Pistol Pete Maravich: The Ultimate Showman And Basketball’s First Star

in Sports Athletes

Pistol Pete Maravich

Pistol Pete Maravich Fair Use

Basketball is a game that, when played well, requires enormous skill. Great players appear to make everything look simple and easy. Intricate dribbling, great shooting and two-handed reverse dunks are explained by tremendous talent and great genetics. Pistol Pete Maravich epitomised this.

However, the truth is that all good players put in a tremendous amount of time developing these aspects of their game. This was especially true of ’Pistol’ Pete Maravich, basketball’s first superstar, and the ultimate showman.

When he graced the basketball court the ball seemed to become an extension of his hands. In a time where complicated moves were actively discouraged, Pistol Pete Maravich broke the mould. Reverse, behind-the-back passes were his forte and seemingly every shot took upon an air of dramatic disbelief.

Pistol Pete Maravich Playing For The New Orleans Jazz Fair Use Pistol Pete Maravich Playing For The New Orleans Jazz Fair Use

‘Pistol’ Pete The Showman

In truth, Pistol Pete Maravich introduced basketball fans to real-life drama. Pete straddled two worlds, the old world of basketball as a pure sporting endeavour and the newer world of professionalism where basketball was not merely sport but also entertainment. Pistol Pete attracted a huge following becoming the game’s first true superstar. For this reason alone, Pete Maravich epitomised the future direction of all sports.

Early Life

Pete Maravich was born in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, on June 22, 1947, to Helen and Press Maravich.

Press had been a guard with the Youngstown Bears and Pittsburgh Ironmen and would go on to become a professional coach. Under his father, Pete learned the fundamentals of basketball. However, under Press, Pete would also take with him unwanted emotional baggage.

A dedicated player, Pistol Pete Maravich spent long hours practicing on his own. As a result, he developed incredible ball control, shooting skills and passing ability.

Downtown Aliquippa Pennsylvania Hometown Of Pistol Pete Maravich Photo By Mvincec Downtown Aliquippa Pennsylvania Hometown Of Pistol Pete Maravich Photo By Mvincec

High School Basketball

Pete went to Daniel High School in South Carolina. It was at Daniel that he earned the nickname ‘Pistol’ because of his style of shooting. He threw the ball from his hip resembling a gun-slinger.

During his stay at Daniel High School, Pete participated in Daniel’s first basketball game against an all-black school.

However, Pete Maravich left Daniel moving to Needham B. Broughton High School as a consequence of his father joining the coaching staff at North Carolina State.

College Basketball And Unmatched NCAA Records

At Louisiana State University, Pistol Pete Maravich would go down in NCAA history as college basketball’s greatest shooter.

Unable to play as a first-year student under NCAA rules, Maravich during the 1966-67 season scored 43.6 points for the freshers. Finally allowed to play for the senior team, Maravich would go on to break virtually every scoring record in the NCAA. He averaged 43.8, 44.2 and 44.5 points per game in his final three seasons.

Pistol Pete Maravich attracted huge crowds throughout his college career. Known for his flamboyant plays and dramatic shooting, Pistol Pete’s final college action was to shot a half-court shot. Before the ball even reached the rim, he was on his way to the locker room, arms held high in victory, supremely confident that he had made the shot. Needless to say, the ball swooshed the net.

Maravich holds nearly all scoring records in the NCAA. Here are some stats from nba.com:

  • Most career points (3,667).
  • Highest career scoring average (44.2 points per game).
  • Most field goals made (1,387).
  • Most field goals attempted (3,166).
  • Most career 50-point games (28).
  • Most points scored in a single season (1,381).
  • Highest scoring average in a single season (44.5 points per game).

It must be noted that Maravich did all the above without the aid of three-point baskets. According to Wikipedia, former basketball head coach of LSU, Dale Brown, noted every shot that Pistol Pete Maravich took in college basketball and calculated that Pete would have made an average of 13 three-point shots per game.

If he played under current regulations with the three-point arc set at 5.8 metres (19-foot 9 inches) from the rim, he would have averaged 57 points per game.

Pistol Pete Maravich’s NBA Career

Maravich went to the Atlanta Hawks as third pick in the 1970 NBA draft. However, his arrival was not welcomed by some of the Hawk’s veterans who resented his large $1.9-million contract. In his first season, Maravich posted an average of 23.2 points per game.

In his second season, he averaged 19.3 points per game after missing 16 matches, although he raised his level of play to score 27.7 points per game in the play-offs.

In the 1972-73 season he received his first All-Star call up and made the All-NBA Second Team by averaging 26.1 points per game.

His fourth and final season with Atlanta coincided with ‘Pistol’ averaging his highest points per game (27.7) yet, but his team’s worst performance (35 wins out of 82 games).

Under a dictatorial coach, who tried to control the way ‘Pistol’ Pete played, Maravich needed to escape in order for his game to thrive.

Pistol Pete Maravich At The Atlanta Hawks Fair Use Pistol Pete Maravich At The Atlanta Hawks Fair Use

New Beginnings: The New Orleans Jazz

The arrival of a new team in the NBA, the New Orleans Jazz, marked Pistol Pete Maravich’s departure from the Atlanta Hawks. As a Jazz player, Maravich scored a modest 21.5 points per game and averaged 6.2 assists per game in his first season. However, his shooting percentage was a career worst 41.9 per cent (.419).

His second season at the Jazz saw his performances increase and he scored an average of 25.9 points per game.

Maravich’s play was full of incredible moves and each game was real-life theatre. The 1976-77 season was Maravich’s finest hour. Leading the NBA with 31.1 points per game, he scored 40 points or more 13 times.

In a match against the New York Knicks on February 25, 1977, Maravich scored what has only recently been pushed outside of the top ten NBA all-time best single-game totals with a massive 68 points. This helped to earn him a place on the All-NBA First Team for the second successive year.

After dramatically injuring his knew with a three-quarter court behind-the-knees mid-air pass, together with separate knee surgery and tendinitis in another knee, he made only 50 appearances. However, he still managed to score a highly impressive 27 points per game.

Constant knee problems meant that Maravich’s game was suffering. Although he still managed to reach 22.6 points per game the following season, he was not the player who once so eloquently graced the court. His game had stalled and moves that were once completed in a blink of an eye took a lot longer.

After playing just 16 games and unhappy about his lack of game time, Pistol Pete Maravich parted ways with what had now become the Utah Jazz in the 1979-80 season. As a free agent, he sought out one last opportunity to play the game he dearly loved.

Pistol Pete Maravich At New Orleans Jazz Fair Use Pistol Pete Maravich At New Orleans Jazz Fair Use

Boston Celtics

Pistol Pete Maravich moved to the Boston Celtics in 1980. There, together with a promising rookie called Larry Bird, Maravich contributed with 11.5 points per game in 26 outings for the Celtics from the bench.

During the 1979-1980 season, the NBA decided to finally implement three-point shots in a move that was long overdue. Pete shot ten from 15 of his shots, recording an impressive 66 per cent (.667) return from beyond the arc.

Recognition

In his ten year NBA stint, Pistol Pete played 658 games, scoring 15,948 points. He had a career average of 5.4 assists per game while averaging 24.2 points per game throughout his career.

Although he had a rather acromonious end to his career at the Utah Jazz, his jersey number was retired by the Jazz franchise in 1985.

He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in May, 1987, at the relatively young age of 39.


Unjust Criticism

Pistol Pete Maravich has often been accused of not being a team player. Even while he posted such huge numbers at LSU, the team’s record was quite an ordinary 49 wins and 35 losses.

However, it must be noted that prior to Maravich’s arrival, the team’s record was three wins from 23 games.

Maravich also attracted criticism for not winning anything during his NBA career. Because of this, he is sometimes perceived as not being a team player.

However, the truth of the matter is that none of the teams he was with had the necessary talent to win the championship. Michael Jordan never won anything until he was surrounded by Scottie Pippen, Horrace Grant and Denis Rodman.

King Of Horse

Pistol Pete Maravich had a huge repertoire of shots, and a seemingly endless basketball imagination. His willingness to try new shots and new moves made him ideal for H-O-R-S-E and the trick shots it required. All of these attributes made him near impossible to beat in a game of H-O-R-S-E.


The ‘Secret’ To His Basketball Success

As with a lot of people who excel at any discipline, talent is often mentioned as a defining factor in making them ultra successful at what they do. This is a misnomer and does the person in question an injustice.

But the thing is, almost nothing in life is as easy as it looks.’ Hugh Laurie.

If players, including Pete Pistol Maravich, just relied on their talent alone they would not have gotten far. The great Michael Jordan found that even his natural abilities, as a high school player, were not good enough to make the school’s team unless he combined them with a strong work ethic.

Pete Maravich was the epitome of this philosophy. He would spend countless hours practicing on his own in basketball courts. Repeating shots over and over, he became an incredibly accurate shooter. Practicing dribbling skills and drills designed to aid the development of better ball control, would make him the player he would become. He even practiced dribbling and shooting the ball blind-folded.

Pistol Pete Maravich Fair Use

In fact, just before Pistol Pete Maravich went to bed he would practice his follow-through with a basketball so that he got the correct backwards rotation on the ball.

All of this work payed huge dividends for Pete at court-time. Not only had he an incredible array of shot-selection and moves to out-fox the opposing defense, he had great vision and could spot passes that scarcely seemed on.

All the practice taking almost impossible shots also paid off for Pete and the danger he posed to opposing teams was that he could score from anywhere. No matter who was guarding him, ‘Pistol’ Pete had a move and a shot selection to put the ball in the basket.

A Troubled Life

Our constant lionisation of successful figures has the effect of making people seem unreal. We turn our contemporaries into heroic figures, supermen, things that they are not. We do this because we are frightened by ourselves, our own reality, our extraordinary ordinariness. Thus we need idylls to aspires toward. Often these idylls are found in the form of people we mythicise.

The difference between Pistol Pete Maravich and other successful players is that his human frailties are known.

His mother had problems with alcohol and battled mental illness. She committed suicide in 1974 devastating Pete in the process.

Although it could be argued that his father was responsible for making ‘Pistol’ Pete the player he was, he was also partly responsible for his son’s inability to enjoy both basketball and life. Continuously berating his son’s basketball performances and building his son up to be the next great basketball player put huge pressure on Pete. Pressure that would take a long time to shrug off.

After his career ended, Pete went in search of meaning in his life. Although he had already begun this process during his college years, finding refuge in alcohol, he began to look more intensely and in other more productive places.

Ufology, macrobiotics, and vegetarianism, amongst others, were studied by Pete as he strove to be at peace.

However, a life-changing moment occurred when he heard a voice telling him to ‘Be strong and lift thine own heart.’ Pete changed his life after having this ephiphany and became a Christian.

Pistol Pete Maravich Fair Use Pistol Pete Maravich Fair Use

Death

While playing a pick basketball game of 3-on-3, Pistol Pete Maravich had a heart attack. The subsequent autopsy revealed that Pete had a rare congenital heart defect. He was missing the left coronary artery. As a result his right coronary artery had been compensating and was hugely enlarged.

‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich was a tremendous athlete who never should have been able to do the things he did. He should not have been able to play basketball, never mind post NCAA and NBA records.

In one of the most intriguing aspects of Pete Maravich’s death, and something which ultimately came back to haunt him, he stated to a reporter that ‘I don’t want to spend ten years in the NBA and then die of a heart attack aged 40.’

Pete Maravich left behind his wife, Jackie, and two sons, Jaeson and Josh.


Recommended

You might like to read Yellow Magpie’s ‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich Quotes: The Game Of Life And Basketball to find out more about what Pistol Pete Maravich thought.

Similarly, Tony Hawk: The Skateboarder Who Made A Career Out Of His Passion makes interesting reading.

Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich is a marvellous book that explores in detail Maravich’s life both on and off the court. In particular it charts the tumultuous patriarchal relationship between father and son. A stimulating and absorbing read, the author Mark Kriegel puts to bed the lies and untruths associated with fame and the price that is paid to be great at any discipline.

For those wishing to understand the fundamentals of basketball, Pistol Pete’s Homework Basketball is the only resource. His encyclopedic knowledge of the fundamentals of basketball far outstrips anyone else’s. It is a must have for any aspiring player.

Check out Yellow Magpie’s ‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich Quotes: The Game Of Life And Basketball to find out what the man thought about stardom and read his self-fulfilling prophecy.

Amazon.co.uk
For people  living in Ireland or the United Kingdom you can access Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich here.

Amazon.ca
For those living in Canada you can obtain Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich from here.

Amazon.de
For Germany: Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich.

Amazon.fr
For France: Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jerry March 5, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Love your site.

You’ve got to check out the book, MARAVICH. It was written with the cooperation of the Maravich family and is easily the most comprehensive and definitive accounts of his life.

Author March 5, 2010 at 6:42 pm

Thank you for your comment, Jerry. I certainly will check out the book.
Maravich was a great inspiration for many reasons, basketball was just one of them.

clifford yawn June 14, 2010 at 6:07 pm

pistol pete was an amazing basketball player.

Author June 14, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Yes, he certainly was Clifford. He would have made an amazing coach too. Thanks for your comment.

shannon February 9, 2012 at 2:24 am

Pistol Pete Is the Best Basketball player I think. I Wish i could meet him.

Yellow Magpie February 10, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Thanks for comment, Shannon.

He truly was an outstanding player.

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