On the eve of his 2020-21 NBA preseason finale in December, Victor Oladipo participated in a funeral for his injured knee.
The service was held to say goodbye to an injury mindset, which was weighing on the two-time All-Star guard’s pursuit of fully recovering from a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee that required surgery in 2019.
“I was feeling better, but my mind was so used to protecting me — and being hesitant because of my leg — that I had created a habit of doing that,” Oladipo told ESPN. “And burying my injury and letting myself know that I’m healed, I’m stronger than ever before, it gave me the courage, the strength to actually go out there and perform and not think about the leg. Not defer as much.
“That was definitely huge for my process, especially my mental health process.”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the ceremony happened via Zoom call with motivational speaker, educator and Pastor Eric Thomas, as well as Mostafa Ghonim, Thomas’ business development and managing partner.
With the help of Thomas and his team, whom Oladipo hired as his sports psychologists at the start of the 2020-21 season, Oladipo wrote a letter titled, “Saying Goodbye” before listening to a prayer from Thomas. Then, he went outside his Indiana home and burned the piece of paper, ready to put the injury behind him.
“Today I am burying everything related to my torn quad. I am burying and letting go of everything. I’m letting go of tearing my quad and the injury that happened. I’m letting go of being one of three people to ever get the injury,” Oladipo wrote in his letter.
“I’m letting go of all the negativity surrounding the fact that I’m one of three people and the youngest to get it. I am letting go of ‘My knee might not be strong enough to do everything I want on the basketball court.’ I’m letting go of hoping that my knee is strong enough so I can be an All-Star.”
The session was part of Oladipo’s ongoing Extreme Execution Flight Program with Thomas, with which he connects with athletes on a level beyond motivational speaking.
Oladipo’s meetings with Thomas have also helped Oladipo process the blockbuster deal — headlined by James Harden’s move to the Brooklyn Nets — that sent the 28-year-old to the Houston Rockets earlier this month. Oladipo said he “had no warning” of the Indiana Pacers’ decision to trade him.
“I got traded; two days later, it was therapy time,” Oladipo said.
“They walked me through it. At the end of the day, everything happens for a reason, and you’ve just got to embrace change. At the end of the day, I didn’t know I was getting traded. I had no inclination. I had no warning, I had no clue. So, usually when things like that happen, it means someone else is in control, and that’s my lord and savior.
“All the worry, everything I have, I give it to him and I just focus on being a better version of myself on and off the floor every day and he’ll handle the rest.”
Oladipo went off for 32 points and nine assists in his Houston debut on Jan. 18 against the Chicago Bulls. It was the second-most points in a Rockets debut, behind only Harden’s 37 points in 2012.
“He’s way more decisive now,” Thomas said of Oladipo. “Again, he’s not emotional where it’s like, ‘How am I feeling today? What’s going on in the arena today? Who are we playing today?’ We’re not on that anymore.”