New York guard Walt Frazier defends Pete Maravich in 1977

Forty-three years later, New Orleans Jazz teammates share fond memories of Pete Maravich’s 68-point game

Fox Sports New Orleans to air historic performance from 1977 on Wednesday
by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

They’d already watched him rack up 51 and 50 points in games earlier that season, so a high-scoring performance by New Orleans teammate Pete Maravich came as no surprise. But this was different. On Feb. 25, 1977, future Hall of Famer “Pistol Pete” fired in 31 points by halftime, connecting on shots from all over the Superdome hardwood. Without saying a word to each other, Jazz players understood the strategy: Make sure Pete touches the rock as much as possible.

“When he got on a roll like that, we were happy to get him the ball,” remembered then-Jazz rookie forward Paul Griffin 43 years later of Maravich, who went on to tally 68 points in a 124-107 win over the New York Knicks. At the time, it was the highest-scoring game by a guard in NBA history.

“It was just amazing,” said then-Jazz forward Aaron James last week, from his home in Ruston, La. “We were just watching Pete. He could score in just about any way possible. He could shoot right-handed, left-handed, off the wrong foot. He could shoot hooks.”

Indeed, if you watch the somewhat-grainy YouTube footage from New York’s TV broadcast feed, you’ll see Maravich crack the scoresheet on a crafty lefty baseline layup for an and-one; on one second-quarter field goal, he takes a pass while stationed at the right block and – all in one motion – improvises a sweeping hook shot. You probably could watch the entire ’19-20 NBA season and never see the latter move executed by a guard.

Maravich’s career-high scoring eruption is now the 13th-best offensive game in 70-plus years of the NBA. Only seven other players have ever tallied more (Wilt Chamberlain six times, Kobe Bryant, David Thompson, David Robinson, Elgin Baylor, Devin Booker, Michael Jordan). Maravich – who died at age 40 in 1988 due to heart failure, while playing a pickup basketball game – never got to see fellow prolific guard Bryant’s 81-point game in ’06 or the 70 points Booker put up in Boston in ’17. Coincidentally, Maravich’s shooting line from the field on Feb. 25, 1977, is very similar to that of Bryant’s 81-point game, with Maravich going 26/43 and Bryant at 28/46. At the foul line, Maravich was 16/19, while “Mamba” went 18/20. The separation in total points partly comes from Bryant shooting 7/13 from a three-point line that did not exist in the NBA until ’79-80. Maravich was a renowned deep shooter, but only got credit for two points on his long-range bombs.

“It was pretty fun to watch,” Griffin said of Maravich’s 68-point display. “He had so much scoring prowess that it was not unheard of for him to do something like that, but it was still quite a feat, especially without a three-point stripe. He won the scoring championship that year and averaged (31.1) points a game, so we were used to it. But that night, he was just feeling it.”

Maravich also could’ve benefited from a three-point arc while he was dominating college basketball at LSU (career average of 44.2 ppg, still the best of all time), but the NCAA did not adopt a line until the mid-80s.

“He did the same thing in college – once he got going, he was going to shoot it,” said Griffin, himself a Western Michigan standout. “I can’t imagine what would have happened if there were a three-point shot when he was in college.”

As Maravich shot 26/43 in his 68-point game, his teammates combined on 48 percent shooting, splitting up 24/50 accuracy (reserve guard Mo Howard was the Jazz’s No. 2 scorer with 12 points). More than four decades later, when former New Orleans Jazz players are asked to list the most memorable moments from their NBA careers, some use a joke that always draws laughter after the punch line is revealed.

Griffin: “Sometimes I will say to people, ‘Hey, did you know Pistol Pete and I once combined to score 70 points in a game?’ ”

After a pause, Griffin – who shot just 1/2 from the floor that night, but had eight rebounds and five assists – adds, “Yes, Pete had 68 points. I had two.”

James tells another story that sums up how unique Maravich’s scoring achievement was, particularly as Maravich faced a star-laden New York team that had won a pair of NBA championships that decade. James has attended reunions featuring former NBA players and recalled how ex-pros at one gathering were ribbing New York guard Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, for allowing Maravich to score 68 points against him. Monroe had a response at the ready.

James: “The guys were all saying to him, ‘Hey Earl, do you remember that night when Pete got 68 points on you?’ ”

Monroe jokingly countered that even to this day, he accepts little responsibility for New York’s rough night defensively, pointing a finger at fellow backcourt star Walt “Clyde” Frazier. Like Maravich, both Monroe and Frazier were named to the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all time list at the ’96 NBA All-Star Game.

“No,” Monroe responded with a sly grin to his former NBA colleagues. “Pete got four points on me… and 64 on Clyde!”

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