The one who got away: Oscar Schmidt, Nets first international draft pick, elected to Hall of Fame

Sérgio Savarese (Creative Commons)

When word came Friday that Brazilian hoops legend Oscar Schmidt had been elected to the Hall of Fame, we thought we'd take a look back at how the 6'8" gunner deluxe fit into Nets history ... as the one who got away.

No NBA team has more of a pioneering past in international basketball than the Nets. Mikhail Prokhorov the first international owner of an NBA team, and Drazen Petrovic the first international player to make the All-NBA team. Less known is that Schmidt was the first international player taken in the NBA Draft ... by the Nets.

Schmidt shot so well his nickname in Brazil was "Mao Santa" or "Holy Hand." He was drafted by the Nets in 1984 when he was 26. He was the first foreign player ever drafted, taken with the 15th pick in the sixth round. (That was the same draft that produced four other Hall of Famers: Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and John Stockton.)

Could he have played in the NBA? Three years later, in the gold-medal match of the 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis, Schmidt proved the Nets right. Team USA, made up of college players including David Robinson and Danny Manning, along with several other future NBA players, played Brazil. Brazil faced a 68-54 halftime deficit. Schmidt almost single-handedly led Brazil to a stunning comeback, finishing with 46 points in a 120-115 loss.

Five years after that, at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the one dominated by the Dream Team, he averaged an astounding 42.3 points a game.

Why didn’t he play for the Nets? It wasn't for lack of trying. They would make regular overtures, but Schmidt would always decline. Back then, a contract with the NBA meant an end to a player's "amateur" status while a contract with a "club team" in Brazil or Europe would not. Schmidt loved playing for the Brazilian National Team, representing his country in five Olympics (’80, ’84, ’88, ’92, and ’96). In 38 career Olympic basketball games, Schmidt scored 1,093 points for a record 28.8 points per game average, including that 42.3 in Barcelona

He may not have made it to the NBA or the Nets, but no matter, he like Petrovic, is now in the Basketball Hall of Fame. The two, in fact, faced off in a classic Euroleague championship game in 1989. In that contest, Schmidt scored 44 and Petrovic 62.

Just imagine what that 1984-85 Net team would have been like with Schmidt, Michael Ray Richardson, Buck Williams, Darryl Dawkins, Mike Gminski, etc. Oh well.

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