Never, in my whole life, have I seen a professional basketball player with so much range.

This was my fourth hour with Indiana Pacers All-Star guard Victor Oladipo and, to put it plainly as I sat in the team’s practice gym, I was floored. Yes, I’d already seen the dunks and the step back threes and the ball-handling prowess, but more importantly Oladipo had just finished beautifully singing his third song from a 2017 musical (which was blasting from his phone) and up next was 90s slow jam classic “Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here” by Deborah Cox.

By the time we made it to “Stranger in my House” by Tamia, someone asked him where the showtunes were from. “The Greatest Showman,” Oladipo said, without breaking his stride of signing his fourth stack of jerseys. “It’ll change your life.”

Witnessing this took me by surprise, but no one affiliated with the Pacers organization — from his teammates that walked by to coaches and staff — were in the least bit confused. This was clearly just Vic being Vic.

Oladipo is an original. But it was more than that — he wasn’t being different simply to stand out and grab attention. This was someone who, after years of changing teams and cities and coaches and teammates, has finally found his rhythm, his comfort zone, a place to be his truest, most authentic self. I sensed this, while watching him casually interact with every person that he walked by. Yes, he was a star basketball player, but the man I saw was the Mayor of the Pacers. His mood was positive and his energy was youthful, but there was a centered, grateful maturity to it — someone who had been through it, and found a way to come out on the other side.

We sat down and spoke about this moment, days before his first All-Star game.

Browne: You are one of those players that has made a point of shouting out your mentors, who I’m sure were important during some of the rockier times. Do you feel a responsibility to maintain that cycle, to mentor and look after younger players?

Oladipo: I feel as though you have to. Those guys went out of their way to speak to me and give me advice, so I have to.

Browne: Speaking of responsibility — and to some extent, pride — what was it like, to go to Johannesburg this past Summer, to play for Team Africa, given your background and your parents.

Oladipo: My parents are Nigerian immigrants. We never got the opportunity to go over there, to Nigeria or the continent. So that was the first time I’d stepped on African soil. So it was special for me. And you know, I didn’t really know what to expect. But also, I lost my bags when I got there. For seven days straight. But then you go there — was with my boy I took with me — and you tour the city, you experience everything, you see the people there — we went to the orphanage. And seeing people who are less fortunate, it humbles you, to the point that I forgot I lost my bags.

Browne: I know you have a variety of interests. I remember, some ways back a fellow writer told me that you liked to sing and had music out there. And my first thought was — “I like Vic, so please don’t send this trash my way.” But then I listened. And was like — Okay, mans can actually sing. When did this start?

Oladipo: I’ve been singing since I was a little kid. Little, little. Mom had me singing in the church choir. I used to sing every now and then, but wasn’t really out there until I got to college. I guess people heard through the grapevine that I could hold a tune. That’s when I started singing out loud, in front of people. You know, this past summer, people in my circle were telling me I needed to share it with the world and stop holding it in. So, I just decided to drop an EP. And it’s funny because a lot of guys rap. So automatically everybody thought I put out a rap album. Nah.

Browne: Yeah, I saw the picture with the shirt-open R&B pose. I was surprised myself. But yeah, it’s also a cool moment we’re in, where people feel comfortable to be dynamic, to show other sides of themselves. Because that wasn’t always the case.

Oladipo: I think it also helps you, in basketball, to an extent. Being able to step out of my comfort zone and do something different and share it with people. It gives me confidence in all parts of my life. But yeah, it’s cool, you’ve got to have something to do to get you away from the game. Got to have a hobby.

Browne: Coming out the gate, getting that Jordan stamp — while I’m sure surreal and a dream — was there also an amount of impossible pressure to live up to. Seems hard to live up to, that early-anointing.

Oladipo: I would say so. There’s early stamps and early pressures, whether you like it or not. Especially if you’re in the NBA and a young guy. And then sponsored by Jordan, it’s like this guy must be nice.

Browne: Or he better be nice.

Oladipo: Yeah. And people kind of sometimes try to write your story for you. I’ve learned over the years that everybody’s path is different. So, you’ve got to embrace yours. Wearing Jordans gave me a swagger and a confidence. You put these on and you feel that way. MJ, that’s my favorite player of all time. So to be able to wear the greatest shoes, there’s nothing less than greatness on my mind. That’s what I’m focused on, I say it all the time — I’m chasing greatness. Whoever number 1 is, that’s who i’m chasing.

Browne: So, over at The Ringer I read a piece about some of the changes you implemented in your offseason. Many of which, clearly, have elevated your game this year. What are some of those? Are they all physical, or is it more than that.

Oladipo: What I put in, over the summer. I invested. And when I say that, I mean I invested in my body and my mind. I was working out, two to three times a day. Drinking a gallon of water a day. Staying hydrated. Changed my diet. It benefited me. It gave me a boost. Feel like I started over in life. It was crazy. And I feel like it prepared me for any situation. After getting traded twice in a year, you got to prepare yourself for anything. Coming here, it turned out to be good for me. But I was motivated, more than anything. Because my first few years were tough, nothing was easy about it, the constant ups and downs. And downs. And downs. And disappointments. And frustrations. And it seems like, everyone gives up on you. But deep down, you’re like — I know I got it. This summer, I just invested in that. And it turned out great for me. And it’s crazy, because now I just want to go to a higher level. There’s so much more that I can go get.

It’s almost addictive, feeling good. And that’s not just a basketball thing, that’s for anybody. People freak out, rightfully, by thinking they’ve peaked already.

Oladipo: It can be scary.

Browne: So, now that you’re back in Indiana, this means for the second time, you’re in the middle of the state’s greatest obsession — basketball. Many places have their thing, that they do more intensely than any other place. Indiana is that place. What is it like, to be a ball player here.

Oladipo: It’s not normal. It’s abnormal. And when I say that, I mean it bleeds basketball. Everybody has a basketball court in their driveway. Every single one. These people love the game. They’re in love with the game. So to be able to come back here, after going here for college for three years and helping turn that program around at IU, to be able to come play in front of these fans again, to see and feel that addiction again, and to see how they have my back, it’s an amazing feeling. It’s a surreal feeling. It’s hard to describe in words. I’m just blessed and fortunate to be able to come back here and play. And hopefully I ain’t going anywhere else, god willing. So going to make the most of this situation.

Browne: What do you normally do during All Star weekend?

Oladipo: The first few years I was in the freshman/sophomore game. The third year, I went, just to go. And the fourth year, last year, I actually just went home. Didn’t attend. I went back home and actually had a long conversation with my father. Me and my father have a different relationship, we’ve had a little shaky relationship — not as close as many fathers and sons have — but I went back home and I talked to him and just got his perspective about why things were the way they were. Kind of changes your life when you talk to a man, man-to-man, and see his perspective on things. It helped. That was a big confidence booster. Just knowing he supports me and he’s always there. He’s always watching. So it’s definitely something I’ll never forget. So that’s what I did with my all-star break last year. And this year, I’m doing the dunk contest and playing.

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