Moments before he got on the phone with LEVEL, Indiana Pacers star Victor Oladipo got tested for Covid-19. Again. That’s life in the NBA bubble. The 28-year-old guard hadn’t even planned to play, instead sitting out to finish recovering from the knee injury that ended his previous season, but 2020 has had a way of disrupting expectations — and here he is, balling in Orlando.
“This has been a restart for me,” says the self-described planner. “Physically, mentally, and spiritually.”
Seven seasons into his career, Oladipo has become an unequivocally elite talent, a two-time All-Star whose Nigerian roots place him alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo, Serge Ibaka, and Joel Embiid in representing Africa on the hardwood. Yet, with free agency coming down the pike after the 2020–21 NBA season, Dipo has some big decisions to make as he prepares to enter his thirties — many of which extend beyond basketball.
I was always in a sharing environment; I always had my twin around, my two older sisters, my mom, my dad. I put others before myself. At the end of the day, we all do what’s best for us — that’s human nature. Now it’s time to live for me.
With the help of business partner and marketing manager James “Jay Belly” Henderson, he’s launched a bevy of business ventures, including an expansive investment portfolio. He also moonlights as a singer, dropping an EP in 2017 and his debut album, V.O., the following year. He knows exactly where he wants to be in his personal and professional life. But what’s more striking than his penchant for planning is how he seems steadfast enough to turn platitudes into praxis.
Victor Oladipo hopped on the phone with LEVEL to outline his 10-year plan — what he still has left to prove to the NBA, to the world, and to himself.
LEVEL: Outside of your basketball career, what’s been the biggest change for you during lockdown?
Victor Oladipo: I’ve had a lot more time to myself. I’ve gone back and envisioned what I saw the world as when I was a young kid all the way until now. I recall moments, dreams, and feelings that remind me of how far I’ve come. Sometimes you get so immersed in your routine. At one point, where no one could go anywhere, the world still continued to go on. It made me reminisce and appreciate moments more. It’s honestly been a blessing for me because it’s helped me realize that I’m just getting started. Even though life is going by so fast, it’s still so much more life to live, God willing.
What is one new thing that you learned about yourself?
This quarantine has helped me relearn that there’s no more stopping me. I’m way more gifted than I think. I’m humble by nature, and reserved when I need to be, but I’m not afraid to be outgoing and be the head of the snake, the leader. I have what it takes to get to whatever level I want to get to. I’m the only one stopping me from getting there. At this point in my life, I’m betting on myself and whatever happens after that, I can live with the results.
What’s one habit or behavior that you used to exhibit that what you discovered was derailing yourself? And how did you combat that?
Living for others. I was always in a sharing environment; I always had my twin around, my two older sisters, my mom, my dad. I put others before myself. At the end of the day, we all do what’s best for us — that’s human nature. Now it’s time to live for me.
I had to realize that I can’t make everyone happy, no matter how hard I try. Everyone won’t be okay with me. I’ve worked so hard to make sure that I’m a good person, that I have a great reputation. I was always taught when you do something, you’re representing yourself and your family. Now I’m at a point where I’ve realized I’ve done all those things and people still don’t respect me. So it’s like, “Well then, was I living for myself or other people?” You have to live for yourself, your family, and your future family — you can’t live for others.
How do you reconcile your natural tendency to be selfless with realizing that you have to be more selfish in order to accomplish your goals?
We all seek approval indirectly and directly. Think about it: There’s no one on this Earth that doesn’t like a compliment or doesn’t like to succeed, to the point where our everyday lives are fueled by it.
It really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, because life continues to go on. It won’t wait for you. It won’t wait to see if you can get approval from someone; you’ve got to just go. Either they gon’ like it or they not gon’ like it, but it don’t matter. All you got to do is make sure you happy. Because if you happy, then the people who really, really care and love you, they’ll be happy too.
I’m just focused on being the best of me, the best version of me. I ain’t focused on things I can’t control. So whatever that looks like, whatever that feels like and whatever happens, at least I can live with myself knowing I gave it everything I had and not die trying not doing it. There’s so much more I know that I can accomplish. And it honestly feels like a lot of people don’t think I can, but that’s okay because that’s when I’m at my best.
What are some specific goals that you have in mind that are going to take it to the next level?
I want to win the NBA championship — more than once. I want to win MVP. I want to win Finals MVP. I want to be [All-NBA] first-team all-defense. I want to be an All-Star multiple times. I want to be a mogul. I want to be able to change the music game in any way I can. I want to get a Grammy, an Oscar. I want to do all those things… I truly believe I can and I will.
I want to be a respected and well-known businessman. God has blessed me with a lot of talents to be able to relate to a lot of different types of people. So why not help those people? I feel like I can affect change in the world.
You released the album, you have the label imprint, you started the business ventures. What is your main focus right now outside of basketball? In a few years, do you see yourself still doing everything concurrently?
I honestly just see myself flowing. This is the blueprint stage, the stage of setting things up in order for them to expand. Whatever ventures I have will grow with me. I’m focused on just setting up my future.
Who’s been inspirational to you in terms of executing all of those goals? Someone after whom you’d want to model certain aspects of your career?
I’d be naive to not be inspired by many. It doesn’t mean I have to be exactly who they are or act exactly how they act, but you can build something from other people, apply it to yourself, and create the best version of you. A few people that I read about and listen to: Will Smith, P. Diddy, Jay-Z, Jamie Foxx, Shaq — who’s a really close friend and mentor of mine — Kenny Smith, Michael Jordan. They used their talents and whatever gifts that they have to eventually impact whatever it is they were trying to impact in more than one field.
I look up random stuff when I’m by myself — what Jeff Bezos is doing, Bill Gates. I’m not trying to mold myself exactly the way they are, but there’s always something you can learn from someone. Maybe the way they molded themselves or how they got out of those failures can help you with your failures as well. That’s what I pay attention to: growth.
What’s the most significant piece of advice that you’ve learned from Shaquille O’Neal?
Essentially when you live, don’t live for now — live for forever. Now is here today and gone tomorrow, but if you live for forever, then it will remain forever. I’m gonna save because I want generational wealth. I want my family’s family’s family to be remembered. I remember a day when no one could say my name. There’s many that know my name and know who I am now, but there’s a lot that don’t respect the name. I want my name to ring bells because I feel as though that’s my purpose on Earth — to change people’s lives. And if you do that, your name rings bells.
Shaq told me to be smart. Life is good — the stuff now that you can get and do is great, but it’s temporary. I have dreams and aspirations of having a family one day, having kids. So I got to prepare for the future now. It’s never too early.
Do you see marriage and/or kids happening anytime soon?
I definitely want to have a big family. I haven’t really started planning as far as marriage goes because I’m single. But as far as being able to provide, I’ve definitely been planning that for a long time and I’m prepared. In due time.
Do you feel pressure from your family over marriage?
I don’t — even though my mama definitely wants me to get married because she wants some grandkids. [Laughs.] She wants me to be with the right woman. I’m praying for it every day. When the moment comes and the time is right, I believe that I will know. I’m just being patient.
You mentioned that your view of the world has changed from when you were younger. What’s one thing that you dreamed about when you were younger, that you haven’t accomplished yet but you still hope to?
The biggest one, besides basketball, is traveling the world. I’ve always dreamed about seeing the [New] Seven Wonders of the World. I’ve seen Christ the Redeemer, the Great Wall of China, the Colosseum. That’s only three of the seven. When I was younger, I was always a historian, always interested in the stuff that was in the past. So to be able to go to those places that are so magnified and magnificent, it’s like living history for me.
Have you ever been home to Nigeria?
Nope. When we were younger, we didn’t have the means to get home. Right now, I have the setup to go home, but my sisters were all in school and I didn’t want to go over there by myself; I wanted to take all of them with me. Now that all of them graduated and are getting settled into their everyday lives. When I go over there, I’m taking everybody with me. I want it to be a special moment.
Do you have any fears for the future?
Is it really fear, or the inevitability that maybe you could fail? Everyone could fail, right? So it’s not really a fear if it happens. It’s out of your control. Why not focus and give all your energy towards it happening? Sometimes if there’s doubt, then you don’t give everything you have in a positive light, because you’re always doubting: “‘Well, what if I do it like this and then I come up short? I gave everything I have for nothing.’” But why are you thinking like that? Why not give everything you have and then if you come up short, at least you can truly know it wasn’t meant to be.
I don’t believe in failure. And if it comes in my mind, it doesn’t linger; it’s there for a very short period of time. I’m not influenced by it. I don’t think it’s real. I think it’s something to prevent people from maximizing their goals. I don’t want to fathom [fear]. I don’t want it around me. I don’t want it in my life.
How do you want to be remembered in the world of basketball? And how do you want to be remembered in life, in totality?
I want to be one of the greatest basketball players to ever play this game. And I’m not just saying that because it sounds good. I know many have wanted it, but I just feel like my story and my purpose is going to be a lot different than everyone else’s.
I want to be one of the best moguls off the court as well, to influence people and change people’s lives. I want to be remembered as one of the most successful and great human beings to ever live on this Earth. Someone who’s affected change in multiple ways — who maximized all his gifts, not just one, and who gave God the glory throughout it all. I don’t plan on losing.