Entering his 10th NBA season, Victor Oladipo—the high-flying vet once recognized as the league’s Most Improved Player—is currently focused on rehabbing a knee injury sustained during the Miami Heat’s improbable dash to the NBA Finals this summer. Rehab, though, is not slowing him down.
The former All-Defensive First Teamer released his third studio album (Tunde, an Afrobeats ode to his Nigerian heritage), plans to record an R&B album next, was spotted courtside at the U.S. Open in New York City, and was otherwise kept busy byt his 19-month-old daughter, Naomi, who he hopes might pick up a tennis racquet one day. Soon, he’ll join his new team, the Houston Rockets, with whom he spent all of two months in 2021.
So yeah, the hooper-slash-singer-slash-father-slash-fashionista doesn’t take many days off. But the versatile playmaker has reached something like a state of zen. After some back and forth calls—he was trying to put his daughter to sleep—GQ linked with the former No. 2 overall draft pick to hear about his growing connection to Africa, the state of U.S. men’s basketball and the importance of listening to your body in a time of adversity.
What has your offseason been like? How’s rehab going?
I’m about four months in right now. I haven’t even started running yet—just to put it into perspective. I’m doing a lot better though. I feel really great. I feel balanced. Overall, I’ve had great days and not so good days but I’ve remained consistent and level headed. With that mindset and approach, there’s always a chance to be successful. My story is a testimony of overcoming, and I’ve done it before.
Do you have a timeline for your return?
Honestly, right now I don’t have a timeline. Right now it’s just waiting and seeing. My body will tell me. I’m just being patient and listening to my body.
Do you think that’s part of your maturity as a person and player? Would the rookie version of yourself have been as patient with this process?
It’s definitely my maturity as a person and player, but also our game. The staff, the medical side, all of it. Everything has evolved since when I was a rookie [in 2013]. Even if I could have wanted to be more patient [back then], who knows, that may not have been pushed when I was younger. But as I’m older, you understand all the other things. You have to do all the little things to make it all work. Now I’m hyper aware of that. I’m aware of what my body needs and what I need to do in order to feel great and that’s what I strive for.
It probably helps that you’ve also endured major injuries in the past—and have bounced back stronger than ever. What shapes your outlook and mindset when you’re working on your return to the court?
My parents are the reason I’m successful. They weren’t perfect by any means, but they really sacrificed and instilled hard work in us. They showed us that to get what you want you have to work for it. They taught us not to settle. Not to give up. It’s funny actually, because I’ve come back from injury after injury after injury, and a lot of people don’t know that my parents came to America [from Nigeria] with nothing and created this lifestyle for four kids. What do you think is harder, know what I’m saying? They instilled that comeback mentality in me before I even understood it. They gave me a constant belief in myself, in my abilities, and in God.
Shout out to immigrant parents. My parents came from Mexico. It’s a certain type of struggle that not every U.S. citizen knows about. Imagine if someone just took us right now and dropped us off in China or Spain or Australia and we just had to figure it out—the language, the culture, the institutions, all of it.
For real. I don’t think people really understand the magnitude of that. We were just babies, and our parents may have been strict with us, but imagine moving to a new place and starting from square one. And then your kids eventually end up with [a combined] twelve degrees? Give them credit.
As a first-generation Nigerian American, have you been able to visit Nigeria and explore your parent’s homeland firsthand?
It’s funny—I’ve never been. Growing up it was always tough to go. An immigrant family with four children. No means. Obviously, I was in the NBA trying to figure things out for my first few years. I was planning to go in 2019, then I got hurt. And I’ve been hurt since that at different points, rehabbing in the summers. So I never got a chance to go. But this year I made a promise to my family that we would go for the first time. So I’ll be going this season. Maybe at the start of the new year, or in the summer. But I’ll be going. I want to make it a big deal. It’s my first time going home. I want it to be great for me and my family. I’m looking forward to it.
You’ve played with a few Nigerian-heritage players: Bam Adebayo, Gabe Vincent. There’s also a few other guys in the league, like Giannis, who is Nigerian by way of Greece. How do you think the NBA’s All-Nigerian squad would do against the rest of the world, and have you considered playing for Nigeria down the line?
I recently spoke with Gabe about this. You know, South Sudan, they just won [enough games at the FIBA World Cup to qualify for the 2024 Olympics in Paris]. So I’m like, wait a second. Where is our team at? We talked about what needs to happen [for Nigeria] to qualify. I’ve thought about it. To be real, I’d love to represent the Nigerian culture. It just needs to make sense. Lately, I’ve been rehabbing and stuff but if we came together and made it a thing, why not? We’re not qualified for this year’s Olympics, but I wouldn’t mind trying for the future. It would be dope. If others wanted to do that, I would be on board. It would be like a Coming to America situation, and we’d just take all our guys. I think we’d be pretty good.
After the U.S. men’s national team placed fourth at this summer’s FIBA World Cup, reports came out that LeBron wants to gather a U.S. superteam. Did you hear about that? Apparently he’s trying to assemble the Avengers of U.S. players for these upcoming Olympic games.
If he’s getting the American Avengers, then we’ll be the DC Nigerians. Since they’re Marvel, we’ll take DC [Laughs].
I like that. What do you think about the international competition in basketball right now? I’ve seen criticism in the media about U.S. players not being able to win like they used to. Is there any resentment in the NBA about that?
Basketball is a world sport. It doesn’t have a race or nationality. I could care less if you from Pluto, if you’re an alien. If you hoop, you hoop. If you can play, you can play. If you not even from this planet. I don’t care. It’s no shocker that there’s great players across the country and that there’s also great players across the world. The NBA has had European and African talent way before this. Dirk [Nowitzki]. Hakeem [Olajuwan]. [Manu] Ginobli. [Steve] Nash. I don’t necessarily think it’s ever been a secret but it’s widely magnified right now because of social media and globalization. And they are getting better, for sure.
I saw you were at the U.S. Open. How was that? What’s the experience of seeing other top-level athletes competing in another sport?
Honestly, it was like a movie, bro. I thought our lights were bright. But those lights are very bright. Once you go and experience it, you can see that. I was there for the quarter finals. It was super intense in there. But it was a great time. That was my first time. I sat courtside. You know, my dad played tennis. I never really necessarily was super into it because I was a little. I haven’t had a chance to watch it much until recently. I’ve had more time on my hands, and I’ve grown to love it. Naomi, my little daughter, I’d love her to play some day. I want her to see Coco [Gauff] win Grand Slams.
Besides sports, you also make music and just released your third album, Tunde. What’s the story behind that?
It’s an Afrobeats album. I love Afrobeats. It’s out of love and respect for my Nigerian and African people. It’s similar to R&B. Music is a mental release for me. Being able to disconnect from the world and listen to music. Going to the studio, creating. When I got hurt I had more time, obviously. I had 100% more opportunities to do music and things that pertain to music. That’s when I did The Masked Singer. It all opened new doors for me and helped me connect my gift to a wider audience. Music has been that outlet for me in general. With more time on my hands it was a no brainer and I just wanted to make the most of it. There’s no feeling like creating a new song. I wanted to enjoy the process.
Are you working on anything musically right now?
I don’t have anything set in stone but I plan to put out another R&B album. That’s where it all started for me. R&B will never be dead to me. And I definitely want to put out more Afrobeats music. You’ll hear it soon.
Which NBA player would you most like to collaborate with on a song?
Damian Lillard. Hopefully we get an opportunity to collaborate. With injuries and everything, I just haven’t been able to. But I’d love to do that and release something with him. I got stuff coming up that I can send him. That would be special for both of our careers and the game. Everyone would wanna see that. That would be dope.
I’m curious about your time with the Miami Heat. Being around Jimmy Butler, Erik Spoelstra. The team made an unexpected NBA Finals appearance last season. What did you gain from your time in South Beach? Is it really true what they say down there about Heat Culture?
Well, first and foremost, I just want to make clear that there was some narrative about me only wanting to be [in Miami]. I never once in my life said that I wanted to be a Heatle. It just marinated and manifested on its own. Before I was [a player on the Heat], I was working out there in 2015, and I didn’t get traded there ‘til 2021. The media made their own story about all that. But I had a great experience there. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as I planned, but I learned so much there and from the guys that I can take forward in my career and show that I’m still one of the best two-way players in the world. Being around great coaches and players, it’s really a skill that people don’t realize. Winning is a skill. It separates that organization from some other ones. They just know how to win. That’s the culture. That’s what we learn from the beginning of training camp. If you’re not there to win, they’ll get you where you need to be. You can’t do nothing but respect that. It was amazing to be around that kind of talent, you know? Jimmy? He’s super underrated. His talent is insane. He will keep being successful and people will see one day. I also had the chance to play with Kevin Love, [Kyle] Lowry, [Tyler] Herro, Bam. So many great young and older players there. I gained a lot.
I’ve heard some inspiring—and funny—stories about Coach Spo and how he connects with everyone. What’s a memory you have of him?
Spo is a legend. His resume speaks for itself. When you have a great relationship with a coach, it transfers to the game. One time I had a meeting with him right before a playoff game against Milwaukee. I went in to talk to him—I remember going into his room and he had seven dry-erase boards, maybe more, completely full. That is the epitome of who he is. He does what it takes. That’s why his success might be a shock to most but not to those who know him and have been around him. He works hard. And he takes the time to continue growing, even with the success [he has had]. He still has the same edge and competitiveness, every day. You have to play hard for someone like that.
It seems like no amount of planning could’ve stopped the Denver Nuggets and Nikola Jokic. You’ve seen them up close. What makes Jokic so unstoppable? There was controversy about him potentially winning a third consecutive MVP. Is he worthy?
If you watch the game and pay attention to possessions, I don’t have to explain anything. Every game he beat us in a different way. One game he had a triple-double. Another game, a double-double. Another, he let his teammate have 30. He can just beat you in multiple ways. He’s highly skilled. He can lead the fast break. He runs the offense. He’s a big who can post. He catches it high, low, on the wing, at the top of the key. It’s hard to scout and plan for someone who can be so effective from so many places on the floor. He’s the Joker, so you know can make tricky passes. Just watch the games. You’ll see how special he is. I remember playing Denver earlier in the season, and they were missing four starters, but he played. I didn’t play because I was injured. But I was watching him closely and they beat us. He was phenomenal. He made everyone around him better. That’s really what makes you a special player in this league: that no matter who is with them, you always have a chance to win when they’re out there.
Did you know some fans on NBA Twitter call you Oladefense, for your defensive prowess? Is that a part of your game that you take particular pride in?
[Laughs.] I did not know that. I’m definitely an elite two way player. Defense is important to me. For a long time that’s what kept me on the floor in high school games. I was voted [national] Defensive Player of the Year in college, and also in high school. I was All-Defensive First Team in the NBA. That’s been my game my whole life. I play at a high level on both ends. So hell yeah, I love defense. I hate it when people score on me. I hate it when people make a good move on me.
What are you most looking forward to in your return to the court?
The biggest thing is being able to play. Honestly. And winning. Just doing what it takes to win. I have had the opportunity to experience success with a few teams now. There’s no way that doesn’t translate.
What message do you have for fans about this upcoming season?
The biggest thing is that it ain’t over. When I hurt myself [in April], my first thought was it’s over. But this shit ain’t over. I want to show others their own strength. I want everyone to understand their blessings. I want to shock the world again. I just keep climbing that mountain. I’ll see y’all at the top.