NEW ORLEANS — Victor Oladipo strode off the court, and an NBA public-relations official ushered him to a corner of a room the league had reserved for interviews after Friday night’s Rising Stars Challenge.
Oladipo glanced to his left and his right and saw that all of the other players were sitting on chairs as they answered questions. The Orlando Magic rookie politely asked for a chair, too.
For the first time all season, Oladipo looked exhausted.
His day began at 7 in the morning. It included a community service project and countless media sessions. And it ended as he and his Team Webber brethren lost to Team Hill 142-136 at Smoothie King Center.
“It’s just fun being out there,” Oladipo said. “Seeing all those guys out there and playing with these guys out there was pretty fun. I had a good time. I just went out there and played hard and just tried to enjoy myself.”
Oladipo scored 13 points and dished out four assists as no one on either team defended energetically.
Even though he started at shooting guard, he played just 20 minutes. His substitute, Tim Hardaway Jr., scored 26 of his game-high 36 points in the second half, and Team Webber’s coach, Rex Kalamian, kept Hardaway in the game.
Oladipo probably wanted to play more, but he broke into a wide smile as he watched Hardaway and Dion Waiters of Team Hill match each other basket-for-basket.
“It was just kind of dead in there,” Hardaway said, “and we just wanted to start something, a little one-on-one battle here and there.”
Oladipo had plenty of supporters in the audience.
He often glanced behind his team’s bench to signal to his mom, Joan, and twin sister, Victoria, who flew from Maryland to New Orleans on Friday.
Magic teammate Arron Afflalo watched the exhibition from a baseline seat near the Team Webber bench. Laron Profit, one of the Magic’s assistant coaches for player development, sat beside Afflalo.
At halftime, Oladipo walked over to Afflalo and Profit and thanked them for attending.
“It means a lot,” Oladipo said. “They’re like my family and my big brothers. I don’t have any brothers, so for them to come out there and support me in this game is big.”
General Manager Rob Hennigan, Assistant General Manager Scott Perry and CEO Alex Martins watched from the stands.
They saw Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond win the game’s MVP trophy after he scored 30 points and grabbed 25 rebounds.
Drummond and his Team Hill teammates earned $25,000 apiece. Oladipo and his Team Webber teammates received $10,000 apiece.
Oladipo said he felt fortunate just to participate in All-Star Weekend.
He watched almost every All-Star Game as a kid and wasn’t considered an NBA prospect until his junior year of college at Indiana University.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Oladipo said. “I dreamed about waking up and being here one day, and actually being here is a crazy feeling. So I’m just glad and fortunate to be here.”
Oladipo sounded full of energy earlier in the day.
A television crew from China asked him to say hello to basketball fans in China.
A television crew from Israel asked him to sing a few bars from one of his favorite songs.
Oladipo sang “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
A television crew from Puerto Rico asked him to say hi to fans in Puerto Rico.
“Hello, fans in Puerto Rico!” he responded. “Victor Oladipo here from New Orleans All-Star Weekend. I hope you guys keep watching us and keep being my fans.”
He broke into laughter after the last part.
As he walked into his hotel during the afternoon, he spotted Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell and said, “Hi.”
The day featured just one glitch. When he opened his travel bag of basketball gear, he discovered that someone had packed two right shoes. (He found some replacements.)
Another TV crew asked him if he had any advice for children.
“Don’t let anybody ever tell you that you can’t do something,” Oladipo said. “Because if you believe in yourself and you work hard, anything is possible. Coming from where I’m from, and my story, I’m the spitting image of that.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun