Dave Hyde: Victor Oladipo’s inspiring story turns up the heat on Atlanta – now what?

You will never get a chance to add a great player to your playoff roster. But then you’ll never get the answer Victor Oladipo gave after his amazing performance helped the Miami Heat advance to the next round.

“A year ago today, I was waiting and waiting for my next operation,” he said late on the Tuesday evening after the operation. Decisive streak of Heat victories over Atlanta. “I remember a year ago today, around this time last year, I was sitting in a dark room by myself and just broke down.

“Not because I quit, but because I was at the lowest point I could be.”

Can you imagine what Oladipo is now at the highest point? Three years of injury, three years of pain and struggle have made way for him to reintroduce his NBA game by helping the Heat to the playoffs?

“I can play better,” he said.

This is his triumph. This is also a triumph for the Heath. Look at this series. They lost two stars in Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler. Their undrafted defensemen, Gabe Vincent and Max Strus, defeated Atlanta’s Trae Young and Kevin Huerter, drafted 5th and 19th, respectively.

They were also rewarded for taking their chances on Oladipo. It was a minimum wage deal, so the game wasn’t in dollars. It was time to practice investing, he was part of the working team, but not part of it.

Finally, he recovered and in March he was forcibly included in the squad. The Heat have lost four games in a row. It was like that, right? When he was healthy, he was a great player, but the Heat couldn’t rehabilitate his game, adjust to his lifestyle, and still win, right?

Lowry then missed Sunday’s Game 4 with a hamstring injury. And the Heat can’t play alongside shooters like Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson. That evening, Oladipo played 23 minutes of scoring: eight assists, seven rebounds, blocking the defense and the score was 17-0.

Butler’s sore knee knocked him out of Tuesday’s game with Lowry. Oladipo winced. He hit his first four shots. He was again part of an important part of the defense that closed the first half 17-2. He had a team record of 23 points.

“I can’t really explain why I’m going through this or what I’ve been through,” he said. “I cannot explain why I am here today. But I stay in the moment and make every moment mean something. I’m just playing hard, man.”

You hear Oladipo’s voice of rare quality: Gratitude. We didn’t know Oladipo during his best days in Indiana. We hardly know him now. But you will recognize the tone of a person who appreciates the moment.

Here’s a secret that few people like to tell in sports: a great athlete is often an extremely unpleasant person. To reach such heights, confidence becomes arrogance, relationships are built only on their terms, and such a trait as empathy is doomed to fail because considering the feelings of others does not help them.

Some get older and find perspective. Others find it hurts. It brings introspection, sincerity, mortality – and appreciation. You hear it all from Oladipo at this moment.

“There’s karma for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said. “If you’re doing the right thing, stay patient, it may not be on your terms or on your schedule. But then when you have an opportunity, you can take advantage of it and everyone enjoys your success.”

What’s next? Oladipo appears to have transplanted Robinson. He might have Herro too, depending on the matchup. We will see. Spoelstra has become a maestro again this season, finding the right player at the right time.

“I’m still getting better,” Oladipo said. “I haven’t played enough basketball yet to feel super comfortable, but I’m getting there.”

The bigger picture raises the question of the health of the 29-year-old. The Heat have Larry Bird’s rights to Oladipo, meaning they could go over the salary cap to re-sign him. This may come down to assessing Erro’s upward trajectory and Oladipo’s injury history.

But let’s do what Oladipo does. Let’s enjoy this moment. He is an inspiring symbol of what sport gives. The pain has been overcome. Discipline and hard work were rewarded.

“I was in a dark room,” he said.

Now he’s reintroduced himself into the bright light of the playoffs.

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