"I Feel Great!" The Pete Maravich Story
It began with a father who loved a game, a son who loved his father and who never wanted to let him down.
A hard willed perfectionist of a basketball coach with a flattop haircut is driving the family car on his way to high school basketball practice. Meanwhile his son, the star player and youngest on the team by far, is dribbling a basketball outside the passenger's side window and not missing a beat.
Petar "Press" Maravich relentlessly drilled his son on every aspect of the game. The kid would eventually become one of the most remarkable basketball players and outstanding people this world has ever known. He'd be known as "Pistol" for his "shoot from the hip" jump shot style. That father's son, that coach's son was Pete Maravich.
A HEAD START ON A LIFE OF BASKETBALL
Born in the hard-scrabble steel town of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania on June 22nd, 1947, Peter Maravich left this Earth far too soon at the age of 40. He went from becoming a high school phenom, to the greatest college basketball player of all-time, to the face of a new NBA team franchise created just for him to finally being at peace with God (which he considered to be his greatest achievement.)
Then, even beyond his life on Earth, as the only deceased member selected to the National Basketball Association's 50 Greatest Players of the 20th century.
The image of him is forever imprinted on the memories of whomever saw him perform in person, including this author. So unique with his floppy wool socks that hung down on his skinny ankles attached to a brittle looking and lithe 6' 5" frame, "Pistol" thrilled audiences with basketball court wizardry still never before seen on this planet since. His long mop of brown hair was always just barely out of his large doe-like eyes.
He thrilled crowds with behind the back dribbling, whip-like passes, he was ALWAYS double teamed by the opposition and not uncommonly TRIPLE-TEAMED! Did he do it for the show of it all? No, he did it because he wanted to win. A burning desire to succeed was driven into him by his high school coach then his Louisiana State University basketball coach and father Press Maravich.
The former NBA player, Press Maravich was sure of the path his son would take in life and it was through baketball.
Under the spotlight of the media already in high school. Under pressure to perform by a relentless coach - his father even into college.
ALWAYS THE LEADER
He played on the high school varsity team through a special rule that allowed him to be the star on that Daniel High School team in South Carolina before he was even old enough to attend high school. He averaged 33 points per game on the varsity... as an eighth grader.
Have you ever heard such a thing? Then to be a huge force on the team where the next youngest is still two years older than him. It's just beyond any expectations and 33 points per game very nearly led the entire nation in that statistic. But that was just a preview of what was to come.
When he played on the J.V. team at LSU as a freshman (freshmen were not allowed to play on the varsity back then) the stands were packed with overflow crowds. Then the varsity game would commence afterwards and most of those games took place in a half empty arena because the crowd had seen "The Pistol" already in action!
The varsity was terrible, winning only 3 of 28 that year. That changed the next year when Pete willed his team to become a major force in the nation of NCAA basketball.
The college built a new arena the next year that has always been referred to as "The House That Pete Built." It's still standing and in use today as of the time of writing this article (2014 and 2017.) He was the original "Showtime" and can only be described as pure magic on the hardwood floor!
Pete just wanted his team to win. He worked at being the best person he could possibly be, not just the best basketball player.
THE SEARCH FOR LIFE'S TRUE MEANING
He did, however, struggle with his demons while at LSU and took to drinking quite a bit while enjoying the college town night life. He learned to contol that by the time he became established in the NBA.
Then his mother, a house bound social recluse who suffered from dark bouts of depression took her life with a gun in 1974. Helen Gravor Maravich could have been one reason the father and son became so emersed into the game. That was also his fifth year in the league and he was expected to carry a first year expansion team, the last place New Orleans Jazz.
He never won a championship in high school, college nor the NBA and at first this bothered him immensely. Pete even became a recluse for about two years studying the path to God, then co-authored an autobiography titled Heir to a Dream, that was mainly focused on his devotion to Christianity.
After retirement he went on to search for himself, for his soul and for his savior. He practiced yoga, learned Hinduism, was fascinated by UFOs, became a vegetarian for a short time and finally became even more dedicated to His Savior as a devout born again Christian.
He's quoted as saying "I'll see you soon" to his father immediately after his death from prostate cancer in 1987. Pete Maravich would die only nine months later. The son of Serbian immigrants, Petar "Press" also became a born-again Christian late in his life with Pete being his "coach" into the transition.
"I want to be remembered as a Christian, a person that serves Him [Jesus] to the utmost, not as a basketball player" he once said.
On January 5th, 1988 he flew in to UCLA to film a Christian documentary for a friend of his at no charge. He couldn't resist playing a few games of pick-up basketball with some ex-NBA pals in the gym at First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena, California.
Just having a great time, loving the game that loved him back and just being "The Pistol"... one last time. After making the winning basket, he wanted to "run it back again" and play another game. Then a friend asked him how he felt.
"I feel great!" he said with a huge grin. Then he collapsed and died right there on the court, doing the thing he liked to do best with a basketball in his hands. He's buried at Resthaven Gardens of Memory and Mausoleum in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He is survived by his wife, Jackie and two young sons.
LSU's home court was renamed the Pete Maravich Assembly Center soon after his death. An autobiographical movie was released in 1991, The Pistol: The Birth of a Legend. He was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History by a panel made up of NBA historians and was the youngest player ever inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.
It was later found out that Pete had an undetected heart defect which basically meant instead of an artery to his heart, only a vein was pumping blood through his enlarged heart. It was a wonder he even PLAYED basketball and much less at his usual super-human, "not of this Earth" level.
He had finally found what he'd been searching for throughout his entire life. Peace of mind. So he welcomed Our Savior to take him that day. He died with a smile on his face, they said.
Yes, Pete, we all feel you were great, too!
Dan W. Miller
He finally found himself when he retired from the game
A REMARKABLE STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN
Do you want stats? Pete is STILL the highest scoring player in Division I NCAA basketball and get this, when players can play all four years now, "Pistol Pete" did it in just THREE! If a player averages even 30 points a game in ANY college atmosphere, you are considered a phenom!
Pete averaged 44.2 points per game for all three years from 1967 to 1970! Keep in mind this was before the three point shot was even instituted into the rules of the game!
The shot clock was still 15 years away, so teams could hold onto the ball and stall his scoring even further. Just think about that a moment. No one has even averaged close to 40 points per NCAA Division 1 game since! His 3,667 total points scored is still an NCAA record.
A calculation of all his games at LSU was determined Pete would have averaged over 47 points a game his entire college career if there were a three point line! He could bomb it from anywhere on the court. LSU didn't play pansies either. They had the same big name college opponents that the other Div. I teams played.
A highly successful NBA career saw him lead the league in scoring in 1976. His career game high was 68 points against the New York Knicks in 1977 and it was the most points ever scored by a guard in one game. In fact, only three players in league history had scored more points in a single game at the time.
He still holds five league records to this day. His number is retired by two NBA teams. His professional career statistics: points15,948 (24.2 ppg) rebounds 2,747 (4.2 rpg) assists 3,563 (5.4 apg) are very impressive.The NBA instituted the 3-point shot just in time for Pistol Pete's last season in the league and he made a remarkable 10 of 15.
When people who were used to a slower paced "old style" way of playing basketball would knock Pete for his flashy showmanship on the court, the fan's favorite player to watch answered back, "They don't pay you a million dollars for two handed chest passes." Once he made this comeback to a reporter, "Shooting is nothing. Anybody can shoot. The big charge is putting on a show for the crowd."
Such a huge influence on his life, Pete's story can't be told without a section for his Father Petar "Press" Maravich on Wikipedia
Pete's Top 10 plays of wizardry!
Do you think Pete's record of over 44 points per NCAA DIVISION I game will ever be broken?
© 2012 Dan W Miller