INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The return of Victor Oladipo to the Indiana Pacers lineup Wednesday night was greeted by thousands of joyful fans.
For most diehards, his devastating injury on Jan. 23, 2018 is a moment they still remember.
“I’m at this end of the stadium and it happened at the other end,” said season ticketholder Doug Hamilton. “It was like the place went silent.”
“I actually went to go get something to eat,” admits Michael Van Cleave. “I saw him on the ground, I was like, oh my god. It was a bad day.”
Austin Turk was watching from a sports bar.
“It was like losing a loved one, there goes our dreams,” Turk said.
But now, VO is back.
Fans streamed into the game Wednesday night both in force and in “fours,” the uniform number of their hero.
Liz Combs remembers watching Oladipo every week when they were both at IU. She came to the Pacers game with her husband and son Caleb.
“We want to bring Caleb for his first game and it’s a great way to celebrate,” she said.
Fans like Combs have been able to track his rehab progress too, getting regular updates from his Instagram account as he walked and swished some three’s in a leg cast.
“To see him never give up and keep going and he was like, ‘I’ll be back. I’ll be stronger.’ It’s very inspiring and I’m excited because I believe him.” Combs said.
But after 371 days, he’s officially back.
Though diehards like Van Cleave admit it won’t be easy to watch that first dunk.
“I got to wait until he comes down the first time,” he said. “Then I can breathe after that.”
While some fans had more measured expectations for the night, expecting him to score 12-20 points, others like Cameron Hackworth had bigger ideas.
“I think he’s going to take over the game and score 40 points, at least,” he said.
In the end, Oladipo dished out 4 assists and grabbed 2 rebounds in 21 minutes of work. Just as important, and perhaps fittingly, he scored 9 points which proved to be the winning margin in the Pacers 115-106 OT victory over the Bulls, including a key three-pointer near the end of regulation.