Basketball is arguably the second-most popular sport in the world, trailing only soccer. The number of foreign-born players in the NBA has risen dramatically since 1992 when the Dream Team took the sport into a different stratosphere.
One of the sport’s greatest international stars is Brazil’s Oscar Schmidt. Oscar is one of 12 new members of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, a class that includes Gary Payton, Bernard King, Jerry Tarkanian and Rick Pitino. Even though Oscar never played a minute in the NBA the Hall of Fame committee still acknowledged his greatness with his induction to hoops heaven in Springfield, Mass.
Where does Oscar rank among the all-time greats? OneManFastBreak.net compiled a list of the 10 greatest professional players who never played in the NBA. The list only includes pros and, as much as we would like to include playground legends such as Raymond Lewis, Earl “The Goat” Manigault, Joe Hammond and Pee Wee Kirkland, they don’t qualify because they never played professionally.
In no particular order, here are the 10 best player who never made it to the NBA:
Carlos “Caloy” Loyzaga
If you review the history of basketball in the Philippines, Loyzaga would take up 2-3 chapters. He was a two-time Olympian and considered one of the most dominant players in the world during the 1950s and ’60s. He almost single-handedly turned the Philippines into a basketball power. He led his squad to four consecutive Asian Games gold medals and two consecutive FIBA Asia Championships. Loyzaga’s finest moment came in the 1954 FIBA World Championship where he led the Philippines to a third-place finish and captured the bronze medal in the process. It is the best finish by an Asian country in the World Cup of Basketball. Loyzaga finished as the tournament’s third-best scorer with a 16.4 points-per-game average and named to the tournament’s All-Star Mythical Five selection. Loyzaga retired in 1964 following a distinguished 15-year career. He currently lives with his family in Australia, where he is also a citizen. He comes home to the Philippines every once in a while but generally stays out of the local spotlight.
Before Yao Ming there was Mu Tiezhu. Nicknamed the “Great Wall of China,” Mu stood 7-5 and could dunk a ball without jumping. He’s highly responsible for the development of basketball in China and Yao looked up to him. Mu was part of the Bayi basketball team that beat the NBA champions Washington Bullets twice in 1978. He would have been drafted in 1972, but no team would engage in talks with a player from communist China at the time. He died of a heart attack in Beijing in 2008. He was 59.
Juan Antonio San Epifanio Ruiz
The man known to his fans as “Epi” was a superb scorer with an outstanding work ethic. He is among the most beloved players in Barcelona history. He was chosen as one of the 50 greatest contributors to European club competitions in 2008. Epi joined Barcelona’s first team in 1977 and remained there for 18 straight seasons. He was widely considered one of the best players of the 1980s and became a Spanish basketball icon. He also played more games for the Spanish national team (239) than anyone in history, winning the silver medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and a pair of Eurobasket medals (silver in 1983 and bronze in 1991). At the end of his legendary career, Epi became the first Barcelona player to have his jersey retired.
Caidic is probably the most cold-blooded shooter the Philippines has ever produced. The sharpshooting left-hander holds the record for most points scored in a Philippine Basketball Association game (79), most 3-point shots made in a game (17), most points in a half (53), and most points in a quarter (37). He did all this ion Nov. 21, 1991. Caidic wasn’t just the Philippines’ best 3-ball shooter. He was arguably the best shooter in Asia and one of the best to play for the Philippines internationally. He is a four-time veteran of the Asian Games (1986, 1990, 1994, 1998) and a two-time William Jones Cup champion (1985, 1998). Caidic gets the nod over PBA legends Robert Jaworski, Alvin Patrimonio, and Ramon Fernandez mainly because Caidic can fit and play in any system. Jaworski was brilliant as a point guard in the Philippines, but he would struggle against quicker pro point guards. Patrimonio and Fernandez were low-post players in the PBA, but against bigger and stronger forwards and centers they would be eaten alive. Caidic helped the Philippines capture titles in the Southeast Asian Games and FIBA Asia Championship in 1985. In 2010, at the age of 47, Caidic scored 54 points in an exhibition game that featured NBA superstars Glen Rice, Gary Payton, Mitch Richmond, and Chris Webber. Watch and marvel at his shooting prowess:
Haynes played with the famed Harlem Globetrotters from 1947-53. Many consider him as the premier ballhandler in the history of the game, influencing players such as Bob Cousy, Pete Maravich, and Fred “Curly” Neal (another Globetrotter). Haynes once turned down a $35,000 a year offer from the Philadelphia Warriors that would have made him the second-highest paid player in the NBA, to found his own barnstorming team, the Harlem Magicians. He kept playing with the Magicians until he was over 60 years old. Legend has it that he could dribble a ball six times in one second. He retired in 1992 after a 46-year professional career, and was inducted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998.
This Greek legend is widely considered the best Euroleague point guard ever, ahead of Lithuanian icon Sarunas Jasikevicius. At 6 foot 5 Diamantidis could also play the shooting guard position, and played point-forward for the Greek national team. He played 39 of the 40 minutes in Greece’s monumental upset of the United States in the 2006 World Championship semifinal. That USA team had LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony. Diamantidis was a two-time Euroleague Final Four MVP and five-time MVP of the Greek league. He was Euroleague Defender of the Year six times and regarded as the best European perimeter defender of all time.
Dalipagić was selected the best athlete of Yugoslavia in 1978, and one of the most decorated athletes in Yugoslavian history. He was named one of 50 greatest players in FIBA history in 1991. Dalipagić was enshrined into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 2004. He was a member of the Yugoslavian national team that captured a gold medal in the 1978 FIBA World Championships in Manila. Two years later, Dalipagić and Yugoslavia won the gold medal in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. He won a silver medal in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal and bronze at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. He turned down NBA teams to keep on playing in his native country. He opened the door for other great Serbian and Croatian players such as Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc, and Drazen Petrovic.
This Serbian superstar was an all-around player who loved to take crucial shots and was amazing passer for a 6-9 forward. He was named the MVP of the FIBA World Championship in 1998 and four years later he was a key member of the Yugoslavian national team that knocked out the U.S. in the quarterfinals of the FIBA World Championships in Indianapolis. If you go back and look at footage of that game, Bodiroga repeatedly beat Ben Wallace — a four-time defensive player of the year in the NBA — off the dribble. Bodiroga ushered in the new century by lifting three Euroleague trophies with two different teams. He starred for the 2000 Euroleague champs of Panathinaikos and then was named MVP when the Greens won again in 2002. He went to Barcelona the next year and ended that club’s Euroleague title drought, repeating as Final Four MVP. Along the way, Bodiroga became the first player to win domestic titles in Spain, Italy and Greece, and added Saporta Cup and Korac Cup crowns.
The Russian legend was famous for scoring the game-winning basket in the infamous 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, a game that changed basketball forever. It was the first time the United States had lost in the Olympics and to this day Americans on that ’72 squad, including NBA legend Doug Collins, have yet to pick up their silver medals. Belov was Russia’s flag bearer at the 1980 Olympics and inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992. He was named the best FIBA player ever in 1991, MVP of Euro Basket in 1969, World Cup MVP in 1970, and a three-time Euroleague MVP. Belov was a shutdown defender, fantastic ballhandler with great court awareness, and considered by many as the best Russian player ever.
Could Schmidt have played in the NBA? Absolutely. He is arguably one of the greatest shooters of all time and had the confidence to go with his incredible stroke. You don’t get the name “Mao Santa” a.k.a.”The Holy Hand” for nothing. The Brazilian legend played for 26 years (1974–2003) scoring a total of 49,703 points, about 11,000 more than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He also scored the most points in Olympic history with 55 points against Spain in 1988. Oscar had plenty of chances to play in the NBA, but instead chose to stay an amateur so he would be eligible to play for the Brazilian national team. In the 1987 Pan-American Games against a U.S. squad that featured David Robinson, Danny Manning, Pervis Ellison and Dan Majerle, Oscar netted 46 points to lead Brazil to a 120-115 win and the gold medal. To get an idea on how good Oscar was during his prime years, just ask Kobe Bryant. While living in Italy with his dad Joe Bryant from 1984-91 Kobe saw Oscar dominate the Italian league, winning seven scoring titles. Kobe considers Oscar one of his basketball idols. “I grew up watching him play against my dad,” Bryant said. “I used to call him La Bomba. He has always been a legend that I respected.”
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.