If you’re simply a casual basketball fan, the name Oscar Schmidt might be obscure to you. But for those who follow the game with religious fervor, that name occupies a place alongside the likes of Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James as not only one of the greatest talents of the modern generation, but one of basketball’s All-Time G.O.A.T.’s as well.
That’s a pretty heavy statement about a man that never played a single minute in the NBA. But for those that know the game, and to those that competed against him, they understand what Oscar Schmidt represents.
The Brazilian scoring machine’s nickname was “Mao Santa”, which translates to mean “The Holy Hand.”
Greatest Olympic Hooper Ever
He is the Olympics’ all-time leading scorer with 1,093 points. He scored more points at one single Olympics, 338 at the 1988 Seoul games, than anyone ever. He owns four of the top-five highest single-game scoring records, with 55 against Spain, 46 against the Soviet Union, 46 against Puerto Rico in 1988 and 45 against Puerto Rico in the 1996 games in Atlanta, when he was 38 years old.
In the ’88 Seoul Olympics, he averaged 42.2 points in eight games.
Schmidt’s scoring arsenal was utterly unstoppable. Standing 6-foot-8, he could bang from deep, had a delicious mid-range repertoire and was ferocious at the rim.
In today’s NBA, where perimeter shooting is at a premium in the age of position-less basketball, Schmidt would light up scoreboards with reckless abandon because, above all, he was a long-range marksman with no conscience who could shoot the ball with deadly accuracy.
For those who are unfamiliar, he’s the man who stoked the embers that led USA Basketball to send the Dream Team to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
Five years prior, Schmidt led his Brazilian squad to a 120-115 over Team USA to capture the Gold Medal in the Pan American Games at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. He obliterated our college stars like Rex Chapman, Fennis Dembo, Pervis Ellison, Jeff Lebo, Danny Manning and David Robinson, among others, scoring 35 of his 46 points in the second half.
Prior to that game, Team USA head coach Denny Crum knew that Brazil had a good player. He just wasn’t too familiar with his name. In an exceptional 2014 Grantland piece, Amos Barshad wrote:
In the postgame press conference, the New York Times reported, then U.S. men’s head coach Denny Crum forgot the name of Brazil’s best player. Finally, one of his players flipped through a roster and called out the name Oscar Schmidt.
Looking back now, Crum says, I wasn’t that into international basketball, and I don’t even think our players knew too much about him. And then they start setting picks for him out there, I mean, at 30 feet from the basket. And he just kept throwing it in.
Whom did Crum have guarding Oscar? It didn’t matter! We tried three or four guys. It didn’t matter. The things that he did Crum is still stunned by what he saw that day. He may be the best in the world to have never played in the NBA.
This was the beginning of the end for U.S. basketballs’ amateur status.
The Holy Hand
When the U.S. squad failed to win Gold at the 1988 Games in Seoul, America’s dominance on the worldwide stage had significantly diminished. In order for Team USA to deal with the international ascendance, which was personified by the brilliance of the man known as the Holy Hand, they had to start from scratch by bringing in the biggest guns from the NBA.
Had he joined the NBA in his prime in the mid-1980’s instead of playing in Europe and with the Brazilian National Team, Schmidt would be a household name today. But had it gone down like that, he wouldn’t be known as the man that forever changed the landscape of international hoops because NBA players, back then, were not allowed to play for Brazil’s national squad.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is known as the greatest scorer in the history of the NBA. But the greatest scorer in the history of the game? That would be Oscar Schmidt.
In America, Schmidt was more of an urban legend in the ’80s. He routinely put up 50-point games in the Italian pro league, considered the best competition outside of the NBA. People had heard about how good he was, but he wasn’t validated in the eyes of many who hadn’t seen him play.
But when his 46-point outburst in the Pan Am Games led Brazil to the Gold Medal, while simultaneously ending Team USA’s 34-game winning streak and delivering their first international loss ever on its home soil, those who witnessed it knew that he was indeed the real deal.
International Pioneer: All-Time Scoring Leader
When he got into a zone, with his size at 6-8 and his mentality, “once he got going, he was one of the toughest guys you would ever want to go up against,” former Seton Hall star and Australian Olympian Andrew Gaze once said. “I think if he came through in a later generation, he would have been very successful in the NBA. But back when he was at his best, there were very few international players. The NBA wasn’t really considering international players the way they are now.”
Schmidt played a huge role in kicking the door open for the 108 players from 42 foreign countries that appeared on opening day NBA rosters in 2019-20.
People may talk about his defensive liabilities as a reason to keep him off of the game’s Mount Rushmore. But he explained his approach to scoring at the expense of exerting great effort on defense by once saying, “Some people, they move the piano. Some people, they play the piano.”
Consider this: Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s career scoring leader with 38,387 points. Over 26 years and across four continents, Schmidt scored 49,737 points. FORTY-NINE THOUZAN’!!!!
Those numbers are beyond garish. In the Serie A Italian league, he regularly busted Joe Jellybean Bryant’s ass in front of his young son, Kobe, who could be found dribbling around and shooting at halftime of games, in addition to playing under the scorer’s table.
“When I was growing up over there, Kobe once said, he was a living legend.
And to this day, when it comes to the legend of Oscar Schmidt, ain’t a damn thing changed.