A couple of days ago, one of my favorite sites, Lex Nihil Novi, had a post about Pistol Pete's retirement. Even though he only spent half a year with the Celtics, Pistol Pete was one of my basketball heroes. I think of him often and wonder what it would be like if he played today. I really think he was way ahead of his time and way ahead of his peers. There never was and never will be another Pistol Pete Maravich. For the many fans who never had the pleasure of watching Pistol Pete, here's my tribute to one of the game's greatest players.
Pistol Pete Maravich would have turned 65 this year if he had lived. Watching him play was always an amazing experience. He finished his career as a Celtic and I was so excited that finally Pete was on my favorite team. Even though he was far being in his prime, he was still such an exciting player. One of the biggest disappointments for me as a fan has always been the fact that Pete retired after that half season with the Celtics. If he had only come back one more season, he would have finally gotten the ring that he wanted so much from the time he first picked up a basketball. I think about Pete every time I hear players today talk about their dedication to the game, but they can not come close to Peter Press Maravich in that area. Pete wasn't just dedicated to basketball. Basketball was his life.
Pete Maravich was the son of Press Maravich who who had been a guard with the Youngstown Bears of the National Basketball League in 1945-46 and with the Pittsburgh Ironmen of the Basketball Association of America in 1946-47. He later went on to coach at Clemson, NC State, and LSU among others. Press had the goal of creating the ultimate basketball player in his son and pushed Pete toward that goal. But, basketball was in Pete's DNA and he inherited his father's love of the game so he didn't need much pushing from his father.
Like many coaches' kids, Pete Maravich was a gym rat growing up. He was obsessed with basketball and practiced almost constantly. Press would have Pete dribble the ball out the window of the car as he drove to improve his control of the basketball. He would dribble 2 1/2 miles to the playground in his hometown of Clemson, South Carolina, and then dribble that same distance back. He would dribble one handed alongside his bicycle when riding. He would dribble while watching movies, switching seats halfway through the movie to get equal work in with both hands. A basketball was his constant companion, even sleeping with one beside him.
Press required Pete to make 100 shots from the free throw line in their driveway every night after dinner before he would be allowed to go to bed. Pete claimed he often made 99 straight before deliberately missing the next several shots just so he could continue playing ball outside. Press claimed that at the age of 11 Pete once succeeded in making 500 consecutive free throws one evening after school, stopping only when it became too dark to see the rim that was illuminated only by a flashlight held by his dad.
After a successful high school career in North Carolina he enrolled at Louisiana State University, where his father was coaching. His first season, he averaged 43.6 points for LSU's Freshman team. Moving up to the varsity team, he set scoring records that still stand to this day. Over his next three seasons he averaged 43.8, 44.2, and 44.5 ppg, respectively, leading the nation in scoring each year. During his senior season he scored 50 or more points in 10 of LSU's 31 games, setting an NCAA record for most points (1,381) and highest scoring average in a single season. Pistol Pete holds nearly every major NCAA scoring record, including most career points (3,667), highest career scoring average (44.2 ppg), most field goals made (1,387) and attempted (3,166), and most career 50-point games (28). And, he set all these records without shooting a 3 pointer as the 3 point shot wasn't introduced until later.
Of all the nicknames in NBA history, The Pistol is right up there at the top. It was in College that he got the name Pistol Pete, based on his unique shooting motion, which began at his hip, like a gunman pulling a pistol from his holster. He became a pop culture icon with his shaggy hair cut and his trademark floppy socks.
For all his personal successes, Pete was often criticized for using too much flair and not having enough substance and although he held virtually every offensive record in the NCAA, his LSU team was a modest 49-35 during his time there. This criticism would follow him throughout his pro career.
In the 1970 draft, Pete was chosen 3rd by the Atlanta Hawks. The veterans on the team resented his $1.9-million contract-a huge amount at the time. He was often called a hot dog and considered more of a freak show than a serious basketball player. When he first came to Atlanta, there were signs in the stands that said "Welcome to Atlanta where Hot dogs cost 1.9 million dollars." Of course, this hurt Pete, but he still played basketball his style. "If I have a choice whether to do the show or throw a straight pass," said Maravich, "and we're going to get the basket either way, I'm going to do the show."
Pistol Pete made an immediate individual impact in his first season. He scored 23.2 ppg, good for ninth in the league, and was named to the NBA All-Rookie Team. However, Atlanta finished 12 games behind their previous season record. Pete's first campaign established the pattern for all of his years with Atlanta: highly entertaining play and big numbers from Pistol Pete, but mediocre seasons and quick playoff exits for the Hawks. His second season he hit the sophomore wall, missing 16 games, and averaged only 19.3 ppg.
In his 3rd season, Pete's numbers improved and he helped the Hawks to a 46-36 record, the only winning season he would experience in his NBA prime. Maravich earned his first All-Star appearance and landed a spot on the All-NBA Second Team by averaging 26.1 ppg. Pete's final year with Atlanta was his highest-scoring NBA season yet, and the Hawks worst season during his time there. He averaged 27.7 ppg but the Hawks dropped to 35-47 and missed the playoffs. Maravich played in his second NBA All-Star Game during the season and scored 15 points in 22 minutes.
The following year, the New Orleans Jazz were beginning their first season in the league and traded with the Hawks to bring Maravich back to Louisiana. In his first season with the Jazz, he worked on rounding out his game but the Jazz finished last in the league with a 23-59 record. Pistol Pete's game peaked over the next couple of years as his skills and showmanship all came together. Still flamboyant, he managed to make his flashy moves not only decorative but also effective. His sleight of hand with the ball and his creative shooting were unbelievable and his delight in the game was plain to see. But his teams still weren't winners.
Over the following years, he gained more respect for his talent as opposed to being a showman, but his big numbers made little difference in the win column for his team. No one ever believed that he gave less than 100%, and he was always entertaining, but the reputation followed him that he was me first and the team second. Some critics remarked that he had developed his game during countless solitary hours in the gym, and that he still played as if he were the only one on the court. He could never quite shake off that criticism.
Pete's career began to go down hill. He missed 32 games in 1977-78 because of a variety of injuries. He would be on the sidelines often throughout the rest of his career. He tore up one knee against Buffalo in typical Pistol Pete style when, instead of just throwing an outlet pass, he jumped into the air to whip a between-the-legs pass down three-quarters of the court. He landed awkwardly and never was the same again. In the 1979-80 season, the Jazz franchise moved to Utah. Although the move marked the start of a winning future for the franchise, it was the beginning of the end for Maravich.
Pete played in only 17 games that season before he was waived by Utah in January of 1980. Five days later he was picked up as a free agent by the Boston Celtics, the top team in the league that year behind rookie forward Larry Bird. On the surface, Maravich was an odd choice for the team-oriented Celtics, but as happened with countless other players, he embraced Celtic Pride and became a team player. He worked himself back into shape and applied his considerable skills to the unfamiliar challenge of serving as a part-time contributor. He averaged 11.5 points in 26 outings for Boston and was still capable of impressive scoring bursts. In one game he scored the final 10 points in a come-from-behind win over the Washington Bullets. During the postseason he managed a modest 6.0 ppg as the Celtics reached the Eastern Conference Finals. In his final season-with his skills rusty, his knees creaky, and his minutes limited-Pistol Pete Maravich finally got a chance to shoot three-pointers for the first time in his career. He went 10-for-15. After the season Maravich retired rather than play another season on painful knees. The next season, the Celtics went on to win the championship.
After leaving basketball in the fall of 1980, Maravich became a recluse for two years. During these years, Pete said that he was searching for life. He tried yoga and Hinduism, and took an interest in studying UFO's. At one time he painted a sign on his roof to attract extraterrestrials. He also explored vegetarianism and macrobiotics. During these years, he also battled depression and drank heavily. In 1982 he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior and it changed his life. He began traveling the country sharing his new found faith in Jesus Christ. He had finally found the peace he had been searching for all his life and that had always eluded him whether on the court or off.
Once a reporter asked a 12-year-old Pete what he wanted to do with his life. He replied, "play pro basketball, get a big diamond ring, and make a million dollars." Pete got his wish to play pro basketball and he made a million dollars, but left the game just one year short of getting the ring he set his heart set on. A few years prior to his death Maravich said, "I want to be remembered as a Christian, a person that serves Him to the utmost. Not as a basketball player."
Years before his death, at the age of 25, Maravich told Pennsylvania reporter, Andy Nuzzo, "I don't want to play 10 years in the NBA and then die of a heart attack at 40." On January 5, 1988, Pete was in California to tape a segment with Dr James Dobson for Focus on the Family. He was playing in a pick up game and collapsed on the court shortly after telling Dr Dobson that he felt great. He died of a heart attack at the age of 40.
Pistol Pete Maravich was one of a kind and there will never be another player like him. He was way ahead of his time and if he were to play today, he would be recognized for his talent and skills instead of being misunderstood as he was back when he played. Every time I see Rondo make his fake pass and then go to the basket, I think of Pistol Pete. If you watch the video below, you'll see that same move. We ooh and aah over moves today but none of them have anything on Pistol Pete. He was an incredible player and there will never be another player like him because no player will ever have the discipline that Pete had to develop his talent.
If you haven't already read them, I highly recommend three books.
Heir to a Dream by Pete Maravich with Darrel Campbell and Frank Schroeder.
Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich by Mark Kriegel
Pete Maravich: The Authorized Biography of Pistol Pete by Wayne Federman, Marshall Terrill and Jackie Maravich
All 3 are must read books for any basketball fan. The books begin with Press Maravich's story and as such, include some fascinating insights into the beginnings of professional basketball and its growth into what we watch today. All three give you a better understanding of Pete as a person and as a player as well as a better understanding of the game of basketball. Pete was truly one of a kind and the world is a much poorer place because he is gone.