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Victor Oladipo has had an interesting summer. The 24-year-old, fourth-year combo guard was dealt on draft day to the Oklahoma City Thunder—where he’ll do his best to replace another Maryland product—worked out with Russell Westbrook for the first time, and, at the end, is in New York City for Fashion Week. “I think the greatest thing about style is you can tell the world your personality and show the world how you came up and who you are and where you’re from in what you wear,” he says. “I don’t have to say anything.”
For the time being, Oladipo—who spent his first three seasons on a young Orlando Magic team that averaged fewer than 30 wins a year—still needs to talk to make himself heard. But given his own rising numbers and the fact that he’ll be playing alongside Westbrook (a fellow Jordan Brand endorsee), his game will be making plenty of noise soon enough. Oladipo dropped by the Complex offices to talk about the lessons he’s learned, whether Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protests will be seen in the NBA, and who he’d like to work with on his (no joke) R&B record.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
You’re going from a 35-win team to a 55-win team in the Western Conference that was one win from the Finals. Did that change your approach to the summer at all?
I think my approach every summer was to get better from one season to the next. Other than that the biggest difference with this summer is knowing what I’m getting myself into, just being able to realize that I’m going to a team that’s ready to compete for an NBA Finals, going to a team that was at the top of the Western Conference last year, one game away from the Finals, being a part of that, being a part of something bigger than myself again and just getting ready to make a huge impact on a winning team.
You were already teammates with Russell Westbrook on Jordan, but it’s going to be different being teammates on the Thunder. What was that first conversation like after the trade?
It was crazy man, he pretty much just asked me if I was ready. And I am, I’m looking forward to it. It’s funny, before it actually happened we were talking about playing together anyway. We had a relationship beforehand, so we used to talk all the time when we used to run into each other and things like that, I would mention playing with him, how cool it would be. And now it’s actually happened, so I’m looking forward to playing alongside him—I know he’s gonna bring the best out of me and I’m gonna return the favor.
Did you get to know him through Jordan or was it before?
It was kind of before that, because I was a young Jordan athlete, he’d been in the Jordan game for a while, and we crossed paths a few times. I think we had a mutual respect for each other, and after playing each other a few times the respect just continued to grow to where I was holding conversations at certain events that we would cross paths in, and now we’re on the same team. I think it’s gonna be really exciting and I believe we can do something special.
Had you guys worked out together before or was this the first time?
No, this was my first time working out with him this summer. It’s different, man.
the biggest thing I learned, from Kobe, was Kobe said 'I don’t lose; I win or I learn.' And I’ve tried to take that and run with it in every situation I’m in.
What was that like?
It’s different. He’s just as intense as I am. He wants to get better just as bad as I do. It’s fun, because now we’re on the same team. We both have the same passion and we both want to win. Now we’re on the same side. It was fun because my first couple games playing against him in my first three years in the league we had a lot of battles, whenever we played them we would go at it. And now we’re on the same team so it’s gonna be fun to watch.
What was that first workout like, did you get to the gym before he did?
Actually no, he beat me there, unfortunately, but he was in L.A. so I’m just gonna chalk it up to he knew where he was going—I was kinda lost. Russ is always there early. He’s kind of like me in that aspect. It’s funny, it’s just crazy how you cross paths with somebody all the time and you relate to somebody and then when you’re actually with them you figure out how similar you guys are and how you guys can relate. It makes your relationship do nothing but grow. I’m looking forward to it, man, I’m looking forward to the season and playing alongside him.
It’s obviously gonna be different since Russ is more of a combo guard who’s gonna take his share of shots. Have you guys talked about that dynamic or is it something you’re just gonna build.
Yeah, I think it’s something we’re just gonna build and talk about at the same time. At the end of the day he wants to win. And I want to win. So that’s where it all starts. That’s the root of the tree, that’s the base of the tree. We want to win, the rest comes later.
Have you had conversations with coach Billy Donovan about your role?
Yeah, we’ve had a few conversations, he’s had conversations with me and Russ, I’ve had conversations with him solo. But at the end of the day I’ve gotta figure out his concepts and schemes, gotta get used to the team—I’m the new guy, so I’ve gotta get acclimated to everything, but once it clicks I think it’ll be something special.
We saw the 2K ratings, they have you at a 79 this year. I assume you’re not too happy about that.
Yeah, at the end of the day it is what it is. I can’t control people’s opinions, I can’t control what people think of me and how they feel but...
Do you guys look at that stuff when it comes out?
Yeah, everybody looks at it, I would assume. Do I agree with the rating? No. At the end of the day it is what it is, it’s not gonna affect how good I think I am or how I’m gonna play, but I guarantee at the end of the year it won’t be the same.
We know you’re a talented singer. Have you ever thought about putting a record out?
Maybe one day. I think ain’t too many NBA players who are actually really good at singing. There’s a lot of rappers, but not too many singers. I think it could be something special, so maybe one day.
You look at Shaq going into the Hall of Fame this weekend and he did his rap records with all those big names, do you have a wishlist of people you would love to work with?
Of course, there’s a whole rack of people I’d love to work with. I would love to work with Chris Brown, I think that would be crazy. Love to work with Trey Songz. I would love to work with Jamie Foxx. I would love to work with Usher. I even would love to do something with R. Kelly, I think that would be crazy. Something like that, I mean, it’s so many artists I would love to work with, love to have them on a track or on an album or something like that.
Have you ever had that conversation? Do they know?
I don’t even have to bring it up, some of them bring it up before I do. It’s kind of shocking that they already know, but it’s pretty cool. Fingers crossed, man, hopefully one day.
I’m sure you’re paying attention to the Colin Kaepernick situation, protesting during the anthem, do you think that’s something that will transfer to the NBA?
Oh, no question. I truly believe it will. Because at the end of the day it’s a sport, and people are gonna be looking at some guys in the NBA to see what they’re gonna do as well. At the end of the day you just control what you can control, so your opinion is your opinion, that’s the beauty of the United States, so, do whatever you feel is best that will help you do whatever you believe.
Is that something you’ve had conversations with teammates about?
Not yet, but a few people just in general I’ve had conversations with about that, I tell ‘em the same thing, people’s beliefs are people’s beliefs, you know what I mean, you can only control so much, you can only control what you can control, and the most things you can control is yourself. So whatever you believe, believe in to the utmost. But I think definitely, we’ll see a few guys in the NBA doing the same thing.
You gonna vote this year?
Yeah, I’m gonna vote. It’s a very interesting race, but I’m gonna vote.
Have you been paying much attention to what’s going on?
A little bit, it’s a little frustrating, a little bit, but I’ve been paying a little bit of attention. My mom watches it a lot, so every time she watches it I might glance at it, watch it a little bit. Like I said, it’s just an interesting race this year.
your opinion is your opinion, that’s the beauty of the United States.
Are you feeling more like a vet now, a couple years in?
Shoot, I’m about to be in my fourth year in the NBA already, it’s crazy to think about. I feel like I just got here. I’ve been through a lot in my three years. A lot. A lot of different situations. Four different coaches in three years. Coming off the bench, being benched, starting, starting at the 1, starting at the 2. But it’s grown me into the man I am today, the player I am today. And it’s made me even mentally stronger than ever which is why I think the trade happened now. Because I think I’m more ready than I ever was.
What’s the biggest thing you learned in your first three years?
I think the biggest thing I learned—well, there are two things. The first thing is an even keel. No matter what the situation is, no matter what you’re going through at home, what you’re going through on the court, to always keep an even keel. Never get too high, never get too low. Because at the end of the day the NBA season is so long and there’s a lot of things that go on in the NBA season and in life in general that can distract you. Keeping an even keel levels your head. And then the biggest thing I learned, from Kobe [Bryant], was Kobe said “I don’t lose; I win or I learn.” And I’ve tried to take that and run with it in every situation I’m in. Because at the end of the day he doesn’t fathom failure, he doesn’t believe in failure, he thinks failure is nonexistent. And I’m a firm believer in that because at the end of the day if I do something—and I do it wrong, it’s not like I can’t go back and do it and do it right. I didn’t fail at it, I’m gonna go back and do it right the next time, so I just learned from what I did before so next time I do it I’ll do it the right way. At the end of the day I’m just gonna keep winning and learning.
You said you got that from Kobe, what have you learned from Michael Jordan, being on Jordan Brand.
I mean, he’s—it’s still like [I’m] in awe sometimes just talking to him, being able to have access to him, being able to sit down and have a conversation with him, get advice from him. It’s crazy. He’s the greatest to ever play. And to be a part of his brand, a part of his team, is just a blessing in itself. And I’ve learned so much from him just being around him, just hearing him speak. And I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from him just watching him and hearing him is you gotta have unshakeable confidence in yourself in order to play this game, in order to do anything. Because at the end of the day if you don’t believe in yourself how can anyone else believe in you?