At age 45, Oscar Daniel Bezerra Schmidt, a.k.a. Oscar, the Brazilian basketball star whose defense-free approach to the game, and conscience-free approach to launching shots, fixed in the American mind one of the earliest images of the international player.
Well before the foreign invasion of the past decade transformed the NBA, Oscar led his national team to its most renowned victory, scoring 46 points in Brazil's 120-115 Pan Am Games upset of the U.S in 1987. "He had the most grooved three-point shot you ever saw," says Dan Peterson, who coached against Oscar in the Italian leagues. In nine seasons in Italy, Oscar sank 46.4% of his three-point attempts and left in 1993 as Italian basketball's alltime leading scorer. "He was a lot like Larry Bird," says Peterson. "He had this beautiful understanding of the pivot foot and reading his defender." To Brazilians it hardly mattered that national team coach Ari Vidal was once reduced to offering him chocolate to get him to play defense.
The man known as m�o santa, the Holy Hand, never played NBA ball. He was drafted by the Nets in the sixth round in 1984 but turned down their offer of the league-minimum $75,000, since he was making triple that in Italy. By the time he moved to the Spanish league and then back home to close out his club career (he averaged 33.1 points in his final season), two Italian teams, Caserta and Pavia, had retired his jersey. In Brazil they'd like to bronze his right hand. "Some of us are piano movers," Marcel Souza, Oscar's sidekick on that Brazilian Pan Am team, said in 1987, "and some of us are piano players."