SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — He has a personality that splashes everywhere and a big laugh to match. Not quite a Magic Johnson shakes-the-walls laugh, but not far off either.
Except that Oscar Schmidt is being serious now.
He said he would have been one of the 10 best players in the NBA if the basketball world had been different in the 1970s and ‘80s, and he came to the United States. And not one of the 10 best in the league. One of the 10 best ever,
“Yes,” Schmidt said. “Anytime. It was easier, because in the NBA at that time it was one-on-one, always. One-on-one, I’m free. If it comes to two players guarding me, maybe.”
Insert big laugh.
“I would be one of the best 10 ever.”
Schmidt officially enters the Hall of Fame on Sunday afternoon via the International committee as a Brazilian great who played in five Olympics, led the shocking upset of the United States in the title game of the 1987 Pan-American Games in Indianapolis, could score on anybody, and also starred in Italy. But the closest Schmidt got to the NBA was when the Nets drafted him in the sixth round in 1984.
Signing with the NBA at that time would have meant being ineligible for the national team, and Schmidt was not willing to make that tradeoff. The Nets pursued him three years in a row, he said, but no way. After the rules were changed to allow the Dream Team to play in the 1992 Olympics, sure, except that Schmidt was 34 by the time of the historic Barcelona Games. It would be different under the current rules.
“Give me two months of practice, I kill everybody else,” he said Saturday at the Hall of Fame, the day before the induction ceremony.
Another big laugh.
“There was not a price [the Nets could have offered]. There was national team. That’s it. The national team doesn’t have a price. It’s proud. It’s what you live for. And today, people don’t like to play for the national team. That’s very sad for me.”
Schmidt was a 6-foot-9 scoring machine at small forward in the Larry Bird mold, able to shred defenses without beating many opponents in a race or a jumping contest. He could shoot and he was smart. Perfect, then, that Larry Bird agreed to be his presenter Sunday afternoon at Symphony Hall.
Schmidt was asked what he would have averaged in the NBA and said, “One point a minute. Twenty minutes, 20 points. Forty minutes, maybe 60.”
C’mon. Get serious.
“Did you see me play?” Schmidt fired back.
But a point a minute?
“One point a minute at least,” he said. “Do you know how many hours I practiced a day.”
Eight, he answered.
Schmidt will not soften his answer. With a different set of eligibility rules, he would have been one of the all-time NBA greats, and that’s that. To him, there is no debate. There certainly is no big laugh about that.