PISTOL | by Mark Kriegel
I just finished listening to the audiobook version of Mark Kriegel’s amazing biography of “Pistol” Pete Maravich. Maravich entered pro basketball in 1970 after a record-setting career at LSU, at the time many of my friends and I began to discover the joys of basketball. Maravich’s behind-the-back dribbling and no-look passes inspired not only a generation of fans, but also players. He was the precursor to Michael Jordan, and even Magic Johnson acknowledged Maravich as “the original ‘Showtime.'”
But Pete’s showmanship on the court masked a life of disappointment and searching. The book begins with the story of his father, Press Maravich, a former NC State basketball coach. I met Press at the then-Campbell College basketball camp one summer with The Herald’s R. V. Hight when I went there to interview another great college coach, Lefty Driesell, then coaching at the University of Maryland. Press discovered basketball in rural Pennsylvania and eventually played pro before becoming a coach. His precocious son, Pete, showed a flair and talent for the game early on and eventually, under his father’s direction, ultimately spent six, eight and even 10 hours a day practicing shooting, dribbling and passing a basketball.
This book traces Pete’s evolution as a player and also his perpetual unhappiness. Pete was known for not smiling on the court, even after a great shot or pass, and his life off the court – beginning with serious drinking binges while starring at LSU – was characterized by a constant longing for something more, something he could never quite find. Personal tragedies (his mother’s suicide), injuries (including a freak knee injury that may have been responsible for the New Orleans Jazz’s move to Utah) and jealousies among teammates and playing on teams that mostly lost contributed to the constant unhappiness. Maravich became immersed in a series of “isms” and even painted a message on the top of his home – “TAKE ME” – to the aliens from other planets he was convinced lived among us.
It wasn’t until he quit basketball and – after a sleepless night that resulted in a desperate prayer to God, which was followed by an audible answer – that his life began to right itself. He was born again as a Christian; friends said it was the first time they’d ever seen him happy.
But it wasn’t long after that Maravich collapsed after a pickup basketball game and died. It was his first time on a court in years. He was just 40 years old; the diagnosis was a rare congenital defect that would have killed most people years earlier.
The youngest player ever inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, Maravich was also named as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. Here’s a look at some of his on-court exploits…