Victor Oladipo returns 'home' to Indy, moves past 'catastrophic' injury and how Monday's game serves as closure for all
The IU product will play his first game back at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in 703 days. It's his first trip back since being traded away in Jan. 2021.
The last two years has felt like a lot to us all because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but with so much changeover with the Pacers, it’s easy to forget all that transpired since everything paused indefinitely.
That includes Victor Oladipo, the beloved IU star who was acquired by the Pacers in 2017, who became the face of the franchise, won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, had the best seasons in his career and then it all came crashing down.
And since, so much has changed.
Oladipo is with the Miami Heat. The injury happened against the Toronto Raptors, against Kyle Lowry. Now they’re teammates.
That first surgery by a Miami-based doctor was a failure, so Oladipo had to have a second surgery by another specialist.
In the last year, Oladipo has settled in and seem to declutter his life. He bought a home, changed agents, got rid of some of the bad influences in his life and signed a two-year deal with the Heat.
On Monday, for the first time since the Pacers traded him to the Houston Rockets 23 months ago, Oladipo is back in Indy and will play in front of Pacers fans.
Even the name of the arena — now Gainbridge Fieldhouse — is different since he last visited.
“It’s always good to come home, my second home,” Oladipo said after shootaround on Monday. “People think I’m from Indiana at this point. So home — it’s always good to be here and get the continuous love that I always get here from everybody.
Oladipo, of course, is reflective when returning to this state. It’s first where he went from a little-recruited prospect from DeMatha Catholic High School in Maryland to IU fan favorite and then in 2017, Indiana Pacers guard.
“It definitely brings some nostalgia walking in the building,” he said. “All the leaps and bounds I had to go through. I’m focused on the good energy. I let the bad energy go a long time ago, as far as my energy and everything. I’m in a good place and I’m continuing to build.”
Oladipo, 30, is still making the climb back to 100%. The injury was a significant one and he required not one, but two surgeries. On top of that, his game leaned heavily on his speed, slashing and ability to stop on a dime. That’s not complicated and likely will never be the same.
Like his injury, his last few seasons in Indiana were complicated. The Pacers and Oladipo needed each other in 2017. Fans felt the sting of Paul George essentially saying, ‘You’re not good enough, I want out.’
Oladipo hugged them back, was charismatic off the court and clutch in late-game situations.
But then he soured, changed, and had his heart set on getting to Miami. He wanted to play for the Heat.
And now he is.
Still being careful with his knee, Oladipo just made his season debut last week. He's played about 21 minutes per game in the last three games. He is available and will play against his former team for the first time, and in front of Pacers fans for the first time in 703 days.
The last two years have flown by in some ways, and been painfully slow in others.
Before talking with local reporters at shootaround, Oladipo put on his team-issued sweats and gave big hugs to two members of the Pacers public relations staff who stopped by to see their old friend.
I noticed on the scorer’s table beside him was a book.
Oladipo started reading a lot after his first injury in 2019. We talked a lot about it. One book he gained a lot of wisdom from while rehabbing from The Ritz-Carlton in Miami, away from the team, was “The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance”
The book he’s currently reading is fitting for him, where he’s at and the situation he once was in with the Pacers. It didn’t end how anyone would have liked — and there were bitter feelings on both sides.
Oladipo is currently reading “The Four Agreements.”
Those four agreements:
Be Impeccable With Your Word.
Don't Take Anything Personally.
Don't Make Assumptions.
Always Do Your Best.
The Pacers are planning to show a tribute video of Oladipo before tip-off, just like they did for Edmond Sumner and T.J. Warren before playing the Nets. This is new-ish for the franchise. They only started doing it last season.
The thinking: It doesn’t take a lot of effort to say thank you and appreciate their contributions. And perhaps others will take notice. (Where to draw the line is the difficult question.)
Both the Pacers and Oladipo have moved on, but it never felt like there was closure. Oladipo was traded on Jan. 13, 2021 while the team was in San Francisco for a western road trip. It was expected that the Pacers would trade him — he was in contract year — and move on, but still, you’re never really prepared for it. That’s why Oladipo has said on multiple podcast appearances that he was shocked.
There will be some boos Monday night, and that’s fine. Do what you want.
Just don’t forget how there were also a lot of good memories as Oladipo returned to Indy in 2017, established his NBA career with the Pacers, and united college fan bases across the state in cheering for the team.
Paid subscribers of Fieldhouse Files can watch all Oladipo had to say on Monday and read his full comments below: