Brazil’s Oscar Schmidt versus Kobe, Lebron, and Team USA
Brazil produces football stars, bikini babes and refreshing beer. However, her most significant contribution may be Oscar Schmidt, arguably the greatest basketball player never to don an NBA uniform.
Schmidt –a 6-8, 230 pound shooting guard- played in five Olympics, averaging a record 29 points per game. But numbers don’t tell his story. Not even close.
The ‘Mao Santa’ or ‘Holy Hand’ built a legacy on his terms, passing on several opportunities to play in David Stern’s league. Back then, NBA players weren’t eligible for international tournaments and Schmidt’s greatest passion was representing Brazil.
So for love of country, he turned his back on the NBA and a contract bigger than Rio. But Schmidt also took issue with the individual nature of the NBA and the American game.
“The NBA is great if you are a star. But if not, you get moved around. My friend Georgi Glouchkov played a year in Phoenix. He tells me bad stories about NBA. The guards (did not) like him, they don’t pass him the ball. I would not like that. I could not stand that.”
With no NBA experience, it’s hard to know how he’d have fared against current Team USA superstars. Our best evidence comes from the gold medal match of the 1987 Pan American Games. Schmidt tallied 46 points to lead Brazil to a dramatic 120 –115 win over a Team USA side that featured David Robinson, Danny Manning, and Pervis Ellison.
(Yes, 46 points on ‘Mr. Robinson’, the all-time Kansas Jayhawk, and ‘Never Nervous Pervis Ellison’. Oh, and enjoy the classical music.)
In all likelihood, Oscar Schmidt was the greatest player never to suit up in the NBA. But his country, not the NBA, was what mattered. And that’s what made Schmidt so great.