Monday, April 16, 2007

Pete Maravich

I just finished reading this excellent biography on Pete Maravich by Mark Kriegel. I'll give you a summary of Pete's career here but do check out this book if you like sports biographies.

"Pistol Pete" starred at Louisiana State University and for three NBA teams. Pete Maravich is still the all-time leading NCAA scorer, averaging an incredible 44.2 points per game in three varsity seasons. Two things I want to point out. One, this was without the benefit of a three-point line and two, freshman were not allowed to play on the varsity team.

Maravich was a basketball legend, a dazzling ball handler, incredible shooter and a creative passer. A lot of his NCAA records will never be broken simply because these days it is rare a college superstar stays in school longer than one or two years.

The book provided many facts of which I was unaware. For example, I had no idea that his father, Press Maravich, coached in the ACC. Press coached at Clemson and N.C. State, where he won an ACC championship. He got an offer to coach at LSU and Pete followed his Dad.

After graduating college, Maravich was the third pick in the first round of the NBA draft. He averaged 23.2 points per game his rookie season. After spending four seasons in Atlanta, Maravich was traded to the New Orleans Jazz for four number one draft picks, a couple second round picks and cash. Throughout his NBA career, despite putting up impressive numbers and making the all star team six times in ten seasons, Pete struggled to live up to the legend he created at LSU. He was injured a lot as his body took a huge toll thanks to the reckless style he played.

Basketball ultimately didn’t make it in New Orleans, and the Jazz moved to Utah. Maravich lasted part of the first season there and was later released. One goal he coveted was a championship, so he signed a free agent deal with the Boston Celtics, who had a rookie by the name of Larry Bird playing for them. At first it was a struggle for Pete to come off the bench, but he eventually fit in and the Celtics won the Atlantic Division title. They failed to reach the NBA finals that year and the following training camp, in the fall of 1980, Pete quit basketball for good due to injuries.

In his ten NBA seasons Maravich scored 15,948 points in 658 games for a 24.2 points per game average. He led the league in scoring with a 31.1 points per game average in 1976-1977. His NBA single game high was 68-points (At LSU it was 69, again, with no three point line) against the New York Knicks in February 1977.

On January 5, 1988, while warming up to play a pickup basketball game Pete collapsed and died of a heart attack at the age of 40. An autopsy revealed the cause of death to be a rare congenital heart defect; he had been born with only one coronary artery instead of the normal two.

The reason I like Pistol Pete so much was one Christmas I got a book of sports heroes. In it there were several biographies and pictures of sports stars from the '60's and '70's and Pistol was one I liked. Maybe it was the droopy socks and the long hair, I don’t know. Playing hoops at Wood Acres as a little kid, I always pretended to be him.

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