Oscar Schmidt is considered one of the greatest all-time basketball players and was inducted into The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013 despite never having played in the NBA.
Although he was selected by the Nets in the sixth round of the 1984 Draft, the brazilian leyend made his National Team top priority because he would have lost his eligibility to represent the country in international competitions.
Born in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil, Schmidt was called “Mao Santa” (Holy Hand) in Portuguese because of his sweet scoring touch and played in his country, as well as Spain and Italy before retiring at the age of 45 in 2003. He also played in five Olympic Games (1980, 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996) and in four World Championships (1978, 1982, 1986 and 1990), among other international and regional tournaments.
Today Schmidt is a motivational speaker and a husband, father and grandfather who loves and shares with his family. Unanimo Sports had the opportunity to interview him from Santana de Parnaiba in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he discussed his beginnings in the sport, his life and feelings for basketball. He also talked about one of his greatest moments: the win against the United States in the final of the Pan American Games in 1987.
Mateo Mayorga: Oscar, what was your first experience playing basketball?
Schmidt: My professor of Physical Education at Salesiano School where I studied was the same coach at Unidade Vizinhança, and one day he said to me, ‘Oscar, I know you don’t like it, but maybe you can go there. Maybe you’ll like this time” (playing basketball).
“Okay, I’ll go there. What day is that?”. Then I went there, and the coach of my category was a guy that made a lot of strange exercises. He put stones on the floor, and I needed to dribble and get the stone. This was terrible. Then he changed the exercise. He put (got) chairs with ropes (on the floor) and I needed to go up and down dribbling the ball. One day I was shooting. (Oscar makes a shooting motion covering his face and recalls a lesson from his Coach).
Miura: Oscar, you see the basket?
Miura: Put the ball up. (Oscar lifts his shooting motion above his head)
Schmidt: Ahh now I see.
Miura: Shoot like that
Schmidt: I can’t shoot like that because I won’t make anyone
He said the most important phrase of my career. ‘Start good (so) that one day you score a lot’. This guy was Japanese. I play(ed) with him many games for the adult (team) of Unidade Vizinhança. Then it was like this that I started basketball.
Oscar, the first professional club you played for was Palmeiras in 1974. Can you describe your emotions in your first game?
Schmidt: I was really emotional because never played a game like that. I was alone in São Paulo. My parents stayed in Brasilia. It was good it was very emotional and we won and were Champions of the Paulistano Tournament. Then I won every game of my category and start to play in the adult (league) of Palmeiras. Then my career goes… (Oscar points to the ceiling)
Do you remember how much you scored in your first game?
I don’t remember but it was many. I was a pivot.
Oscar, a moment ago you mentioned your Coach that helped you improve your jump shot. How long did it take you to get comfortable with your new mechanics?
I remember I would go every day (gym) to shoot by myself because I was disciplined. My father was from the Navy and I learned with him to be disciplined. I don’t remember.
Looking ahead Oscar, I’d like to go to the Pan American games of 1987. In the Championship round, Brazil was down 14 points to Team USA. You only had 11 points in the first half. What was the locker room like?
We were okay because we had experience one year before with the United States at the World Cup in Spain. We played the semi-final against the U.S. and they were ahead by 26 because we think ‘let’s play zone, Americans don’t shoot’, and then comes Steve Kerr. I never saw this guy. He hits like six in a row. (Oscar chuckles). 7We had the ball to go to three points, from 26 to three, but we miss. The effort was too high. So we were (down) 14. Let’s go…
Oscar, in the next half, you had 35 of your 46 points and you once said that Team USA did a very good job of denying you the ball. What exactly did you do differently because they couldn’t stop you?
They fell in our trap. We started to defy them. ‘Shoot now, you’re free.’ They miss and we went to the other side and hit (shots). (The score) It was 120, not like 70 (points) because we run, run, run and they start to run.
To clarify, Oscar. The Brazilian team was talking trash to Team USA?
Oscar, as a man who played for so long, you played until you were 45, can you describe how hard it is on the body to prepare for a season of athletics once you’ve passed 40 years of age?
Oh it’s tough. The guy who said that sports is good for health never played sports. It’s real tough. I hurt my body all the way because I go 100% everyday shooting after practice at least 500. I was very much disciplined. I built my shot with practice.
Is practice the secret to playing for so long at an elite level or is there something else to it?
Practice is all. If you practice you play good if you don’t practice you don’t play good. That’s my philosophy.
Oscar, the last club you played for was Flamengo, the most popular team in the country (Brazil). What were your emotions playing in your last game?
It was different because I know tomorrow I won’t practice. It’s tough when you (spend) your whole life practicing everyday, thinking about the tournament with the national team, the tournament with your team (club). Suddenly I don’t play anymore. It’s tough, real tough. When people say that great players die twice, it’s true.
When you entered the Hall of Fame, you stood at the podium and had a moment of silence. You told everyone you always wanted to do that. Why?
I always dream to do that but then I forget about it. One day FIBA (rep) calls me and I was in Orlando driving and he says ‘you went in the Hall of Fame’. I needed to stop the car. Even if it was on speaker I could hit the car. I became nervous with that award.
Oscar, I’d like to touch on your personal life. Did basketball for so long complicate your life at home?
No. My wife, we met each other at 17. I was very badly hurt, my ankle, and I lived in Republica where many people live. We had a house with eight players from Palmeiras. Then I stayed in front of the house making exercises for my foot and then she passes. ‘Wow! Who is she?’. She came to live in front of my house.
She didn’t look because she knows that there was eight adults, basketball players. Her mother tells her, ‘Don’t look there! It’s all basketball players. Don’t look there!’. She doesn’t look, but we get on the same bus to go to school. I was very badly hurt. It’s very tough to go on the bus (with a cast). The guys in the bus, the driver and the guy who gets the tickets remember because I was always at the same bus stop. And when I was there, ‘Stop stop, let’s help him come.’ Then Christina also helped me get on the bus.
So I take off the cast and start to play alone. My foot hurt, it got swollen a lot because when you get something like this, you cannot practice with your team. It’s very dangerous. Then I practiced alone. Practice alone is hard. It’s good just if you score because the ball comes to my hand again. But if you miss, mama. Doong, doong, doong, doong, doong (sound of ball hitting the rim and rolling elsewhere). It’s tough.
One day I told Christina, ‘I stay there alone, I don’t talk to anybody. You could go there to have a talk. If you want to pass me the ball, I’m very thankful. (Oscar laughs) I remember she came first day and her arms hurt. She’d never did that. Second day, one week, one month and I say, ‘Wow, I am going to marry this girl. And she was my rebounding machine my whole life. (Oscar laughs)
Oscar, what is your life like today?
I start to make motivational speeches. I didn’t know I could make them. And it’s doing good, but this year, I made just a few online and it’s not the same as going to see people with your eyes. That’s my profession today.
I also want to touch on your perspective of basketball. How much of the NBA do you watch today?
I watch everyday. Everyday there’s a game. I like the games of the Lakers, Warriors, Nets and the Suns.
Is there a player today in the NBA or anywhere else that reminds you of yourself?
I don’t like to make comparisons. When people compare me with other guys, I hate that. I don’t see anybody.
Of the teams you mentioned that interest you the most, who do you like to watch the most?
The best player I ever saw play was a white guy (Larry Bird). This guy is tough. No one could guard him. (Oscar laughs)
Today who is your favorite? We live in a different era, there’s LeBron James, Kevin Durant.
Schmidt: There is a lot of players. I like to see good players playing. These four teams, a lot of very good players.
Oscar, for our younger viewers out there, why didn’t you play in the NBA?
Because it was forbidden (for NBA players) to play for the national team. They drafted me in the sixth round (1984), come on man. I got offended. Then I went there just to show them what they will lose. I arrived there and said to the Coach, ‘Hey Coach, here’s one point a minute. If you give me 20 minutes I give you 20 points. If you give me more than 30 you can see 60.’
The guy looked at me like this (with shock). It was two weeks. One week of practice, one week with five games. They gave me 25 minutes a game, I gave them 25 points a game. They came to offer me a no cut contract. That was unbelievably good because they don’t believe people outside the United States could play basketball. I refused immediately. Why did I refuse? I just wanted to see if I was capable, and now I know that I am capable. That’s the reason.
You once said that if you played in the NBA, in your day you would have retired top 10 all-time.
Basketball is all the same anywhere. In Europe, for a foreign player it’s tough. People want to hit me everyday. I could play anywhere.
You mentioned the physicality of the game. If you were to hypothetically be in your prime today. The game is not as physical in the NBA. What kind of work could Oscar Schmidt do today?
I will shoot like always. My three-point shot was tough because I practiced every day that shot.
Your release point was so high.
Yea. Practice. Score. (Oscar laughs)
Oscar, the last thing I have for you. Do you have goals that you need to accomplish?
Schmidt: I want to be a better father and grandfather for my kids. I have two kids, one boy and one girl. The girl is now married. and I put the pressure on to have a grandkid and they bought a dog. I want to be a great parent and great grandparent.