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Oscar Schmidt

Our Forgotten Latino Héroes: Oscar Schmidt

Brazilian Oscar Schmidt could shoot with the best of them

Oscar Schmidt was an influential figure in American basketball, yet he never played in an NCAA or NBA game.

Schmidt was a Brazilian shooting guard/small forward. He enjoyed a 29-year career. Yes, you read that right, Schmidt enjoyed a stellar 29-year playing career from 1974 through 2003. 

He is considered to be the all-time leading scorer in hoops history, with 49,737 career points scored in combined professional and Brazilian national team play.

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Schmidt played until he was 45 years old. He played in Brazil, Italy and Spain, earning endless individual and team awards. He’s a member of a number of Hall of Fames, including the Naismith Memorial. Moreover, he is considered one of the 50 greatest players ever. 

Schmidt’s contributions to Brazil’s national team brought about changes to the USA Basketball talent selection process. Even though the United States lost in the 1972 Olympic gold medal game to the emerging Soviet Union, there was a strongly held belief about the dominance of American athletes and the invincibility of the American teams. 

Schmidt owned 1987 Pan American Games.

Oscar Schmidt shattered that idea in the little-remembered 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis. The United States was supposed to run through the competition en route to the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. The United States was going to roll out the basketballs and run layup lines against the competition. 

Oscar Schmidt
BARUERI, BRAZIL: Brazilian basketball star Oscar Schmidt holds a trophy he was given in honor of the 40,000 points he scored in his first 22 years of professional basketball. He finished with almost 50,000 points over a 29-year career. AFP PHOTO by Marie HIPPENMEYER/via Getty Images

Brazil was considered just a tune-up on the United States’ way to the predestined gold medal finish line. 

In the Pan American gold medal game against the United States, the 29-year old Schmidt lit up American defenders with 46 points in a massive 20-point, come-from-behind upset over the heavily favored home team.

That U.S. team featured two first overall NBA draft picks in David Robinson and Danny Manning. Rex Chapman, a 12-year NBA veteran and social media sensation was also on that team that Schmidt lit up. 

This was no fluke either. Schmidt, a member of the FIBA (International Basketball Federation) Hall of Fame habitually “got buckets” in international competition. Schmidt was the leading scorer in three consecutive Olympic Games (1988, 1992, and 1996).  

In 1988,  he set the Olympic record by averaging 42.3 points per game. He played in a total of five Olympics (1980-1996). 

Oscar Schmidt shone on biggest stages

Schmidt did his thing at times when stakes were high, the spotlight on, and the competition fierce. 

The American performance was billed as a disaster rather than being defeated by a motivated team powered by one of the world’s best scorers. Sure the United States could lose to the Soviet Union, after all the belief was that the 1972 gold medal game was rigged and thus the result, illegitimate.

But to lose to a team from the Southern Hemisphere? This was definitely not acceptable, and things had to change going forward. 

Schmidt’s play and the American loss in the Pan American Games was a significant factor in forcing USA Basketball to use professional players, starting with the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

The United States winning only a bronze medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics completed the argument for using professional players in international competition. 

Schmidt was the first Brazilian drafted by the NBA. He was picked in the sixth round, with the 131st pick overall in the 1984 NBA Draft by the New Jersey Nets. 

Schmidt ever got full credit

In the aftermath of the Pan American Games, there were questions as to whether Schmidt could make it in the NBA. The argument was that the United States lost because the competition was using professional players.  However, whether they could play in the NBA? Well, they played in “inferior leagues” like Schmidt did in Italy. The American sporting public was speaking from both sides of their mouths. 

“I know, the guy can’t play in the NBA,” Marty Blake, the NBA superscout, told the media at the time. “He can’t play in our league, no question.  He’s a great shooter, but he guards nobody,  he’s closer to  you right now than he was to any­body on the court.

“He’ll want a contract that guarantees him 40 minutes a game. So he’ll get 33 points, and his man will get 63. … In international ball, the refs allow you a Lawrence Welk step: a-one­ and-a-two. But this guy takes three steps! Plus, the way he’s al­ways charging into people to put up his shot, if they call legitimate fouls, he’s out of the game in 10 Minutes.”

ESPN and Washington Post legend Tony Kornheiser spoke for many when he uttered his response.

“If Oscar can’t play in the NBA, what can be said about the No. 1 draft choices who allegedly were guarding him?” Kornheiser said at the time.

Years later, even NBA veterans like Charles Barkley weren’t sold on Schmidt. 

“I heard he’s a good player – over there. … But I know he’s not better than anyone in this locker room,” Barkley said.

Always got his points

This was before the 34-year old Schmidt scored 24 points against Barkley and the “Dream Team” in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. 

This was Oscar. Even though he wasn’t going to get his props, he was going to get his. 

And he got his. 

For nearly three decades.

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