Oscar Schmidt: The greatest basketball player you may have never heard of

Oscar Schmidt guarding Scottie Pippen
Oscar Schmidt guarding Scottie Pippen

Whenever debates revolve around who the greatest basketball player of all-time is, people either indubitably mention Michael Jordan or proclaim LeBron James to the best ever. Some might even mention Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Magic Johnson to be the greatest of all-time for they achieved unparalleled success and reached unimaginable heights.

However, chances are most of the people might have never heard about the player that we are going to shed light upon in this article. This man never played in the NBA despite being drafted by the New Jersey Nets in the 1984 Draft (the same draft as Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton). He was nevertheless inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013 for revolutionizing the game of basketball.

So, without further ado, let me introduce you to Oscar Schmidt.

Oscar Daniel Bezerra Schmidt is a former Brazilian basketball player who spent his entire career with some of the top basketball leagues in Europe and South America. A prodigious scorer in his own right, he is the unofficial leader for total points scored in the history of basketball with 49,737 career points to his name.

The 6'9 Brazilian was so good in his craft he consequently ended up as the sole reason why the Dream Team was assembled at the 1992 Summer Olympics. At a time when only US college players participated in FIBA tournaments and the Olympics, the Brazilian team led by Schmidt upset team USA 120-115 to take the gold at the 1987 Pan American Games. Moreover, Team USA's subsequent failure to win gold at the 1988 Summer Olympics led to the entry of pro basketball players in the 1992 edition.

Here's the video in which several great NBA players talk about this legend.


At the age of 25, Schmidt, fondly called Mao Santa (meaning Holy Hand) by his fans was drafted into the NBA by the New Jersey Nets in the 1984 NBA Draft. Although a late draftee (sixth round, 131st pick overall), he declined the offer as he would have been ineligible to represent his national team had he played. At that time, players who turned professional were not allowed to represent their country at the Olympics. For Schmidt, his love for Brazil always came ahead of anything else.

A five-time Olympian, Schmidt is the all-time leading scorer in the tournament with 1,093 points at an average of 28.8 points per game. What's more impressive is the fact that he scored 388 total points at a staggering average of 42.3 points per game in the 1988 Summer Olympics, an unparalleled feat till today.

Schmidt had several other opportunities to play in the NBA later on in his career but declined them every time. Some believe Schmidt did not like the way European players were typecast as sixth men and bench players. Players such as Toni Kukoc, Rik Smits, and Detlef Schrempf to name a few, were some of the best European prospects in the 1980s, yet they came off the bench for a majority of their careers. Oscar Schmidt being the star that he was, did not like the idea of coming off the bench.

He would subsequently spend his entire career in European and South American leagues and break numerous records on his way to a Hall of Fame career. One of his biggest achievements is leading the Italian Serie A league in scoring a record seven times, a record that still stands to this day. A supremely durable player, Schmidt retired at the age of 45.

In addition to being a national Icon in his native country of Brazil, he is also highly regarded all over Europe. Further, Schmidt also happens to be one of Kobe Bryant's favorite basketball players. Back in the day when Kobe Bryant's father Joe "Jelly Bean" Bryant played with Schmidt in the Italian League, young Kobe was a huge fan and considered him a living legend.

Oscar Schmidt was voted as one of FIBA's 50 Greatest Players in 1991 for his achievements. Furthermore, for his phenomenal play in the Olympics year after year, he was awarded the Olympic Order in 1997. FIBA inducted him into it's Hall of Fame in the class of 2010. In 2013, Schmidt received his highest honor to date when he was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. There he was welcomed onto the stage by the great Larry Bird.

Oscar Schmidt was undoubtedly a pioneer of modern basketball and one of its finest proponents. But more than that, he was a national hero who put his country on the global basketball pedestal. Schmidt paved the way for many aspiring basketball players, who went on to play in the NBA like Nene, Leandro Barbosa, and Tiago Splitter to name a few.

Would he have a successful career had he joined the NBA? This is perhaps something that one would never know for sure. But for now, taking the facts at hand into consideration, we can safely assume he's the greatest player never to set foot in the NBA.

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Edited by Raunak J
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