Feature Story Series Ep 1: “Pistol” Pete Maravich
For my first of many feature stories to come I thought we’d start off with someone that I consider vastly underrated, not talked about enough, and someone that I would go as far as to say is one of my top 3 favorite basketball players ever. I am talking about a man that could shoot from anywhere that they named him after a gun and no I am not talking about your gun named “Betsy” that’s under your pillow. I am talking about none other than “Pistol” Pete Maravich. Let us begin shall we.
Pete Maravich was born in a small town called Aliquippa, which was just outside of Pittsburgh.When Maravich was born, he was born into a basketball family with his dad, Press Maravich, being a college basketball coach. At a young age Pete amazed his family and friends with his basketball abilities. He had a very strong relationship with his father, at seven years old Press Maravich began to teach Pete all the fundamentals of the game of basketball. Pete was already in love with the game of basketball. So obsessed, he would spend countless hours practicing ball control tricks, passes, head fakes, and long-range shots. All of the things that would make him so great in his NBA career.
Maravich’s family moved to the Carolinas before Pete was in high school because of Press’ head coaching job at Clemson. Pete attended Daniel High School in South Carolina for two years. He was playing varsity basketball a year before he was actually old enough to attend the school. While at Daniel High School, Pete, showed flashes of what he would become later on down the road. After Press accepted an assistant coaching job at NC State the Maravichs picked up and moved to Raleigh, North Carolina where Pete Maravich would attend Broughton High School. His high school years is where he first got coined “Pistol Pete” and the reason was actually because of his shot form and from his habit of shooting the ball from his side, as if he was holding a pistol, and ever since then he was “Pistol” Pete Maravich.
Pete Maravich would attend LSU beginning in 1967, where he was coached by his father Press Maravich. Back then there was freshman and varsity teams even on the college level. Pete had to play on the freshman team because first year students could not play at the varsity level which was an NCAA rule. In his first game he played against my alma mater, Southeastern Louisiana, and he just dominated and finished with 50 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists. He destroyed almost every team on the freshman circuit. After spending a year on the freshman team, in 1968, he was moved up to the varsity team and picked up where he left off. In the era before there was a 3pt line, Maravich would average 44 points per game while at LSU and that is still an NCAA record that still stands today. As stated this was an era before the 3 point line existed, but Maravich still loved to shoot it from long range. It has been reported that former LSU coach Dale Brown charted every shot Maravich scored and concluded that, if his shots from three-point range had been counted as three points, Maravich’s college average would have totaled 57 points per game which is just truly astonishing. Pete Maravich would then leave LSU in 1970 for the NBA draft.
In 1970 Pete Maravich would be drafted by the Atlanta Hawks with the 3rd overall pick in the draft. Unlike everywhere else he has played, Maravich was not a natural fit in Atlanta because he had to play second banana to the Hawks lead man “Sweet” Lou Hudson and also big man Walt Bellamy. Despite all of that Maravich managed to make the NBA All-Rookie team and finished his rookie season with 23.2 points per game. His second year however he saw a slight drop in production when he dropped down to right around 19 points per game. You know what they say the third time’s the charm, in Maravich’s third season with the Hawks he skyrocketed by averaging 26 points per game and helping the Hawks make it to the playoffs. Though the Hawks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs Maravich still managed to make his first ever All Star game appearance. In the 1973-74 season , in what would be his final season, with the Hawks he posted his best season yet. Finishing the season with an average of 27.7 points per game, but it was not enough to boost the Hawks to a postseason appearance.
In the summer of 1974 a new expansion team was on the horizon called the New Orleans Jazz. Jazz owners wanted a player that would not only help them win, but also put fans in the seats. They sought after Pete Maravich early because he was already a celebrity in the state of Louisiana for his time and basketball accomplishments at LSU. To acquire Maravich, the Jazz traded two players and four draft picks to Atlanta.
While the Jazz struggled tremendously their first season, Maravich still managed to average right around 21 points per game which was a drop off from his previous season. The Jazz front office did everything it could to put a supporting cast around Maravich such as trading for Gail Goodrich and even Spencer Haywood years down the road, but the Jazz still could never get over the hump. His second season with the Jazz was riddled with injuries which limited his play, but still managed to average close to 26 points per game. His third season with the Jazz (1976-77) was his best season he ever played in the NBA. While undering the coaching of NBA legend, Elgin Baylor, he led the league in scoring with an average of 31.1 points per game. He scored 40 points or more in 13 games, and 50 or more in 4 games. The cherry on top for that season was his 68 point game against the Knicks in the Superdome. The more Pistol Pete scored the louder and louder the Superdome crowd got. Maravich fouled out in the closing seconds of the game but Jazz managed to win the game without him with a 124-107 score.
After that season, Maravich’s career was just injury filled with multiple knee injuries and he just never was the same. In 1979 the Jazz moved to Utah and Maravich would go with the team, but missed multiple games due to injury and throughout the season his knee issues just worsened.
The Jazz placed Pete Maravich on waivers in January of 1980 where he would later be claimed by the NBA’s top team that season the Boston Celtics. The Celtics were led by rookie superstar Larry Bird. While playing for Boston, Maravich, knew he had to take on a new backseat role for the team. During that season Maravich was on a playoff team for the first time since playing for the Hawks. He appeared in nine games during that postseason, but the Celtics were stifled by Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference finals losing four games to one. Maravich would retire after the season. During Maravich’s final season the NBA introduced the 3pt line. Maravich’s long range shots were now going to be counted as 3 pt shots. Between his very limited playing time in Utah and Boston, he made 10 of 15 3-point shots, giving him a career 66.7% completion rate behind the arc. Pete Maravich would retire as one of the greats between his long range shots, his flashy no-look behind the back passes, and just his overall greatness on the court. He would finish his NBA career with career averages of 24.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, and 5.4 apg
In 1988, a year after being inducted into the Hall of Fame, while playing a pickup basketball game in Pasadena, California, Pete Maravich collapsed and died of a heart attack at the age of 40. It has been said that the last words he had spoken were “I feel great”. His legacy to this day lives on with LSU’s basketball arena bearing his name, and even resurrecting a bronze statue of him in front of the arena. “Pistol” Pete Maravich is still one of the greatest basketball players ever and there is no debate about that.
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