Known for his magical moves and fabulous flair, ‘Pistol Pete’ Maravich will always be remembered as a hoops hero and an almost mythological figure.
To basketball junkies, the exploits of the former LSU and NBA star sound almost like a fairy tale. When Maravich made his magical moves, every onlooker was left in awe.
Most fans have seen his wizardry on the hardwood. Even if they weren’t alive during his playing days, his exploits have been exposed in hundreds of clips on YouTube. Somewhere between all the tall socks and short shorts of the 1970s, you can see the marvelous Maravich slicing through defenses.
The way he could make a basketball dance in his hands left opponents stumbling and bumbling. It was often said that he had so much ball control, it almost seemed like he had it on a string.
While his NBA career wasn’t nearly as prolific as his amazing tenure at LSU, that never changed the perception of Pistol Pete. The fact that he died in 1988 at the very young age of 40 (while playing a game of pickup basketball, no less) has only added to his mystique. In the 35 years since his passing, his name always comes up when anyone discusses the most gifted ballers of all time.
The stories surrounding Pistol Pete are almost too vast to count. However, here are three of the magical moments that are part of his indelible legacy.
#1 – His astounding scoring statistics at LSU
Maravich played in a completely different era, when the pace of the game was generally slower, and there was no three-point shot. Both of those factors contributed to much lower scores than we would see in later years.
That didn’t stop the Pistol, however. Freshmen were not allowed to play varsity basketball in the NCCA then, so Maravich would start for three seasons in the Bayou. He would go on to average an other-worldly 43.8, 44.2, and 44.5 points per game in his sophomore, junior and senior years, respectively.
That’s right. Pistol Pete scored 44.2 points per game over the course of a three-year collegiate career, finishing with a total of 3,667. Both are all-time records that will likely never be broken.
#2 – Maravich was offered a contract to become part of the Harlem Globetrotters
This story was one that many critics and observers didn’t believe until Maravich himself confirmed it in an interview with Roy Firestone on ESPN’s ‘Up Close’ in the mid-80s:
“I was offered a million-dollar contract to play with the Globetrotters. During my senior year in college, I was going back and forth, analyzing who I wanted to play with. Of course, I had ABA after me. Carolina Cougars, I was dealing with them. I was dealing with Atlanta Hawks. And also with the Harlem Globetrotters.”
That may sound to some, considering the ‘Trotters typically had a lineup consisting of all African-American players. However, Maravich’s court creativity and dizzying dribbling skills were often compared to that of the legendary Globetrotters star Curly Neal.
His game was so reminiscent of the way the team played that it really transcended race. When it came to Pistol Pete and the Globetrotters, basketball was a game, not a color.
With his showmanship and incredible flair, Maravich would have likely been a perfect fit for the team. And it also would have been a huge draw. Not only would there be the ‘novelty’ of a Caucasian player on the team, but it would also be coincidentally the greatest college star ever. That combination would have been not only a major story in sport.
#3 – The Pistol himself even predicted his own death
Not to end things on a dark or morbid note, but adding to the lore of Pistol Pete is that he foreshadowed his own early demise.
Following his early retirement from the game, Maravich experienced some dark times and even turned to alcohol to ease his mind. Eventually, he was able to kick his habit and find a new joy in life. As always, he still retained his love for basketball. It was the one thing that he had never forsaken.
So, it seemed impossible that he would die right there, during a pickup game at such a young age. But perhaps it wasn’t so unthinkable after all. Because Maravich himself had eerily predicted it many years earlier.
During a 1974 interview with Andy Nuzzo of The Beaver County Times, a 26-year-old Maravich said “I don’t want to play ten years in the NBA and die of a heart attack at 40. I’ve got other things to do. Who needs basketball?”
Pete Maravich was survived at the time of his passing by his wife Jackie and his two young sons. Just a few months prior to his death, he had been enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
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