THE 1987 PAN AMERICAN GAMES : Men From Brazil Shock United States in Basketball Final

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

The din of the raucous celebration by the Brazilian basketball team and its fiery little band of flag-waving supporters had not fully subsided before Americans were wondering if maybe the United States should use Magic Johnson and Larry Bird the next time out.

Oscar Schmidt, who had scored 46 quick and easy points to help Brazil win the Pan American Games gold medal Sunday, held his hands in front of his face in mock horror.

He recognized those names and wanted no part of that action. Schmidt and his Brazilian national team had enough trouble beating David Robinson of Navy and Danny Manning of Kansas and Pooh Richardson of UCLA.


As a crowd of 16,408 at Market Square Arena watched, first in frenzy and, finally, in quiet disbelief, Brazil rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to win, 120-115.

The United States had to settle for a silver medal--after first witnessing an amazing outpouring of emotion from the Brazilians. Schmidt threw himself to the floor underneath the U.S. basket as the buzzer sounded, finally rolling in the embrace of several teammates.

One player hopped up onto a press table at courtside to wave a Brazilian flag in front of fans who were singing, of all things, a Brazilian soccer song. In the chaos, he fell from the table but made a quick recovery, circling the court and waving the flag.

The upset brought the 34-game U.S. winning streak in the Pan Am Games to an end. The United States had won the gold medal every year since ‘71--when Brazil won it.

And after winning the previous games in this competition by an average of 25 points, the U.S. team seemed a cinch for another one.

Marcel Souza, who added 31 points for Brazil, admitted flat out: “The United States was the best team in the championship. We tell them that before the game to try to put pressure on them. We say, ‘We know you are the best.’


“But they have to have the mentality to win. We just won one game.”

That probably wouldn’t have happened if the U.S. team had taken the court with Magic and Bird, and maybe Michael Jordan.

U.S. Coach Denny Crum wasn’t ready to lobby for that. “Our professionals against the other professionals in the world would not be much of a contest. What the (national) organizing committee wants to do, I don’t know.

“But I do think that our college players are competitive with the rest of the world.”

And the college underclassmen who had a solid lead at the half of this Pan Am final would have prevailed if they had played some defense in the second half and if their three-point shots had been dropping the way Schmidt’s three-point shots were dropping.

Schmidt was sinking three-pointers at will (7 for 15) and even picking up fouls from that range. Schmidt made 13 of 15 free throws along the way.

Schmidt, a 6-foot 8 1/2-inch forward, is a pro. He’s 29 years old and has been playing in Italy for the last five years while holding his spot on Brazil’s national team.

In fact, he had a chance to play in the National Basketball Assn. when he was drafted by the New Jersey Nets in 1984, but he turned it down.

“I was drafted in the sixth round, 140-something,” Schmidt said. “They offered me a one-year guaranteed contract, but I thought no.

“Playing in the NBA, you need to be a star or they get tired of you and send you to another part of the country.

“I like more playing with friends.”

Like Souza, for example. He’s 30 years old and he, too, has been playing in Italy and for the Brazilian national team for 14 years.

This U.S. team has been together since July 20. It had three weeks of practice together and played three exhibition games before starting Pan Am competition.

Crum said: “I don’t think we can say we had any problem playing together. In every game we played we had more assists than our opponent. . . . We had only six turnovers. . . . We just didn’t get the ball in the basket with the consistency that they did. We’re a much better shooting team than we showed tonight.”

Especially down the stretch, when three-pointers are needed. Rex Chapman could not get a three-point shot to drop. He went 1 for 7 from behind the red line.

And it didn’t help that Robinson was on the bench so much. He had three fouls at the end of the half, so Crum was trying to save him. And then he picked up his fourth with 6:04 left in the game on a technical for hanging on the rim after a dunk.

But by that time, Brazil was already in control. Brazil had come from behind to take an 89-83 lead in a spurt midway through the second half when Schmidt started dropping in three-pointers like he was alone on the playground.

Schmidt, who scored 53 points against Mexico in an earlier game here and who has scored as many as 60 in a game before, said that he often practices sinking the long shots. “My wife would go to practice and throw the ball back to me 500 times, a thousand times. That’s why I marry her.”