Archive 75

Pete Maravich

By Todd Spehr·

A question for you, Gen Z basketball fan: Describe for me the feeling you get when the text alert demands your immediate attention, making you aware of Stephen Curry’s three 3-pointers in three possessions, or Ja Morant’s latest captivating move. It’s pretty special, isn’t it? The glorious mix of anticipation, fixated eyes, raised heart rate -- it’s impossible to capture the excitement one gets watching a player perform something that, you’re sure, is exclusive only to them.

Consider then that the player we present here -- Pete Maravich -- has perhaps never been better encapsulated by that feeling, the one given to the fans, both before the act of greatness (anticipation) and immediately following (exhilaration). The genius in Maravich was this: He saw angles others couldn’t; he tried things others wouldn’t. The mystique surrounding his ball-handling and dribbling skills upon his arrival in the NBA lent itself to the idea that anything really was possible when he came down the floor at breakneck speed. The skills were expertly honed and his imagination inspired invention.

Win or lose, success or failure, Maravich elicited a response in his followers that was truly uncommon in this league’s history, reducing the game to what it remains at its core: Entertainment. And what a joy he was to behold.

To fully grasp the Maravich legacy, one must understand the relationship Pete had with his father, Press. Once compared by a national sportswriter as something of a Geppetto, the father Maravich -- once a professional himself -- carved out in his son what he believed to be the perfect basketball player, effectively programming his child first with fundamentals before a never-ending stream of laterally-thought-out drills, all designed to build confidence and, eventually, a truly dynamic force. It just so happened that Press’ son saw the game differently than others. Combining his father’s vision of the game’s capabilities with his own unique vantage point with ball-in-hand, the game has never really seen one like Pete Maravich.

The results are well-versed by fans both novice and scholar. Playing under his father at LSU, Maravich became college basketball’s all-time leading scorer. His points average as a collegian seem more apt amongst its kind in the Guinness World Records book than any sports reference compendium that houses mortal statistics. Those numbers can indeed be traced back to a relationship between father and son, but in no way come close to quantifying the impact Press had on Pete.

In his own words, in the last year of his life, Pete goes deep on the influence of his father.

Maravich’s professional arrival in Atlanta in 1970 was celebrated, even if his exploits at the time were limited to occasional television appearances and glowing appraisals by spellbound newspaper writers. Maravich was in some ways the last of his kind, surrounded by a type of mystery that became less and less prevalent with the growth of media exposure in sports. The illustrations of him -- the idea of Maravich -- were as powerful as the actual product. There was the nickname, Pistol, the long hair, the floppy socks, adorning a jersey number (44) that never let us forget LSU. But above all, when Maravich was on the court and the ball was in his hands, there existed a possibility that anything could happen.

Maravich was, it was universally agreed, going to be the symbol of the sport in the 1970s, a talent whose game was built on illusion, daring creativity, and inventiveness -- and all of it unharnessed.

ABC had to have his professional debut, and paid a pretty penny for it, which came on a Saturday afternoon in October, 1970. And at halftime of that inauguration against the Bucks, it too was the formal closing of the curtain on that historic collegiate career, as Maravich was presented with the Hank Iba Award as the United States Basketball Writers Association Player of the Year.

If the assignment is to show off the essence of young Maravich in two minutes or less, then consider this our submission. These clips are gleaned not from broadcast films,  but from what are known as scout tapes or coaching films; recorded in-arena by team staff or a third party, intended solely for the use of the team for game preparation.

So rarely did the visuals you are about to see get viewed beyond the sanctuary of the locker room, assuming they survived at all. With that as a backdrop, we present the very best of that rare Maravich goodness as a member of the Hawks.

How well do you know your New Orleans Jazz history? Not that well? Then wrap your mind around this one: Pete Maravich was obtained before the organization had a general manager, before it had a coach, and before it had a nickname. Not only are those the ingredients for a terrific trivia question, they also outline the objectives of ownership after being granted an expansion team in the early spring of 1974. The logic was simple: Memories of his record-setting run down the road at Baton Rouge were still fresh, and the lure of Maravich would bring not only credibility but most assuredly a healthy attendance, even in the face of typical expansion teething.

What you’re about to see is, in the world of Maravich footage (yes, there is a world of Maravich footage), the rarest of the rare. From a newly discovered team film, we take a look back at the historic first week of the Jazz in the NBA in 1974. First, their very first game, played at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks; then, a week later, their first home game against the Sixers, where Maravich unleashes perhaps his most famous pass. Does life get better than watching Maravich play and "Hot Rod" Hundley narrate? It most certainly does not.

The Jazz played five seasons in New Orleans, then departed for Salt Lake City in 1979. The team never quite shed the expansion label, nor tasted playoff action, yet those years were the best of Maravich’s career: Three All-Star nods, a scoring title in 1977, and twice named first-team All-NBA.

Maravich would periodically appear on CBS’s coverage of the NBA that season, not as a player -- the Jazz had zero national television appearances while based in New Orleans -- but predictably, as an attraction on two of their most popular halftime features. This is Maravich, presented exactly as he entered living rooms in the mid-to-late 1970s, performing acts with the basketball that only enhanced his reputation as the game’s undisputed showman.

Here, working his magic in the immortal "Red on Roundball" series from 1976.

And airing in 1978, here’s the best of Maravich in the H-O-R-S-E competition.

At the time he called it quits in 1980, only Jerry West and Oscar Robertson owned higher scoring averages among retired backcourt brethren than Maravich’s 24.2 per game. He had entered professional basketball with the reputation as a scorer, and when he scored 68 points against the Knicks in the Superdome in 1977, a guard had never before hit for that many in a game. Maravich particularly was deadly in transition, a threat to shoot from anywhere (his favorite destination to launch was the top of the key) and if the numbers suited -- heck, even if they didn’t -- few could keep him from getting to where he wanted because of his unique dribbling ability. Name the threat, and it was in the Pistol’s arsenal.

Here, we take look at Maravich not through the lens of his magical passes, but of putting the ball in the hole, which he did with a style unlike few before or since.

Depending on your palate, there are several ways to interpret the career of Pete Maravich. One could rue the shortness of his career, or lack of a title. For others, he simply did things with the basketball that had never been done before; a player who, when the ball met his hands, was capable of creating magic. And it is on that note -- the Jazz note -- that we leave the Maravich vault with this most unimaginable treat: The best of peak Maravich, New Orleans Maravich, the one you always heard and read about but never saw, in one glorious reel.