Victor Oladipo's unexpected showing in the NBA bubble at Disney World is just the latest turn in his multiyear roller coaster.
Oladipo, 28, is getting set for the playoffs in the unlikeliest of circumstances, with his Indiana Pacers locked in as the Eastern Conference's fifth seed. Oladipo's last two seasons have been beset by a serious knee injury and, as recently as July, the guard said he wouldn't be playing in the restart in Orlando, Florida, to instead focus on rehab.
However, he ultimately opted to play, and has led the Pacers to five wins in their seven games ahead of the team's regular season finale Friday.
With so much time spent off the court since his injury in January 2019, Oladipo stayed productive in other ways, including through business. Like numerous athletes, Oladipo has taken an interest in tech investing, and is particularly excited about his stake in a sports marketing company called Genies, which creates and licenses avatars of celebrities, mostly on social media.
Genies has worked with top brands like Gucci and New Balance, has licensing deals with the National Football League Players Association and the Major League Baseball Players Association, and has even worked with the World Health Organization.
Oladipo took some time between games last Friday to talk to CNBC about his investment in Genies and his difficult road back to the hardwood. He said that during the coronavirus pandemic, avatars have become an important way for athletes, actors and singers to communicate with their fans at a time when in-person interactions are impossible.
"We're a part of a time, a history, where this is going to be monumental, and they will remember this forever," said Oladipo, who is a client of Genies in addition to being an investor. "I thought it was a great fit for me."
Genies' other clients include Jennifer Lopez, Cardi B, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving and Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker. Irving and Booker are also stakeholders.
Genies has raised roughly $40 million to date, valuing itself at more than $100 million. Oladipo didn't say how much he invested.
To get interested in tech investing and see beyond his life in the NBA, Oladipo, who makes $21 million a year (before taxes), said he needed to suffer a setback on the court.
Flashback to Jan. 23, 2019, a day Oladipo's business partner and manager, Jay Henderson, recalls vividly.
Attempting to play defense in transition, Oladipo landed awkwardly under Toronto's Pascal Siakam. He suffered a torn quad tendon, ending his 2018-19 season.
Henderson said he walked into the Pacers' medical room, where Oladipo was awaiting an X-ray before his MRI. That's when Oladipo told him, "Let's get to work on all the things we've been talking about doing but haven't had time to do."
Oladipo was already an investor in real estate holdings in Florida and Cleveland. It's a market he's followed, in part, because the Pacers ownership team controls real estate empire Simon Property Group.
Henderson, who also represents the business interests of commentator and former NBA guard Kenny Smith, said he and Oladipo examined his financials to "see where we want to be, set goals and look at different properties."
Oladipo said he started taking his off-court financial pursuits more seriously.
"Before my injury, I couldn't say that I understood what it was to have equity in a company," he said. "I was forced to sit down and kind of reflect, to look back on my life and realize that I'm more than an athlete."
The injury was also the catalyst Oladipo needed to finally attend the annual NBPA Technology Summit in San Francisco, which Henderson said he'd been pushing on him for two years. NBA stars Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Andre Iguodala are among the attendees.
Though his fellow athletes had already found some fluency and success with tech investing, Oladipo admitted he had to get comfortable with people who "don't look like me or come from where I come from."
Oladipo said he found a way to "relate to those individuals" at the summit and credited the move with positioning his family for financial success post-NBA.
Without attending the summit, "I wouldn't be benefiting in some capacity," he said.
Oladipo, who also owns stock in food tech company Beyond Meat, said he will use the summit every year to seek more deals with the help of Patricof, a private equity firm that's assisting athletes in their investing pursuits.
Oladipo said he's most likely done seeking deals this year with Covid-19 still lingering, and with basketball taking up so much time now.
He's preparing to take on the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs. After this season wraps up, he could have a quick turnaround, as the league could begin its 2020-21 campaign in December.
Oladipo has one year remaining on his contract and is scheduled to hit free agency next summer, so he'll have a decision to make about his basketball future.
Though the NBA saved itself from losing more than $1 billion by not canceling its season, the league will still suffer substantial revenue losses due to Covid-19. That will likely affect Oladipo's next contract, as the players will see a drop in income available.
Oladipo said his current concern is helping the Pacers in the NBA bubble and "continuing to strengthen my knee."
"I'm just focused on doing what I can to help my team the best way I can," he said. "One day, it will all click again, and then I can worry about those other things when the time comes."