Defining Greatness Without Being the Best

Oscar Schimdt and Andrew Gaze defined greatness
ATLANTA, UNITED STATES: Brazilian basketball captain Oscar Schmidt (L) trains with assistant coach Carlos Rodrigues during a practice session at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia 19 July. Schmidt is participating in his fifth Olympics. AFP PHOTO/Romeo GACAD (Photo credit should read ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Defining greatness is a hard thing to do. There really is a difference between being the best basketball player, and being a great basketball player. That’s something that a lot of basketball fans, and sports fans in general, don’t understand. It’s the difference between judging by stats, and the ever so “reliable” eye test. Hard evidence versus conjured up thoughts and theories. When accolades and skill, pale to parity. Being the best doesn’t necessarily make you great, but the legacy you leave behind, as Oscar Schmidt and Andrew Gaze have shown.

Players That Defined Greatness, While Not Necessarily Being the Best

The Highest Scoring Professional Basketball Player Period

Oscar Schmidt is a famed name in basketball. Perhaps he is most notable for being maybe one of the greatest basketball players to never play in the NBA.

With the NBA typically being the hotbed for talent, the player with the most professional basketball points ever never even played in the NBA. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was able to score 38,387 points in his career. This pales in comparison to the 49,737 points Oscar Schmidt was able to score during his career. This total counts Schmidt’s Olympic scoring, which even when disregarded still leaves him 1300 points above Abdul-Jabbar’s total.

The only “knock” on Schmidt’s career would be that he didn’t play in the NBA. For as great as his professional stats look, he kept himself to the highest basketball tiers of Brazil and Italy. Schmidt was able to thrive in international competition. While at the Olympics, Schmidt averaged 28.8 points per game. Schmidt’s Olympic career would span five Olympics, of which he was the leading scorer of three straight. Schmidt’s Olympic career was no doubt great. He retired as the all-time Olympic leading scorer but has no medals to show for it.

His ability to play basketball and his affinity for scoring can’t be doubted. What stopped Schmidt from being mentioned amongst the best shooting guards or small forwards of all time discussions was only playing non-NBA and international basketball. He could have been but never showcasing it against the best possible talent season-to-season, leaves him out of those discussions. Oscar Schmidt’s accomplishments across all forms of the game, which paved the way for him to being inducted into the FIBA and Basketball Hall of Fames as well as an Olympic Order and a place on the ‘FIBA’s 50 Greatest Players’ list in 1991, definitely save his place as an all-time great.

Australia’s Finest

Andrew Gaze is a name very few people outside of Australian basketball fans to know. He is one of the greatest players Australia has ever produced and left a lasting impact on the Australian professional basketball scene. Not only was he able to produce at a domestic level, but Gaze was also great at the international level.

Like Oscar Schmidt above, Andrew Gaze left his mark both on the domestic professional scene in Australia and on the international stage. Gaze attended five Olympic Games, becoming the third basketball player to do so. Gaze finished his Olympic career with 789 points, second only to Oscar Schmidt on the Olympic stage. The Olympic stage wasn’t the only international stage that Gaze was producing at. Gaze was a great scorer on the FIBA stage as well, once again finishing his career second all-time on the highest scorers list, conceding first once again to Oscar Schmidt. Like Oscar Schmidt above, through his level of international play, Gaze found his way on to the ‘FIBA’s 50 Greatest Players’ list in 1991. Parlaying the most impactful Australian play scoring-wise into international recognition.

The international stage isn’t the stage that Gaze left the largest and longest-lasting impact though. His impact is still felt today for the domestic level of professional basketball in Australia, the NBL (National Basketball League). Gaze was a force on the domestic level. Playing in the NBL for 20 years, Gaze racked up accomplishments. He won seven MVP awards, while also being voted All-NBL First Team a record 15 times.  The strangest thing about this huge success that Gaze had was it was all completely almost only personal as Gaze finished his career with only two NBL Championship trophies.

Greatness Is the Legacy

Being mentioned as the best of all time definitely isn’t something that will happen to Oscar Schmidt and Andrew Gaze. At least when it comes to discussions about the best players at their positions as those discussions tend to lean towards those who were successful in the NBA. That’s absolutely fine too as those discussions don’t detract from the greatness left behind by Schmidt and Gaze.

Gaze’s impact on Australian Basketball is still greatly felt to this day with the MVP award for the NBL being the ‘Andrew Gaze Trophy’ and the award for Australian International Player of the year winning the ‘Gaze Medal’, named for Andrew Gaze and his father Lindsay Gaze. Schmidt has left his mark as quite possibly the most notable basketball talent to skip on the NBA. Schmidt deserves all the accolades he accrued throughout his career, and he also goes down as the most prolific international scorer ever.

While both had minimal to no success with the NBA, (Gaze managed to win a title with the San Antonio Spurs in 1999) this doesn’t detract from the impact Oscar Schmidt and Andrew Gaze both left on the levels they played basketball at. That is defining greatness.

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