but how hard it was for him to accept it. They won NBA titles together in 2009 and 2010. Odom was named NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 2011. Jackson retired after that season. Then came the lockout, which lasted through Thanksgiving, and the failed Chris Paul trade, which was to send Odom to the New Orleans Pelicans. "That trade shattered him," Mac said. "He always thought he was going to be a Laker for life."

He has been falling ever since.

No one has said for sure yet that Odom will live through this. Doctors have told Odom's family it's something of a miracle he survived the first night in the hospital. His condition has continued to improve each day, although a source indicated that he has months of recovery ahead as his kidney function remains a concern. Monday night he was well enough to be airlifted from Las Vegas to Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Khloe flew with him in the helicopter and is staying overnight, each night he is in the hospital. On Wednesday, Khloe had her lawyer Laura Wasser formally withdraw her petition to divorce Odom. They're going to try to make it work.

Moore has been closely following news of Odom's condition. She wishes she could see him in the hospital, or at least tell Khloe how much Odom said he loved her. He talked about Khloe a lot on the drive out to the brothel. He talked about his sadness and shame. Moore listened.

"He didn't do anything wrong," she said. "He just came by to be peaceful and quiet."

The Associated Press and ESPN reporter Stacey Pressman contributed to this report.