Oladipo Celebrates Return and Victory with Belly-First Hug on Court
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By John Denton
Nov. 14, 2014
ORLANDO – After all of his teammates had retreated to the locker room and most of the 15,947 delighted fans had exited the Amway Center, Victor Oladipo wrapped up a postgame radio interview and went over to the Orlando Magic’s center-court logo for an emotional belly flop.
All at once after the Magic’s 101-85 defeat of Milwaukee on Friday night, Oladipo was flooded with an avalanche of memories – both positive and painful ones.
He thought back to the day last month when his right knee buckled and he briefly feared for the worst only to later be relieved to realize it was just a sprain. He reluctantly recalled the accidental elbow that connected with his cheekbone, saying it felt like getting smacked in the face with a baseball bat. And when he thought back to the aching pain and unsettling nausea that followed his facial surgery – a somewhat horrifying procedure where doctors went in through his eye lid and the roof of his mouth to install a metal plate and screws – Oladipo actually had tears well in his eyes.
All he could think to do after a successful return in which he scored 13 points and proved to be an absolute catalyst for his Magic squad was let the emotions pour out of his body. Disregarding those still around basking in the Magic’s victory, Oladipo jogged over to midcourt and gave the Amway Center’s parquet floor a playful, belly-first hug.
``That was my first time playing on that floor in a looooonnnnnnggggg while,’’ said Oladipo, stretching out his words to express his emotions. ``I just tried to pay my respects. (Belly-flopping) was something I just wanted to do. I can’t really explain it, but it was kind of an emotional moment for me.’’
The Magic (4-6) certainly fed off the emotions of their fiery guard on Friday. Oladipo’s impact could be judged more on how his teammates played when he was on the floor than the three field goals he made and the six free throws he connected on. In what proved to be the most important statistic of the night, Orlando was a plus-22 in scoreboard points in the 25 minutes and 13 seconds that Oladipo was on the floor.
``This was my first time playing with Vic and we’ll get more comfortable playing together, but it was just so great seeing him healthy and playing again,’’ said Magic guard Evan Fournier, who scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half. ``Having Vic back is going to be so good for us moving forward.’’
Oladipo, last season’s runner-up in Rookie of the Year voting, was playing for the first time all season following a series of hard-luck injuries. He sprained a ligament in his right knee in the fourth practice of training camp, an injury that knocked him out of seven preseason games over a three-plus-week period.
Then, just as Oladipo was set to return for the final preseason game, he took an accidental elbow to the face and suffered a fractured bone just below his right eye. He had surgery on Oct. 25 – a procedure that involved a plate and several screws being inserted – and he only recently returned to practice while wearing a protective mask.
Oladipo said all throughout Friday’s game that he was thinking back to his struggles following the surgery to fix his face. And the pain of being away from the game of basketball was almost as crippling as the swelling and aches that he experienced following the procedure.
``There were a lot of tough nights, sitting in bed, not beign able to do anything and in pain with my face hurting and throwing up,’’ Oladipo recalled. ``It was tough what I went through, but it gave me an appreciation for how much I love the game of basketball. All of that was a test of my character, but for me to come back and play the way I did tonight that was pretty big for my heart and my mind. Now, I’ve just got to build on it.’’
Oladipo said he was so wrapped up in the emotion of being back on the floor he actually paid little attention to his impact on the team. His entry into the game sparked momentum-swinging runs in the first and third quarters that gave the Magic healthy leads. His drives helped collapse the Milwaukee defense and resulted in 10 Orlando 3-pointers. And his aggressiveness going to the rim played a big role in Orlando getting 27 free throw attempts and holding a 10 free throw advantage in terms of makes.
Told that Orlando was a plus-22 in points during his time on the floor, Oladipo said: ``Today? I was just coming out and helping. That (plus-22 advantage) is pretty surprising. I was just being patient and trying to find my teammates and having fun. I couldn’t care less what happened – well, I wanted to win first and foremost – but as far as me playing individually, I just wanted to win. It was a blessing to be back out there.’’
Oladipo made just three of 10 shots, something that could partly be attributed to the rust from being away from the game for the past six weeks and partly because he is still adjusting to the hard-plastic mask he’s being forced to wear to cover the hardware in his face. He said after the game that nothing – not even a few missed shots or a turnover here or there – was going to ruin a glorious night where he got to play the game of basketball that he loves so much once again.
``I hit my first couple of shots and a couple of free throws and it is what it is, but I’m just glad to be out there. If I came out today and shot zero for 20, I wouldn’t have cared,’’ Oladipo said with a chuckle.