King Victor the 1st


In 49 states, the king of basketball is LeBron James. But this is Indiana, and here we have King Victor.

The Black Panther is real.

All of it. A king, with superhuman powers, dons the moniker of an ancient force to protect his kingdom from all that threatens it. With all due respect to Stan Lee and Marvel comics, they got the king’s identity wrong. He doesn’t directly hail from Africa, but Silver Springs, Maryland. His realm isn’t Wakanda, but Indiana. And his name isn’t T’Challa, but Victor Oladipo.

For a season now, Oladipo has laid claim to his kingdom. A title that he was bestowed not through divine right, or heredity, but through acclamation. Like the Israelites of yore who were not given a King from above, but asked for one and had their request granted, it was the blue-and-gold clad subjects who saw and offered the crown. King Victor donned it, then earned it, every single night.

It was the king who flung himself around his court with the speed and strength of the Black Panther. It was the king who oozed the obvious effort and passion that his subjects hope; no, demand, from their leaders.

The king could fly, warp passes through time and space to previously unopen knights, pluck basketballs away from previously alert opponents, and keep locker rooms light. It was the king who could wait until a second left, then let loose a dagger into a foe’s heart, then remind the world, with pointer fingers aims to the earth, that this was his city.

Victor Oladipo of the Indiana Pacers
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – DECEMBER 06: Victor Oladipo #4 of the Indiana Pacers points to the court in celebration during the game against the Chicago Bulls at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on December 6, 2017, in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

Like that promised Israelite king, David, who was summoned from obscurity to unit the tribes, Good King Victor came from obscurity. The first time he arrived in Indiana, he did so as a player whose name Hoosiers would found funny to pronounce if they knew his name at all. That’s not a slight, Oladipo, a three-star prospect wasn’t even ranked in his home state. Which fit IU, who was on barren times. But the King showed flashes, by his junior year, a team that had withered in the wake of Hurricane Sampson had spent most of the year ranked number 1 and Oladipo was an All-American.

He then got picked up in by Orlando.

Oof. Not the most magical NBA destination. And it wasn’t magical for King Victor, who didn’t resemble much of a king in Magic blue. Thus began a four-year odyssey that was less than celebratory. He was played out of position, then drafted over, then relegated to the bench, then traded, then miscast alongside the most impressive ball-hog this league has seen in years, then traded again.

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All the while the King waited and learned. In Orlando he developed his shot, constantly improving each year. In Oklahoma City, he learned what it took to be the best player on a team. Then he went back home to Indiana, and found a kingdom without a king.

But there was another king, who hailed from the shores of Lake Erie: the much-decorated LeBron James. King James hadn’t just dominated the league, but Indiana too. His Cavaliers swept the Pacers out of the playoffs just a year ago. And if you asked damn near everyone, they’d be shocked if he didn’t surge through Indiana again. He still might.

Wait a second. This isn’t automatic. It was Shelley who wrote that “kings are like stars – they rise and they set.” On Sunday, in game one, a star rose at the expense of King James.

Where King James normally overpowers his opponents, it was King Victor who was unstoppable. Whenever he was on the floor, the Pacers were undaunted facing James’ might. It was King Victor who scored 32. It was King Victor who hit three after three after three, six in total. It was King Victor who stole the ball four times and blocked a shot. It was King Victor, not James, who was the best player on the floor.

Next: The Pacers defense was top-notch in game 1

More still needs to happen, like at least three more wins. But, regardless, a new day has dawned in Indiana. A throne vacant since Reggie Miller left has been filled. The new king prowls across a basketball court, playing basketball in a way that unlocks a Hoosier’s heart. He can shoot, he can defend, he can do seemingly anything, and, most importantly, he wins. He is King Victor, first of his name, the real Black Panther, and long may he reign.