Commentary

Appreciating all about Oscar Schmidt

With the HOF induction of a Brazilian great at hand, his colleagues recall his feats

Originally Published: September 6, 2013
By Gonzalo Aguirregomezcorta | ESPNDeportes.com

Oscar SchmidtAdriana Spaca/News Free/LatinContent/Getty ImagesOscar Schmidt, 55, left his mark on the game and will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
CARACAS, Venezuela -- There are very few people who saw Oscar Schmidt play who don't remember his stellar performances, such as that unforgettable 1987 Pan American Games final in which the Brazilian national team took apart Team USA with Schmidt's 46 points, or when he snatched a victory from Puerto Rico in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games with three key free throws and a made basket in the closing moments.

But he never wanted to take his talents to the NBA and instead made his mark in the professional leagues of Italy, Spain and Brazil. He became an authentic scoring machine with a style that was all his own.

Many, such as Orlando Antigua, the Dominican Republic's head coach, say loud and clear that Schmidt was "as big as Michael Jordan."

Such heady comparisons come from Schmidt being the top scorer in the history of the Olympic Games (1,093 points). They are made because there isn't anyone else who has scored more points in a game in the Olympics (44 against Spain in 1988); because of the success he achieved on different professional teams (his jersey was retired by four teams) and for having scored 49,737 points in his career (11,350 more that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). Because of all that and much more, Schmidt, 55, deserves greater worldwide recognition, a measure of which he will gain upon induction Sunday in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Scola's favorite player

Luis Scola grew up enjoying the game of Schmidt, whom he adored when he watched him with the hopes of a 10-year-old with big dreams.

"Oscar Schmidt was always my favorite player," Scola said before the start of the second round of the FIBA Americas Championships. "I saw him in the [1990] World Championships when he came to play in Argentina. I was mopping the court and I have a picture with him," he said as he remembered the lucky opportunity he had in that encounter.

"Strangely enough, the entire film got exposed. Back then there weren't any digital cameras, just film, and the only picture that got exposed was the one with 'Pipoka' [Joao Jose Vianna] and him. He was one of my favorite players. Then after 10 years I played against him. He played for Flamengo [of Brazil] and I was playing for Tau. I enjoyed it a lot."

'Piculin,' a foe at his doorstep

Puerto Rico's Jose Rafael "Piculin" Ortiz faced him throughout his entire career and they share a lot of common beliefs because they were players who saw alternatives to playing in the American league.

"Sometimes, some of us players were apathetic in going to the NBA because we loved so much playing for [our] country," said Ortiz, who played for the Utah Jazz from 1988-90. "We know that the NBA is a professional league in which we're seeing more roles than before. Perhaps he understood that it wasn't his league, just like I did although I was there and left."

"I've played [him] almost my entire career. He was a great player, there is no doubt about that. The numbers are there. I consider him to be the top FIBA player. To me he is a player that has broken all the records there have been. A warrior. An excellent human being. On the court, his total command to score in each game was impressive," he said.

Ortiz fondly remembers a key moment in Schmidt's career -- the final in the FIBA World Championship played in Indianapolis in which Brazil snatched the prize from the United States. He was his rival on numerous occasions, and discounts theories of those who thought that Schmidt always had it in for the Americans.

"I remember the points he would always score against the United States. Oscar would transform into this player when playing against the United States. Because of that, a lot of people say that he had a lot of anger for the NBA, but I don't think it was because of that. There was always the talk that the best players were in the NBA but there was Schmidt to say otherwise," he said.

Coach Morales also had to bear Schmidt

[+] EnlargeOscar Schmidt
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesOscar Schmidt celebrates a remarkable win over Puerto Rico at the 1996 Olympic Games.
Carlos Morales, who is working as an assistant on Paco Olmo's staff on the Puerto Rican national team and who also spent seven years as Puerto Rico's coach, also got bit by Schmidt.

"We had the honor and at the same time the difficulty of having to play against him a lot of times," said Morales, who also serves as an analyst for ESPNDeportes. "He was an impressive shooter. A player that probably didn't do a lot of other things, who wouldn't go inside to rebound or defend a lot. But as a shooter it was difficult [to say] that there would have been one better than him."

Morales then remembered that one matchup in which Schmidt did away with his national team during the Olympic Games in Atlanta.

"We had the lead in the last minute and he said, 'No, I'm not losing this game.' He intelligently drew a foul on his defender and later made three free throws and made another basket. He carried the team on his back and beat us," Morales said.

Morales was always impressed with the way Schmidt shot the ball toward the basket with peculiar form, one that was completely unconventional.

"I definitely remember him for his shooting ability," he recalled. "We're talking about a player 6-8 tall. He was of great stature and would release the ball from up high and made it impossible to defend the shot. It was only defending the shot, you looked at the time and you'd say, 'No, it's a bad shot, he's shooting leaning back, he is eight meters away from the rim,' and he would still make any shot."

Brazil's defeat eclipses induction

Schmidt had a prolific career, having participated in five Olympic Games in 29 years as an elite basketball player.

His rewards have arrived in many distinct ways -- he has been a member of the FIBA Hall of Fame since 2010 and there is the induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame that will take place Sunday.

But life has thrown a bad pass his way after he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

"Everyone respects Oscar for what he did, but now there is more talk about him because of the issue with the brain cancer," said Fabio Aleixo, a Brazilian journalist with "Diario Lance."

"The induction will be important event for basketball in Brazil. The bad thing is that recognition won't have that much attention because of the team's fiasco out here [at the FIBA Americas tournament]. Now the talk is much more about the problems and deficiencies that are within Brazil's team than Oscar's entrance into the Hall of Fame. Oscar's entrance could be overshadowed," Aleixo said.

But this will occur and an entire nation, joined by all of the generations that saw him in action and a basketball world that surrendered at his feet, will enjoy seeing Schmidt receive another recognition for his great and splendid career.

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