Eighteen years ago today I walked into my mother's house to grab some dinner. I'd just froze my arse off for fifteen races at Freehold Raceway and was getting ready to spend the night betting Harness races at the Meadowlands. As I checked my mail, I heard my mother yell from the kitchen, “You better turn on the TV, that basketball guy is dead!"
"That basketball guy is dead? What basketball guy?", I said.
I walked over to the TV and turned it on. We always watched the ABC affiliate in New York and the evening drive sports commentator was Warner Wolf. Within seconds, “We've just confirmed that former NBA great Pete Maravich collapsed during a pickup game in Los Angeles, was rushed to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead. Maravich was 40. Details are unclear at the moment but we'll have a full report on Live at Five. "
I sat down stunned.
For those of you too young to remember, Pete Maravich WAS Showtime 20 years before there was a Showtime. Unquestionably the greatest ball handler and arguably the best “pure" shooter in NBA history, Maravich was undeniably the most creative offensive basketball player ever! Behind-the-back no look passes were common place and Maravich could throw a length of the court one-bounce bounce pass to a wingman on the fly of a fast break and put it in a tea cup. Thirty-five (yes 35) foot pull up jumpers with two guys all over him were generally nothing but net.
The quintessential gym rat as a kid, the 6'5" 200lb Maravich burst on the scene with his mop of hair and baggy grey sweat socks in 1966 when he enrolled at LSU to play for his father, a former pro and long time collegiate coach, Press Maravich. The NCAA at the time did not permit first year students to play varsity ball so Maravich promptly began his career by averaging 43.6 ppg for the Tiger freshman team.
His next three years at LSU are legend and his scoring records will never be broken. In his three years as a Bayou Bengal, Maravich scored 3,667 points - 1,138 points in 1968, 1,148 points in 1969 and 1,381 points in 1970 - while averaging 43.8, 44.2 and 44.5 points per game. In his collegiate career, “Pistol Pete" averaged an incredible 44.2 ppg in 83 contests and led the NCAA in scoring three times. He also set an NCAA record by scoring more than 50 points 28 times, and was named a three-time All-American.
Maravich holds nearly every major NCAA scoring record, including most career points, highest career scoring average, most field goals attempted and made, and most 50-point games. The three point basket wasn't introduced until the 86-87 season or Maravich would have easily averaged in the 50 ppg - FOR HIS CAREER!
Maravich was drafted third overall (behind Bob Lanier and Rudy Tomjanovich) in the 1970 draft by the Atlanta Hawks. He quickly alienated himself with his veteran teammates with his play and 1.9 million dollar rookie contract, far and away the largest of it's time. Maravich still averaged 23.2 ppg and was named NBA Rookie of the Year. After four tenuous years with the Hawks he was traded to the expansion New Orleans Jazz for Dean “The Dream" Memminger and draft picks.
Maravich played five years for New Orleans/Utah before being released in 1980 and finishing his career as a bench player for the Celtics. Maravich was first team all- NBA in 1976 and 1977, leading the league in scoring in ‘77 with a 31.1 ppg average. I watched him drop his career high 68 points on the Knicks while being guarded by one of the five best defensive guards of all time in Walt “Clyde" Frazier. The “Pistol" was a five-time all star, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987, and named to NBA all-time Top 50 in 1996.
As it turned out, Maravich was born with a congenital heart anomaly and had only one coronary artery. Normally, people have three making his career all the more remarkable.
Like most other unique talents, Maravich was dogged throughout his life for not having won. LSU was 49-35 during his career, 20-8 as a senior and finishing third in the NIT. The Hawks had only one winning season during his stay and NO/Utah was an expansion franchise. In his final season with the Celtics, Maravich averaged 6.0 ppg on a team that lost to the Lakers in the NBA final.
Maravich, who had suffered with knee problems throughout the second half of his career, was invited to the Celtic camp the following year and had made the team but retired after scoring 24 points in just 16 minutes of Boston's final exhibition game.
Maravich and Dick Butkus were my only two sports idols growing up so his premature death was especially disturbing to me. Besides the sox and hair (who can forget those Vitalis Dry Control commercials), my personal rememberances of the Pistol were a shootout with Notre Dame's Austin Carr, the 68 point game against the Knicks, and the Horse and One-on-One haftime competitions that were shown at halftimes of the games of the week.
The Pistol had numerous off the court difficulties following retirement until finding peace with the church. He had several ministries and ran Christian Youth Camps right up until the time of his death.
Eighteen years, wow! Seems like yesterday. I didn't eat or go to the races that night. Rest In Peace Pete Maravich.
Dennis Macklin is a documented member of the Professional Handicappers League. Read all of his articles at http://www.procappers.com/Dennis_Macklin.htm