Maravich: An Excerpt
Posted Nov 10 2006 3:55PM
The following is an excerpt from "Maravich," co-authored by Wayne Federman and Marshall Terrill, and available now from Sport Classic Books.
68 Points in the Superdome
“Robertson was the best guard I ever played against. Jerry West was the best I ever played with. And Pete is the best I’ve ever seen.”
- Elgin Baylor, Jazz coach
On January 10, 1970, Pete Maravich sat in the LSU locker room, dejected after a close loss to Auburn. He felt his poor shooting (18-46) had cost the Tigers a victory. Head in hands, Maravich shared a recurring dream with several national sports reporters in town for Super Bowl IV, “One of these nights, everything is going to go in. If I take 40 or 45 shots, I’m going to hit 40. I just know it is coming.”
On February 25, 1977, seven years and 50 days after his locker room prediction, Pete’s dream of perfect shooting was nearly realized.
A crowd of 11,033 was in the Dome and many more were watching the Knicks' WOR-TV telecast. Pete was energized by crowds, even one 1,500 miles away. “The game was being sent back to New York on television. That meant more than a million people were watching. If there is one thing that really turns me on, it’s playing in front of a lot of people. The more people who come to a game, or see it on the tube, the more intense about the game I get,” Pete explained.
New York’s starters were Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, Bob McAdoo, Jim McMillian, and Tom McMillen. Baylor countered with Maravich, Bud Stallworth, Paul Griffin, Otto Moore, and Jim McElroy. As was often the case in his pro career, Pete’s team was vastly over-matched. The Knick’s line-up featured four future Hall of Famers in Frazier, Monroe, McAdoo, and Bill Bradley, while the Jazz had Maravich and a cast of journeymen. On paper, the game looked to be an easy win for New York. But Pete was one of those rare players who could dominate a game.
“When he had everything going. He could beat you by himself,” explained Jack Ramsay. “You were never quite sure what he was going to do with the ball in the open court. He had a thousand moves to either shoot it or pass it.”
As the players took the court, Knick color commentator Cal Ramsey observed that Frazier had drawn the unenviable assignment of covering Pete. Overhearing the comment as he walked past the scorer’s table, Earl Monroe laughed and said, “That’s nice.”
Pete scored 13 of the Jazz’s first 19 points. Marty Mule of the Times-Picayune was watching from his regular seat on press row and sensed something was different about this night. “We were sitting together, telling cynical jokes, laughing and so on and so forth. You know how press people are—they develop a cynical sense of humor,” recalled Mule. “About midway through the first quarter, we all three fell silent.”
By halftime the Jazz led 65-43 and Pete had 31 points (12-18, 7-7, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks).
The second half began with yet another Knick guard, this time Burden, assigned to Maravich. Burden quickly discovered that intermission had done nothing to cool off the Pistol. He opened the third quarter by nailing three consecutive 20-footers. The third one gave him nine baskets in his last nine attempts. The Knick announcers were awed by the offensive display.
Cal Ramsey: “I don’t know how you stop him. He is too much.”
Andy Muesser: “I am running out of things to say about Maravich.”
The final period began with Pete hitting one of his first two attempts. Then, several possessions later, Pete began an electrifying shooting sequence. It began with Pete standing on the left side of the court about 23 feet from the hoop. He held the Wilson basketball in his right hand. Not by his side, but out in front of his body. Palming it like a grapefruit. Quick as a flash he took two dribbles, floated up, and stroked a jump shot that flashed through the net. The basket gave Maravich 52 points, a new NBA career high. There were still nine minutes left.
Seconds later Pete returned to almost the same exact spot and swished another 22-footer over Beard. Holzman brought Frazier back in but he was helpless as Maravich dropped in yet another jump shot from his new favorite spot. When he returned a fourth time Frazier had had enough. He fouled Maravich hard. Pete walked to the line and drained points 57 and 58. Holzman called a time out with 6:59 remaining.
Mule remembered Maravich’s confusion in the ensuing Jazz huddle. “When he came to the sidelines on a timeout E.C. Coleman came out with a towel for Pete. And all of the guys on the team were congratulating him and Pete had this real perplexed look on his face.”
Pete remembered listening in disbelief to his teammates, “I honestly didn’t know I had that many points until E.C. Coleman told me during a timeout that I needed only three more points. I thought he meant my personal scoring high of 51.”
Actually Coleman was referring to Jerry West’s NBA record for points in a game by a guard. West had knocked down 63 (22-36, 19-22) in an overtime win against the Knicks on January 17, 1962, in front of just 2,766 fans at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. “My big game was played virtually in private,” West would later write.
As play resumed Maravich needed five points to tie West’s record. He dribbled slowly over half-court holding his index finger in the air, indicating a high-post play. He lobbed the ball in to Griffin and cut around him. Pete caught Griffin’s bounce pass in full stride and twisted in a reverse lay-up for his 60th point.
Jazz announcer Bob Longmire bellowed “Pistolllllll Pete” over the Superdome sound system as the crowd roared.
The celebration came to an abrupt halt 50 seconds later when Maravich was accidentally tripped from behind by Burden. Pete crumbled to the floor and skidded to a stop. Fortunately, Maravich’s flexible ankles proved sufficiently pliable and, after rising slowly, he meandered to the free throw line and converted his 61st point.
On his next trip down the court, Pete saw an open lane to the basket. He drove hard and spun in a bank shot just as Tom McMillen slid down to front him. Incredibly, second-year referee Dick Bavetta called a foul—on Pete. This not only saddled Maravich with his fifth infraction (one more meant automatic ejection) but the basket was waved off, as well as a trip to the free throw line.
Pete’s next attempt was a shot more suited to a game of HORSE. He received an inbounds pass from Aaron James about five feet from the basket. With his back to the backboard, and Meminger guarding him tightly, Pete jumped and flipped up a no-look, over-the-shoulder shot. The ball careened off the backboard and spun into the net as he and Meminger crashed to the floor.
“Look at that move! What a basket! He put the right spin on that ball,” blurted a startled Musser.
The circus shot gave Maravich 63 points, tying him with West. He passed his boyhood idol with his next attempt, draining a jumper and causing teammates Coleman and Howard to leap with joy. Seconds later Meminger fouled Pete away from the ball and he swished the free throw, upping his total to 66. Despite being on the verge of 70 points, and with the crowd on its feet chanting, “Pete, Pete, Pete, Pete,” Aaron James and Ron Behagen scored the next four points for New Orleans.
With 1:58 to play Maravich came up with another steal and took the ball to the hoop for an easy lay-up. The count was 68.
With 1:18 remaining in the game Pete drove to the basket and was called for another offensive foul when he collided with Tom McMillen. It was his sixth foul and he was out of the game. As a result, Pete holds the distinction of scoring the most points in an NBA game while also fouling out.
Many people still believe that Pete scored all of 68 against the defensive wizard, Walt Frazier. Actually Frazier played only 18 minutes that night. Monroe, Beard, Burden, Meminger, and Frazier all had taken turns guarding Maravich. None were able to stop him.
Final score: Jazz 124 Knicks 107.
Frazier was so upset after the game he refused to talk to the media. Earl Monroe just shook his head: “There was no way we could stop him.” Bob McAdoo added: “The man beat us by himself.”
Knick’s coach Red Holzman: “We tried everything we could do to stop him. His performance was the best by a guard I’ve ever seen.”
Afterwards, Maravich downplayed his achievement. He deflected attention towards the team. “The shots just fell tonight. It’s nice to have a game like that and win. Hey, a lot of times I did this in college and we didn’t win,” explained Pete whose top three scoring outbursts at LSU (69, 66, and 64 points) came in losing efforts.
Maravich’s final stat line read: 68 points (26-43, 16-19) 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks, 3 steals.
Pete’s demeanor throughout his record-breaking game was noteworthy. Playing with a quiet intensity, he never celebrated his exploits. After sinking shot after shot, he would simply lower his head and run back down the court. His modest affect stands in stark contrast to some of today’s athletes who punctuate even modest achievements with dances, screams, chest punches, and “stare downs.” Later he explained why he was hesitant to outwardly celebrate.
“The accomplishment was too personal,” Pete said in 1984. “I think if I had let myself enjoy it too much I would have been crucified.”
“Maravich,” co-authored by Wayne Federman and Marshall Terrill, is published by Sport Classic Books.