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Victor Oladipo on his return to Indiana, that ‘Black Panther’ mask and how he passes the time on the team plane

Instead of watching film, the Pacers guard watches ‘Martin’ — over and over again

Newcomer Victor Oladipo and the Indiana Pacers have clinched a playoff spot. The former Indiana Hoosier became an NBA All-Star for the first time this season. And in the 2018 Verizon Slam Dunk Contest, the guard with Nigerian roots represented Wakanda by wearing a mask from the movie Black Panther.

In other words, everything has been great for Oladipo since he got back to the Hoosier State.

“I put in a lot of work,” Oladipo said. “So I work hard and I tried to prepare myself for anything possible coming into this year, any position they want me to be in, and I’ve just got to continue to keep getting better and building on it. I think the opportunity here in Indiana and my role here on the team is the reason why I’m successful, so it’s a little bit of everything.

“The work I put in. The way I changed my body. Obviously, my role and the change of scenery helped as well. So I’ve just got to continue to keep getting better so I can get to where I want to be.”

Oladipo recently talked to The Undefeated about his success after being traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Pacers last offseason, Black Panther, his Nigerian roots, his love for the television show Martin and more.

What is the mentality the Pacers need to get that No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference?

Just got to stay hungry. And there’s still a lot more room to improve and there’s still a lot of goals to accomplish that we want to accomplish. So we’ve got to take care of business and stay hungry, and compete and play with that chip on our shoulders.

What does it mean to you to be in Indiana, where obviously you’ve got Hoosier fame and you’ve got a support system that’s thousands strong?

It means a lot, man. Indiana. Obviously, I went to college there and I was a part of kind of bringing Indiana [University] basketball back, I guess you would say, along with my teammates at the time. I was a part of something bigger than myself, and there was always something that I remember, always something that I will never forget to be able to come back and play in front of these fans, try to do something special again here in Indiana. And we’re blessed and continue to work hard and be something special for these fans and for that city. The sky’s the limit if I continue to do that.

Why didn’t things work out that way in Oklahoma City?

Things were just a little different. My role was different, obviously. And I guess it just didn’t fit. At the time, I guess they felt as though the trade made sense for them. They felt as though that was the best move for them, so I really had no control over that. But it all turned out great for both sides, so sometimes things happen and we don’t really understand why until later. It was all a blessing.

How was the All-Star experience? And what were your emotions when you learned that you made it for the first time?

It was an amazing experience, something I dreamed about my whole life. And to be able to experience it with my family and friends is something I’ll never forget. And when I first found out I was going to Indiana, [general manager] Kevin Pritchard was the first person that called me and told me that I became an All-Star. It’s a surreal experience, surreal feeling, emotional feeling, and I was thankful, definitely thankful. My family and friends, I talked to them, and they congratulated me as well too. It’s just definitely an infectious feeling that you want to feel every year. I want to be considered one of the best, so it’s what I’m striving for, to be the best. Striving to keep getting better so I can get there.

Did you already know Black Panther lead actor Chadwick Boseman before NBA All-Star Weekend?

No, that was my first time meeting him during that weekend.

So how did you go about making that dunk happen where you got the Black Panther mask from Boseman before your dunk and put it on?

I wasn’t the one who kind of came up with it. People in my camp kind of came up with it. They understand comics, so they kind of came up with it. We had mutual friends, me and Chad. We got a hold of him and he was gonna be in the arena, luckily. It kind of just worked out on itself, and I felt like it was the right time to bring that out just because Black Panther is such a monumental statement.

It’s part of a movement in our generation that will go down in history as obviously one of the first black superheroes, and I just felt as though it needed to be brought into the NBA and I thought it would be a great idea to add him into it. He was with it and they got the approval from Disney, and it just turned out the way it turned out. I’m just glad I made the dunk.

What was it like putting on that mask?

I couldn’t breathe or really see in the mask. But I just had to make the dunk, make it a special moment. It was awesome, man. I was just glad to be a part of it.

You went to Johannesburg, South Africa, last offseason for Basketball Without Borders and to play in the NBA Africa Game. Was that your first trip to Africa?

Yes, sir. It meant a lot to me. To go back home, seeing as how my family, they are descendants of Nigeria. I’m first-generation Nigerian-American, and to be able to go back to Africa for the first time and go to that little African school was something special. To go back for the first time and to experience a lot of experiences and see South Africa and see a different point of view and see a different part of the world is something I’ll always remember.

Was there any emotional family moment there?

I brought my sister with me. That was really amazing. Just being there in general was kind of a surreal, an emotional feeling. I never thought I could have the opportunity to take me and my sister and some of my friends to Africa on pretty much a vacation. But at the same time, doing something with the people over there that they’ll never forget. It was an amazing trip, and we had a lot of fun.

What’s the latest with your music career?

I put out my first EP, Songs for You. You can find it anywhere, pretty much on any major music app or anything, or platform. I’m working on my second one as soon as the season’s over and it’s gonna be better than the first one, so I’m looking forward to it.

With all due respect to Fergie, will the NBA have you singing the national anthem at the next All-Star Game instead?

We’ll see, I don’t know.

What was that like listening to Fergie’s rendition?

Oh, that was different. That was different. Definitely different.

Would you consider playing for the Nigerian national team?

I’m not really sure. I haven’t really thought about none of that yet. I’m sure opportunities will present themselves after the season’s over. I’m just focused on the Pacers right now and trying to get something special here this year and taking it one day at a time, one game at a time. That’s my focus.

Would you consider it?

I don’t know. I would have to really think about it. Think about how it benefits and everything like that and make a decision from there.

Have you followed what’s going on in Sacramento with the cops’ shooting of 22-year-old Stephon Clark? Has that made any impression on you?

Yeah. I heard about it. It’s just sad what’s going on, first and foremost. It’s kind of awesome to see people trying to do something about it. A lot of times some things go unnoticed in our world. Things happen and nobody has anything to say or do about it.

It’s kind of special to see people trying to make a difference and trying to make something happen. And trying to change the world in whatever way they can. It’s incredible.

Word on the street is you’re a huge fan of the television show Martin.

Man, I got all the seasons from the first episode to the last episode and I’ve probably seen every episode probably about 10 times each or more. Probably more than that, actually. And every year, I just start from the beginning and just redo over again on the plane. Instead of just watching film, I just watch an episode of Martin.

Have you met Martin Lawrence?

No, I never have. I never have. I [wish] I had that opportunity.

What’s your favorite episode and who’s your favorite character?

I don’t know about my favorite episode, that’d be hard to say. Obviously, Martin’s hilarious. I think Sheneneh’s hilarious. Everybody has their moment of being funny. Tommy, Cole, Pam … everybody has their great moments, so I think that’s what makes it so funny and so special.

I think it’s funny. It was like the first time where Martin’s playing different characters in one show. I think that’s pretty cool and dope. … He’s like one of the first few people to do that, and it’s just something that I’m attracted to and I like to watch all the time.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.