Sunday, March 27, 2011

The ‘Pistol’ relived

“He shouldn’t be dead.  Of anyone, he should be here.  Just to see what his legacy has become.  He needs to be here to see the Hornets in New Orleans, the success of the Jazz in Utah.  He needs to see Steve Nash’s hair worn like a tribute, the old footage of his appearances on Red On Roundball, the popularity of his Hawks jersey throughout the ATL during the ’03 All-Star Weekend.  He needs to see Jason Williams play.  He needs to see all the And 1 Mix Tapes.  Then again, Pete Maravich is probably seeing all of it.  Looking down on us from above.  Smiling, saying, ‘They finally got it.’”
- Scoop Jackson, SLAM, June 9, 2003, The Greatest NBA Players of All Time.

            Jared Holmes, one of my best friends, was the first to introduce me to ‘Pistol Pete.’  We were in middle school at the time; maybe 12 or 13-years-old.  One day we were smacking around plastic golf balls in his back yard with a putter when I noticed something was printed on it.  “Pistol Pete.”
            “Who names their putter ‘Pistol Pete?’ I joked.  “Who even is that?”
            I then questioned his heterosexuality, but that didn’t seem to faze him.  He was already looking at me like I had three heads.
            “Tell me you don’t know who Pistol Pete is?” he said.  “Do you know anything about basketball?”
            Looking back now – no, I didn’t.  I tried to defend myself at the time.  I said I was young.  How was I supposed to know about somebody that played in the 60s and 70s?  Fortunately for Jared, his father used to tell him about the legend of ‘Pistol Pete’ and how great of a player he was.  Where does the putter fit in?  Nowhere.  Jared’s dad used it as a snake hook in the early 1970s.  He has no idea why it as ‘Pistol Pete’ on it.  Funny how things work out.
            Still, I would bet that today not many 13-year-olds have heard of Pete Maravich.  They don’t know about the ‘Pistol’ and how he transcended the game.  Well, they need to.
            Pete Maravich was born in Aliquippa, PA in the late 1940s.  His father was a college coach and began teaching him the game when he was about seven-years-old.  He made him do dribbling drills such as dribbling on rail-road tracks or dribbling blindfolded.  He even had a drill called the ‘scrambled eggs’ where he would dribble between his legs while patting himself on different body parts.  This made the ball seem like a yo-yo in Maravich’s hands.  He would go around his back with ease whenever a defender was over-playing him or went for a steal.  Both he and the defender pretty much knew that he would do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. 
Maravich’s great ball control helped him introduce some ridiculous passes as well.  He liked to bounce a pass through his legs to a teammate in stride for a lay-up.  He acted like he was about to throw a bounce pass to his right, but then flicked his wrists down hard and threw the pass in the opposite direction.  He sometimes wrapped an around-the-back pass to his left as he looked to the right.  It was like poetry in motion.
Now I highly doubt that Maravich’s father taught him how to make the crazy passes that he did since most people at the time thought it was show-boating.  But over time he became a master at the around-the-back pass, the no-look drop off and the change-of-direction bounce pass.  I guess they just came with practice.  Or a lot of time spent fooling around in the driveway.  Unfortunately for Maravich, he was too far ahead of his time.  Nobody really knew how good he was or truly appreciated him for his talents because of the era and style that he played in.  That’s where Scoop’s message comes in.
            While Maravich’s ball-handling and passing skills drew the most attention, his ability to shoot was practically unrivaled.  His shot was so smooth and quick that it earned him his nickname.  Maravich shot the ball from his hip like an old-western revolver and was later tabbed ‘Pistol Pete’ by a local sportswriter.
            As if his flashy-style and overall skill-set weren’t enough to have spectators in awe, his college scoring numbers have sports enthusiasts mind boggled.
            I will start out with the basics for those not as familiar with Maravich.  In just three seasons at Louisiana State University (1968-1970), the ‘Pistol’ tallied 3,667 career points.  That’s an average 44.2 points-per-game over 83 games.  Both are still NCAA Division I records.  His three season averages of 44.5 (senior), 44.2 (junior) and 43.8 (sophomore) points-per-game rank No. 1, 2 and 3 all-time respectively.
            At the time, NCAA rules prohibited freshman from playing on the varsity level and were forced to participate on either freshman or junior varsity teams.  This prevented Maravich’s freshman numbers, 741 points (43.6 ppg), from being added to his college totals.  Imagine if they were.  That would push his total to over 4,400 points.  No player in NCAA Division I history has scored more than 4,000.  Oscar Robertson (2,973 pts, No. 8) and Elvin Hayes (2,884 points, No. 11) are also Top-25 scorers affected by this rule.
            On a side note, here are some other pieces of information that I think are very noteworthy.  Maravich’s stat-line in his first college game against Southeastern Louisiana University: 50 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists.  He holds the NCAA record for most 50-point games in a season (10 in 1970) and in a career (28).  He has made the most free throws in a game (30-of-31).  The list goes on as he currently holds at least 14 other NCAA records.
            Now to the point of inspiration for this column.  I was watching a sports talk show the other night and SNY’s Brandon Tierney quoted a piece of information that I found absolutely staggering.  Per Les Levine’s article from The News-Herald (Ohio) on June 14, 2009…

Former LSU coach Dale Brown watched tape of every college game played by Maravich, who died in 1988.  Brown calculated that 13 of his made shots per game were from what is now behind the collegiate 3-point line.

            Thirteen three-pointers per game.  Thirteen.  Take a second and think about that…
            Why are you still reading?  Literally, take a few seconds and think about it.

            Crazy, right?  The three-point line wasn’t instilled until 1986-87, so I am sure this affected a lot of the top scorers.  Not as much as Maravich.  The extra points would push his career scoring average from 44.2 to a ridiculous 57.2 points-per-game.  Players can’t even do that in video games.
            Wilt Chamberlain is probably looked at as the most dominate college player of his respective era.  In two seasons at Kansas, Chamberlain averaged 29.9 points-per-game.  That’s almost 12 points less than the jump-shooting Maravich.  Lew Alcindor from UCLA?  He averaged 26.4 points-per-game; nearly 20 points less.  Notre Dame’s Austin Carr, who graduated in 1971, is second on the career average list with 34.6 points-per-game.  You do the math.
            Maravich did shoot a lot though.  He fired up 3,166 shots in his three-year career.  That’s an astounding 38.1 shots-per-game with a .438 shooting percentage, but I don’t think it should be held against him.  If a person is a ‘scorer’ and their team needs them to score in order to win, then they have to do what they have to do.  I’m sure Brown didn’t mind or else he would have told him to lighten up somewhere along the line.  He could be looked at as a Kobe Bryant or Allen Iverson.  They may hoist it up a lot, but who else on their team was going to do anything.
            Let’s recap.  Maravich finished with 3,667 points in three seasons.  Add the 741 from his freshman year and we have 4,408.  Now tack on the extra 1,079 points he would have received from the three-pointer line and we are up to 5,487 theoretical points.  All I can do is laugh at that number.
            Sadly, on January 5, 1988, Maravich collapsed and died at age 40 of a heart attack while playing in a pickup basketball game in the gym at a church in Pasadena, California.
             If people of this world didn’t know about ‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich before this piece, hopefully they have a better understanding now.  I know once Jared filled me in all those years ago, I immediately became a fan.  I even bought his LSU jersey online.  It may be three sizes too big for me, but I hope to frame it someday.
            That way, any time somebody walks into the room they will be reminded of the legend of ‘Pistol Pete.’  And if they don’t know who he is, I would be glad to fill them in.


  1. Great Job as always Shawn... I passed this on :)

  2. When I meet a girl who has an attitude and is real firey, I like to say "That one is a real pistol". Do you think that phrase has anything to do with Pistol Pete?

    Also, with the NBA's image problems do you think they would have changed his name like they did to the bullets. Wizard Pete sounds weird, kinda Charlie Sheenish.

  3. You throw Jason Williams in there, the JW from Florida, Sacramento, and now Orlando. To me they are the same type of player. Williams, is not as near good as Maravich was, but they do have the same story. Both their dads were coaches, and they just played ball. 24-7, Williams would through passes at a cinder block in the gym because he had no one else to pass too when he was 10-11 years old, always having a ball in his hand, thinking of ways to get better. Yes Pete was 30 years before his time, which made him unbelivable, and that is what made him and outstanding college player. But he never made it "BIG" in the NBA because he was too extreme. Its like now, there are amazing street ballers in the big cities, but you wont see them in the NBA, just because they dont have what the NBA is looking for. Maravich was great, and if he was around today he would be a great college player, and an above average NBA player, but thats it.