When I dated girls in high school and felt the girl was likely to punt on our brief and awkward relationship, I fired a preemptive strike to end things. I sense Pacers fans doing the same thing with Victor Oladipo, who is rumored to be looking toward free agency as an opportunity to join the Miami Heat.
Oladipo owns a home in south Florida, and there is some speculation that Heat wing Jimmy Butler is engineering some sort of talent grab on behalf of his current team. Pacers fans are still bitter over Paul George forcing team president Kevin Pritchard to deal him for Oladipo and Domas Sabonis during the offseason prior to his free agent summer, so they are wary about Vic’s intentions.
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With Oladipo at that same moment in his career, some Pacers fans are preemptively turning away from their former favorite player – a player who loudly proclaimed “This is my city!” after a huge bucket to seal a win just two years ago. With the echo of those words being drowned out by rumors of Oladipo’s wanderlust, his popularity is crashing in central Indiana.
Vic has not exactly bathed himself in glory through his handling of whether or not he will play as the Pacers season resumes in Orlando on August 1. Two weeks ago, Oladipo declared he would not play because of concern for his surgically repaired quad tendon. That seemed reasonable because his injury is rare and this is re-start is unusual at best. There is a lot of money at stake based upon his health.
If healthy after this season, Oladipo will almost certainly receive an extension offer that approaches $30M per season over five years. If injured, most of that cash would vanish. Playing puts at risk a veritable fortune.
Last week, Vic suddenly changed course and said he is strongly considering competing in Orlando. This pivot occurred shortly after reports surfaced that the NBA may not allow teams to pay players if if they don’t suit up while healthy enough to compete. If he plays, Oladipo gets approximately $3M. If he doesn’t, he could get zilch.
Oladipo’s sudden shift paints him as greedy in the eyes of many fans. They see him as a mercenary uncommitted to his team – and untethered to their city. Oladipo has become the second coming of Paul George in their minds and hearts, and as Ian Hunter sings, “Once bitten, twice shy.”
There is a chance that through trying not to be jilted a second time in three years, Pacers fans are creating an environment that might compel Oladipo to seek refuge elsewhere. This self-fulfilling prophecy is eerily similar to the premature death for high school relationships I ended only because I saw what I believed to be writing on the wall.
The lesson I gleaned from my high school idiocy is that a relationship ended by me is no better than a relationship ended by the girl. It’s a relationship ended – period. If the Pacers are going to keep all-star level players, fans are going to have to embrace them. Occasionally, they will have to pay the price of being spurned for a franchise in a city that offers great economic opportunity and amenities. We love Indy, but if you had $100M in the bank, you would probably want to put a boat in a body of water that is not the White River or Geist Reservoir.
Whether Oladipo stays or goes will rely upon a set of criteria known only to him, just as whether he plays in the re-start will be based upon either $3M or his love of the game – depending upon who you believe.
As you evaluate Oladipo’s commitment to the Pacers and Indianapolis, you might be wise to act upon what I learned in high school – pushing away an all-star is not more satisfying than fighting and losing.