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Saturday, September 7, 2013
Oscar Schmidt feeling that hot hand

By Hiram Martinez
ESPNDeportes.com

Oscar Schmidt
Oscar Schmidt, who has battled cancer, relishes the thought of Larry Bird introducing him.

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Oscar Schmidt is totally convinced that he would have been one of the best players in the NBA if he had accepted an offer from the New Jersey Nets after having been picked in the sixth round of the 1984 draft.

The Brazilian feels so sure, when he was asked how he could prove it, at 55 years of age and recuperating from a surgery that removed a brain tumor in May, he responded: "Now? Give me two months of practice and I would kick everyone's behind."

Perhaps he will convince a few of those who were never able to see him destroy opposing defenses with his amazing precision. After all, he didn't have to sign that contract to continue a career that eventually brought him to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

"I would have been one of the 10 best in history, I'd assure you that," Schmidt said during the presentation of the 2013 class that on Sunday will enter the Basketball Hall of Fame here.

"I went into the Nets training camp, I played well. Excessively well and they offered me a guaranteed contract. But I rejected it. I was in Italy and to me it was more important to play for my country's national team," he said.

"At that moment, the NBA was about one-on-one ... and in one-on-one, I would be open," he added.

"I would have averaged a point per minute. I knew what I was capable of."

Well it is possible that the Nets didn't insist because they noticed what Oscar Daniel Schmidt Bezerra wasn't capable of. The 6-8 native of Brasilia perhaps wasn't a quick enough player to defend his position. Perhaps he didn't jump high enough, wasn't a rebounding factor and generally was the last one to touch the ball before it headed to the basket.

But he scored. And did he score. With one, two, three defenders; in the paint and as far as two, three feet behind the 3-point arc; at mid-distance; coming off screens; setting up plays playing one-on-one; in the clutch; in games that were wide-open. Known as "Mao Santa" (Portuguese for "Holy Hand"), he was the best international player at beating his defender in his era. His 16 scoring titles in the Italian, Spanish and his native Brazilian leagues proved it. The 49,737 total points and 30.7 that he averaged in his career. The 1,093 points (28.8 per game) that he scored in five Olympics and the 7,963 points he scored in 326 games with his country's national team.

He is possibly the best international player who didn't play in the NBA. And sure enough, his arrival in Springfield would lift that "what would have happened if ..." label off his back.

"I do not regret myself. It was another era, quite simply," he said. "FIBA opened its doors to professionalism in 1989, but I wasn't going to go to the NBA as a rookie with 35 years of age. In any case, I was able to represent my country ... and here I am, in the Hall of Fame."

At least Schmidt was able to demonstrate his abilities before a U.S. crowd in an official game. During the finals of the 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis, he scored 46 points and led a rally that surprised a powerful United States squad that was led by David Robinson, Pervis Ellison, Danny Manning and Keith Smart and reached the gold medal game undefeated.

"That was my greatest moment as a player because you had to play hard to win something," he said. "Before the game I had the fear of losing by 30 points and when we were down at the half, I kept fearing that. But we kept battling, we got close and we went ahead of them."

"The game was huge because it changed everything," he added.

Before that victory, there were already debates within FIBA over whether NBA players should have been playing in international competitions such as World Championships and Olympic Games. But after Indianapolis, USA Basketball was left convinced that it needed more than collegiate players to regain its hold on international competition.

The following year, Schmidt set an Olympic record for most points in a game and averaged over 30 points in Seoul 1988, but wasn't a major foe for the United States, who ended up with a disappointing bronze medal behind the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.

"The Dream Team came in 1992 and that changed everything," he said. "There I met one of my idols, Larry Bird. He, to me, was the greatest. He didn't run, didn't jump, but he was the best of all."

At Schmidt's request, Bird will be the one who presents him Sunday at the award ceremony. That presence there is one of the reasons why -- with everything that victory in 1987 meant -- Schmidt says this weekend is by far "the greatest moment of my life."

"Yesterday, they gave me a ring," he said in the press conference. "Today, they gave me a very nice jacket. And tomorrow, I will be with the immortals. I myself asked Larry to be who would present me."

"Nothing can be compared with this," he said in an interview with reporters. "You don't know who votes. The voting is private and that they have elected me is something magnificent. I was on vacation in Orlando when I was informed. I had to stop my car and pull over. I thought they were talking about the FIBA Hall of Fame (which he has belonged to since 2010) and I told them that I was already in it. But when they told me Springfield, I noticed that it was the biggest thing a player can aspire for."

He mentioned Arvydas Sabonis, Drazen Petrovic, Drazen Dalipagic and his countryman, Marcel De Souza, as the great international players he admired during his time. Among those in the NBA, he spoke of Kobe Bryant ("I kicked his father's behind in Italy for eight years"), LeBron James, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.

"But wait a minute, I haven't finished," he indicated. "I'm missing Larry. Larry is the best."