He played 10 seasons in the NBA, earning five trips to the NBA All-Star Game and one league scoring title. "Pistol Pete" was the youngest player ever inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987. He was named one of the National Basketball Association's 50 greatest players in 1996.
Maravich starred in college at Louisiana State University and is still the all-time leading NCAA scorer, averaging 44.2 points per game at a time when the three point shot did not exist. He was a three time first team All-American and was named The Sporting News’ player of the year in 1970, and received the USBWA College Player of the Year and Naismith Award as well.
For all his on-court triumphs, Maravich was never satisfied with his play and never won a championship. He battled depression and alcoholism until his conversion to evangelical Christianity later in his life.
His parents, Helen and Press Maravich, had met while Maravich was in the United States Navy and were married in 1946. Helen had a son, Ronnie, from her previous marriage. Her previous husband had died in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II.
After the war Press pursued a career in basketball. He was a guard with the Youngstown Bears of the National Basketball League in 1945-1946 and with the Pittsburgh Ironmen of the Basketball Association of America in 1946-47. Press Maravich's first head coaching job at the college level was at West Virginia Wesleyan College from 1949-1950. Press began instructing Pete in the fundamentals of basketball when he was seven years old. Pete would obsessively spend hours practicing ball control tricks, passes, head fakes, and long range shots.
The elder Maravich required his son to make 100 shots from the free throw line in their driveway every night after dinner before he would be allowed to go to bed. Maravich claimed he often made 99 straight before deliberately missing the next several shots just so he could continue playing ball outside. Maravich's father claims that at the age of 11 he once succeeded in making 500 consecutive free throws one evening after school, stopping only when it became too dark to see the rim, illuminated only by the elder Maravich's flashlight.
Maravich's mother suffered a lifetime of mental health and alcohol problems, the kind that the Pistol himself would later face as well. She died of an apparent suicide in 1974. His father died in 1987, a month before Pete was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Pete played his first high school game when he was an eighth grader at Daniel High School in Clemson, South Carolina. His father, Press Maravich, was the coach at the time for Clemson College, now Clemson University. He eventually won a starting guard position and led the team to the State High School Championship in their Class/Division.
Pete also played high school ball at Needham B. Broughton in Raleigh, North Carolina when his father left Clemson to be groomed for the head coaching job at NC State University by serving as an assistant to Coach Everette Case. Press did become head coach but his dream to coach son Pete at State was upset by academic requirements in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Pete, after several attempts, could not make an 800 on the College Board examinations, a basic hurdle for admission. He played in Raleigh for three years, including his postgraduate year at Edwards Military Institute in Salemburg as his father worked on a deal with Louisiana State University (LSU).
During his years at those schools, he wowed college scouts with his ability to shoot, dribble, pass, and score points. The young Maravich had wanted to attend West Virginia University, but his father told him that if he didn't sign with LSU he might as well leave home. In 1966, Maravich decided to attend Louisiana State University, and play for his father, the school's new head basketball coach, hired in part because of his promise to deliver the younger Maravich to the school. Under his father's tutelage, Maravich would become known as "Pistol Pete."
During his freshman year in college the NCAA rules prohibited first-year students from playing at the varsity level, so Maravich played for LSU's freshman team in 1966-1967 and scored 43.6 points per game.
Noted for his mop of brown hair and floppy socks, Maravich scored more points in college than any other player in history. In only three years playing for his father at LSU, Maravich scored 3,667 points—1,138 points in 1968, 1,148 points in 1969 and 1,381 points in 1970 while averaging 43.8, 44.2, and 44.5 points per game. In the process, "Pistol Pete" set 11 NCAA and 34 Southeastern Conference records, as well as every LSU record in points scored, scoring average, field goals attempted and made, free throws attempted and made, and assists. In his collegiate career, the 6' 5" and 170 pound (1.96 m) guard averaged 44.2 points per game in 83 contests and led the NCAA in scoring three times. He also set an NCAA record by scoring more than 50 points 28 times. He was named a three-time All-American and still holds many of these records, more than 35 years later. Notably, his 3,667 points don't factor in the 741 he scored his freshman year, or the fact that they played without a three-point line.
Maravich was a three time first team All-American and was named The Sporting News' player of the year in 1970, and received the USBWA College Player of the Year and Naismith Award as well. He scored a personal record of 69 points versus University of Alabama during a game that year, and garnered numerous other awards and college records.
Maravich excelled on the court and LSU slowly turned around a lackluster program. The year before he arrived, the varsity posted a 3-20 record. In Pete's senior season, LSU was 20-8 and participated in the NIT, where they were defeated by Marquette University 101-79 in the semi-finals. Maravich was also a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon while at LSU.
As a college player Maravich was unparalleled, but for all of his personal achievements and flair, he was not a big winner. LSU's record during his stint there was a modest 49-35.
Atlanta Hawks The Atlanta Hawks selected the slender, 6-5 Maravich with the third overall pick in the 1970 NBA Draft, behind Bob Lanier and Rudy Tomjanovich. Maravich wasn't warmly received by the team's veterans, who resented his $1.9-million contract—the largest contract ever awarded at the time. The Hawks already had one of the NBA's best shooters in Lou Hudson, two of its best rebounders in Walt Bellamy and Bill Bridges and one of the game's shrewdest playmakers in Walt Hazzard. Maravich replaced Joe Caldwell, who had jumped to the American Basketball Association after the 1969-1970 season.
He wasted little time becoming a valuable asset, averaging 23.2 points per game his rookie season. He was named to the NBA's All Rookie Team. Atlanta had finished 48-34 the previous season, winning the Western Division and advancing to the division finals. With Maravich aboard, the 1970-1971 Hawks finished 36-46 and in second place behind the Baltimore Bullets in the new Central Division. Atlanta fell to the New York Knicks in the conference semifinals. In Pete's second year he missed 16 games in 1971-1972 and averaged 19.3 points per game (ppg), a sharp drop-off by his standards. Lou Hudson was the Hawks' go-to guy, scoring 24.7 ppg, while Bellamy scored 18.6 ppg on .545 shooting from the field. The team replicated the previous season's 36-46 record and once again finished second to Baltimore in the Central Division. In the opening round of the playoffs Atlanta pushed the Boston Celtics to six games before falling. Maravich intensified his play during the postseason, averaging 27.7 ppg. As Maravich adjusted to the pro game his numbers improved.
He remained healthy in 1972-1973 and helped the Hawks to a 46-36 record, the only winning season he would experience in his NBA prime. Maravich earned his first All-Star appearance and landed a spot on the All-NBA Second Team by averaging 26.1 ppg. He and Hudson (27.1 ppg) comprised a formidable offensive duo, ranking fourth and fifth in the NBA, respectively. His passing skills began to pay off and his career-best 6.9 assists per game ranked sixth in the league. Atlanta again finished second to Baltimore in the Central Division, then made its yearly exit from the playoffs. Maravich averaged 26.2 ppg during the postseason as the Hawks lost to Boston in the conference semifinals for a second straight year.
The Pistol's final year with Atlanta was his highest-scoring NBA season yet—and the team's worst during his tenure. He poured in 27.7 ppg in 1973-1974, second in the league to Buffalo Braves center Bob McAdoo's 30.6. The Hawks, however, faded to 35-47 and missed the playoffs. Maravich played in his second NBA All-Star Game during the season and scored 15 points in 22 minutes.
New Orleans Jazz After spending four seasons in Atlanta, Maravich was traded to the New Orleans Jazz for eight players. He scored only 21.5 ppg but shot a career-worst .419 from the field. Maravich worked hard on other aspects of his game, however, recording career highs in rebounds (422) and steals (120) and averaging 6.2 assists per game. New Orleans endured a difficult first season. A typical expansion mix of aging veterans, journeymen and unproven young talent (22 different players wore Jazz colors during the season), the Jazz stumbled to a 23-59 record, worst in the league.
The next couple of years saw Maravich peak, as his skills, savvy, and showmanship came to fruition. Still flamboyant, he managed to make his flashy moves not only decorative but also effective. And although Maravich's teams weren't winners, the Jazz did acquire a few good players such as Leonard "Truck" Robinson, thereby distracting opponents from concentrating solely on Maravich and consequently freeing him up. In 1975-1976, Maravich was occasionally sidelined with minor injuries. He played only 62 games but shot a career-high .459 from the floor and raised his average to 25.9 ppg, third highest in the league behind McAdoo and the Los Angeles Lakers' Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The young New Orleans team began to show signs of life as well. The Jazz finished 38-44 and vaulted out of the Central Division cellar, leaving last place to Maravich's former team, the Atlanta Hawks. Pistol Pete was rewarded during the postseason with his first selection to the All-NBA First Team.
The following season was Maravich's finest as a professional. He saw action in 73 games and led the NBA in scoring with a career-best 31.1 ppg. He scored 40 or more points 13 times, the most in the NBA that season and he led the league in total points (2,273), field goals attempted (2,047) and free throws made (501). On Feb. 25, 1977, he scored 68 points in a game against the New York Knicks despite the efforts of defensive ace Walt Frazier. Maravich's performance that day ranks as the eleventh-best single-game total in NBA history. He returned to the NBA All-Star Game in 1977 and earned his second straight berth on the All-NBA First Team.
In 1978-1979, Maravich's numbers declined in nearly every category. Once again he missed a sizable chunk of the year, seeing action in only 49 contests. He still managed to score 22.6 ppg and play in the NBA All-Star Game, but nothing came easily anymore. His knee problems were proving too tough to overcome.
The Jazz franchise, acknowledging declining fan interest in New Orleans, packed up and headed to Utah for the 1979-1980 season. Although the move marked the start of a winning future for the franchise, it was the beginning of the end for Maravich. He was already upset about his diminished playing time (he'd been benched for a month by Coach Tom Nissalke), but in reality he was no longer needed. Adrian Dantley had taken over as the team's top offensive threat, averaging 28.0 ppg for the season, third in the NBA.
Boston Celtics Maravich played in 17 early-season games before he was waived by Utah on January 17, 1980. Five days later he was picked up as a free agent by the Boston Celtics, the top team in the league that year behind rookie forward Larry Bird. On the surface, Maravich was an odd choice for the team-oriented Celtics, but he worked himself back into shape and applied his considerable skills to the unfamiliar challenge of serving as a part-time contributor. He averaged 11.5 points in 26 outings for Boston and was still capable of impressive scoring bursts. In one game he scored the final 10 points in a come-from-behind win over the Washington Bullets. During the postseason he managed a modest 6.0 ppg as the Celtics reached the Eastern Conference Finals.
Maravich was a notorious long-range bomber during his career, but until now he had never played in a league, college or pro, that used the three-point shot. All of his many points had come on two-pointers, even when launched from a great distance. In 1979-1980, the NBA finally adopted the three-point shot. In his final season-with his skills rusty, his knees creaky, and his minutes limited-Pistol Pete Maravich finally got a chance to shoot three-pointers. He went 10-for-15. After the season Maravich faced the reality of his bad knee and retired. He ended his 10-year career with an average of more than 24 ppg. Although he had left the Jazz on less than cordial terms, the grievances were forgotten over the ensuing years and his uniform number was retired by the franchise in 1985.
After a leg injury forced him to leave basketball in the fall of 1980, Maravich became a recluse for two years. Through it all, Maravich said he was searching "for life." He tried the practices of yoga and Hinduism, read Trappist monk Thomas Merton's The Seven Story Mountain, and took an interest in the field of ufology, the study of unidentified flying objects. He also explored vegetarianism and macrobiotics. In 1982, he became a Christian and began traveling the country sharing his new found faith in Jesus Christ.
A few years prior to his death, Maravich said, "I want to be remembered as a Christian, a person that serves Him to the utmost. Not as a basketball player."
On January 5, 1988, while warming up to play a pickup basketball game with a group that included Focus on the Family head James Dobson, he collapsed and died of a heart attack at the age of only 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.
"He'll be remembered always", former LSU head basketball coach Dale Brown said on hearing the news of Maravich's death. When we see some tousled-haired kid with drooping socks standing on some semi-darkened court or in a yard after everyone else has gone home, he will be shooting a basketball, and we will remember Pete.
Years before his death, at the age of 25, Maravich told Pennsylvania reporter, Andy Nuzzo, "I don't want to play 10 years in the NBA and then die of a heart attack at 40."
Pete Maravich is buried at Resthaven Gardens of Memory and Mausoleum in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Maravich was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in May 1987. He is the youngest player ever to be inducted.
A comprehensive video history of Maravich includes his Pistol Pete’s Homework Basketball video series made in 1987. The series contains four different videos—one each on passing, ball-handling, shooting, and dribbling. In 1991, a biographical film dramatizing his eighth grade season entitled, The Pistol: The Birth of a Legend, was released. In 2001, a comprehensive 90-minute documentary film debuted on CBS entitled, Pistol Pete: The Life and Times of Pete Maravich.
After Maravich's death, Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer signed a proclamation officially renaming the LSU home court the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in 1988.
In 1996, he was named one of the 50 greatest NBA players in history by a panel made up of NBA historians, former players, and coaches. He was the only deceased player on the list.
In 2005, ESPNU named Maravich the greatest college basketball player of all-time. And in 2007, two biographies of Maravich were released: Maravich by Wayne Federman and Marshall Terrill, and Pistol by Mark Kriegel.
Pete is survived by his two sons Jaeson and Josh who both carried on the Maravich name in collegiate play. Jaeson played at William Carey College and Josh played at Louisiana State University.
All links retrieved March 10, 2019.
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