Talking simply talent on the basketball court, I’m not sure a human has ever been better in his era. Regarding his play in the NBA, his is a tragic story filled with disappointment and obstacles he could hardly overcome. But if any of the modern players people love so much (MJ, Kobe or LeBron) had to face the same challenges, they would not have fared as well.
I was lucky enough to stumble upon “Pistol, The Life of Pete Maravich” by Mark Kriegel at a Barnes & Noble and decided to buy it. I had seen the movie, but didn’t know much else about the goofy-looking white boy who was a basketball genius. (Being a goofy-looking white boy myself, I was even more interested)
I read the book quickly. I couldn’t put it down, except to pause and think about how incredible the stuff I was reading really was. I even caught myself saying “wow” out loud on occasion. I won’t spoil it for you if you decide to read, but the “wow’s” turn to “bummer’s” towards the end of the book. Also, at the very end is the most incredible thing about his life, and I will let you know if you message me, but again, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.
When Pete was around 8, his dad, Press Maravich, a basketball coach, invited John Wooden into their home to show off what Pete could do. Pete put on a dribbling exhibition for the future HOFer and Coach Wooded said it was the most impressive dribbling he had ever seen. Not just by a kid, but ever.
In junior high, Pete accepted the famous bet that he could not spin a basketball on his fingers for an hour. Try to remember how big your fingers were then, I know mine could not have handled he pressure. Neither did Pete’s. After half an hour, the skin on his finger started to crack and bleed. His opponent was all but counting his winnings when Pete calmly switched the ball to a different finger like it was no big deal. By the end of the hour, he spun the ball easily on every finger on both hands and won the bet, leaving jaws hanging open.
Throughout high school, his dad would bring him to college-level practices and Pete would dominate the competition. He would make an NCAA player look foolish before he even had a driver’s license. There are even more famous stories I could share about this time, but I want to get to his college and NBA career.
His first year of college was spent on the freshman team because player’s could only play on the Varsity for three years. The small gym at LSU would be packed to see the Pistol and every game, hundreds of fans would get turned away because the gym was too full. However, after the freshman game ended, and the Varsity team took the floor, the gym would clear out.
During his three seasons on the Varsity team, he dominated. No other word sums it up quite as well. He averaged 44.2 points per game. AVERAGED! Compare that to the second best player of that time, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar (before he was Kareem, of course) who averaged 26.4 points per game over his three-year career. And Kareem was a 7-footer in a time when there were few great big men. And, there was no three-point line for Pete to ‘pad’ his stats.
Players who tried to defend Pistol often admitted after the game that they would catch themselves just watching in amazement at what he could do with the basketball. Maybe that’s how he scored so much.
LSU stills plays basketball in an arena built off the success of one player. The Pete Maravich Assembly Center is a reminder that no one will ever be as good as he was in college.
On to the professional level where most of the hating arises. Although, one more interesting side note. When a teacher asked a young Pete in grade school what he wanted to do, he said he would be the first person to make a million bucks playing basketball. She laughed in his face. Wouldn’t you know, Pete was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks and signed to a 1.6 million dollar contract. Boo-ya teachers who crush dreams!
Despite being on a horrendous team, he averaged 23.2 ppg and was named to the All-Rookie team. Kobe didn’t average that many points is a season until his FIFTH year in the league. The Biography gets into specifics about troubles he had with teammates, particularly the black guys on the team who decided not to pass him the ball, but that is something that is probably more speculation than fact. I’ll let you decide if you read the book.
He suffered countless injuries and had chronic knee problems. For a guy who made a living off using his legs to explode past guys then slam on the brakes, I would imagine it was pretty rough. His career was a constant disappointment. If he tried to recover, the owners were upset because people wanted to pay to see the Pistol. If he played while hurt, he was lack-luster and only made his injuries worse.
His biggest regret was never winning a title and sadly, retired from the Celtics one season before a young star named Bird would take Boston to the promised land.
Throughout all his troubles, Pete Maravich still proved his greatness. He averaged 24.2 ppg over his career (16th all-time), including a 68-point blowout to show everyone what could have been. He was an All-Star five times and All-NBA First Team twice and Second Team twice. He also led the league in scoring with a 31.1 average in the 76-77 season.
To say Pete should not be considered in the Top 50 or 100 is a travesty and a sin against basketball. He accomplished all this while battling alcoholism, an over-bearing father who was also his closest friend, a mother who committed suicide and a plethora of other personal problems. Again, I will not spoil the best part and I strongly urge you to pick up the book, but send me a message or look up how he died and that will be the best proof that he was amazing.