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Friday, July 30, 2021

Oladipo’s expected departure personifies today’s NBA

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Sometime ago l had the “audacity” to say Victor Oladipo had to be jettisoned out of the Indiana Pacers fold, and l received a ton of backlash from both the IU Basketball brethren and Indiana Pacer loyalists, most of them grown men sporting his jersey as a staple of their respective wardrobes. They said l had a constant bone to pick with the talented yet enigmatic young man, and l couldn’t be objective. Forget the fact that l had sung his praises via print prior to his catastrophic injury, as many of his hard-core supporters pummeled me via email and social media calling me out of touch, a hater, and my personal favorite, a curmudgeon who didn’t understand the “modern” NBA game and its intricacies.
For the record l only spoke to Oladipo a few times in a group setting as he tired quickly of my attempts to discuss his off-court endeavors, which l felt were a huge distraction to his development as a person, and not just as a basketball player.
Allow me to cut you off at the pass and concede that he doesn’t need any advice from me and it’s his career to manage. In reality who am l to question who he surrounds himself with for guidance and direction in his life, both personally and professionally?
The fact that l can’t begin to fathom how on-the-court success is bungled today by so many exceptional athletes is totally irrelevant, as after all, l’ve never experienced the scrutiny that comes along with being the focal point of a team that gives you every opportunity to distinguish yourself in exchange for some $20 million annually.
Sure, the exorbitant salaries are indeed commonplace and Oladipo’s contract that came with him from Oklahoma City when he was acquired was certainly commensurate with how the business works. When a player recognizes that, the inevitable process of developing a brand occurs and while that is a slippery slope in itself, it remains a daunting challenge to balance that transition along with one’s responsibility as a player on the court as well. Simply put, there are just a chosen few that can pull it off, and unfortunately for Oladipo, those who whispered in his ear that he could do it had their own agenda and not his best interests in mind.
Prior to his injury, the man who was stellar in the community and aloof with the media seemed to have it all by the tail and appeared to be capable of playing at that illustrious high level that is reserved for the true all stars of the game.
He said all the right things and quickly made people forget about the ultra-talented Paul George who had worn out his welcome in this community by simply expecting the Pacers to be active in the free agency market and acquire some good players to augment his ability.
Yes, Oladipo had arrived and when it happened it was downright magical in terms of a small market team finding the proverbial diamond in the rough and riding that wave that comes along with the surprise known as a truly budding star.
However, the romance was really over before it started, and when he became bigger than the team in his own eyes, the whispering began as to his inability to focus on basketball as opposed to being a singer and a fashion designer, both of which were his right to do.
Before you categorize me as simply envious, let me remind you that l can’t carry a tune in a bucket and my wardrobe is strictly outdated and off the rack, so there really isn’t anything here other than how mind boggling it was for me to admire yet another young man for his gifted basketball abilities and at the same time scratch my head at all the other shall we say ancillary off-the-court activities.
Yes, l understand all the opportunities there are for players today in terms of endorsements, and the financial rewards that accompany those who can truly perform in that rarefied air, but there is a difference in being an all-star and a superstar in the NBA. While Oladipo’s camp thought he was a maximum contract player even after his injury, the simple fact that he wasn’t such even prior to his unfortunate physical setback made the decision to trade him on the final year of his contract a simple business decision and not a personal vendetta that some have recently implied.
Sure, he disrespected both the medical and media relations staffs of the organization, but that too is something that occurs in the game today and can be overcome with a series of triple doubles and simply saying the right thing when a microphone, accompanied by the camera, is thrusted in your face. Soundbites are everything in terms of forgiveness, and Oladipo was given every opportunity to do just that but he simply chose not to, banking on the leverage that sadly evaporated when his knee exploded that fateful evening at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and changed his world in a profound manner.
By virtue of falling behind Malcom Brandon and Domantas Sabonis as the main cogs in the lineup, Oladipo quickly became sullen and relied on those around him outside of the franchise to enable him as the true superstar he felt he was and begin the process of dropping more than subtle hints of his intention to play elsewhere and prove everyone wrong about his ability to return to form.
While the Pacers were willing to offer him a contract consistent with his physical condition, they had no intention of tendering a high-dollar, long-term deal, and when Oladipo’s camp showed their fangs, Pacers President Kevin Pritchard pulled the trigger on a trade to avoid receiving nothing in return for the disgruntled fan favorite who clearly will never be the explosive player he once was due to the horrific injury. 
Sadly, many NBA careers are cut short by virtue of similar circumstances, but Oladipo can still contribute to a team despite his physical limitations. The Pacers wanted him back and defined what they would pay and, more importantly, what his reduced role would be.
That didn’t settle well and the rest is history, but much of the drama that has transpired in the last two years could’ve been avoided, and l truly feel Oladipo realizes that now after being traded. The bigger question is: Can a young man who took bad advice from others separate himself from that faction and make good decisions moving ahead?
While a reduced contract might not seem palatable at this juncture, it’s right around the corner and it will probably be his last one. Before you cry for Oladipo or Argentina, please remember he’s already grossed nearly $100 million in his career, and there’s more on the horizon. It won’t be a maximum-deal contract, but it surely will pay the light bill. One has to wonder why he couldn’t have made it work in a community that revered him, but he made his choice and seems comfortable with it. Something tells me his former employer certainly is too.
Danny Bridges who wishes Victor Oladipo good health and prosperity, can be reached at 317-370-8447 or at bridgeshd@aol.com.

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