Peter Press Maravich (June 22, 1947 – January 5, 1988), known by the nickname Pistol Pete, was an American professional basketball player. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in basketball history.
Maravich was born in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, part of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, and was raised in the Carolinas. He played for the LSU Tigers under his father, Press Maravich. He is the NCAA Division I all-time leading scorer with 3,667 points scored. All of his marks were achieved before the adoption of the three-point line and he did not play on the team as a freshman under NCAA rules. He played for three National Basketball Association (NBA) teams until injuries forced him to retire in 1980 after a ten-year professional career.
One of the youngest players to enter the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Maravich was cited by the Hall as “perhaps the greatest creative offensive talent in history.” In an interview in April 2010, Hall of Fame player John Havlicek said that “the best ball handler of all time was Pete Maravich.”
Maravich died suddenly at the age of 40 during a pick-up game in 1988 as a result of a previously undetected heart defect.
Maravich was born, the son of Peter “Press” Maravich (1915-1987) and Helen Gravor Maravich (1925-1974) in Aliquippa, a steel town in Beaver County in western Pennsylvania. Maravich amazed his family and friends with his basketball skills from an early age. He enjoyed a close but demanding relationship between father and son that motivated him to achieve fame in the sport. Maravich”s father was the son of Serbian immigrants and a former professional player turned coach. He showed him the fundamentals from the age of seven. Obsessively, Maravich spent hours practicing ball control, passing, and long-range shooting.
Maravich attended Daniel High School in Central, South Carolina. While at Daniel from 1961 to 1963, he participated in the school”s first game against a team from an all-black school. In 1963, his father left his position as basketball coach at Clemson University and joined the coaching staff at North Carolina State University.
The family”s subsequent move to Raleigh, North Carolina, allowed Pete to attend Needham B. Broughton High School. His high school years also saw the birth of his famous nickname. From his habit of kicking the ball sideways, as if he were holding a revolver, Maravich became known as “Pistol” Pete.
He graduated from Needham B. Broughton High School in 1965 and then attended Edwards Military Institute, where he averaged 33 points per game. It was known that Press Maravich was extremely protective of Maravich and would guard against any pressure that might arise during his teenage years. Press threatened to shoot Pete with a .45 caliber handgun if he drank or got into trouble.
Maravich was 5”9″ in high school and was preparing to play in college when his father took a coaching position at Louisiana State University.
At that time, NCAA rules prohibited first-year students from playing, which forced Maravich to play on the freshman team. In his first game, Maravich had 50 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists against Southeastern Louisiana University.
In just three years playing on the LSU team, Maravich scored 3,667 points – 1,138 in 1967-68, 1,148 in 1968-69, and 1,381 in 1969-70 – averaging 43.8, 44.2, and 44.5 points per game, respectively. In his college career, he averaged 44.2 points per game in 83 games and led the NCAA in scoring in each of his three seasons.
Maravich”s college scoring record is particularly remarkable when three factors are taken into consideration:
More than 40 years later, however, many of his NCAA and LSU records still stand. Although he never played in the NCAA Tournament, Maravich played a key role in turning around a lackluster program that had had a 3-20 record the season before his arrival. Pete Maravich finished his college career in the 1970 National Invitation Tournament, where LSU finished fourth.
The Atlanta Hawks selected Maravich with the third pick in the first round of the 1970 NBA Draft, where he played under coach Richie Guerin. He was not a natural fit in Atlanta, as the Hawks already boasted a top scorer: Lou Hudson. In fact, Maravich”s flamboyant style contrasted with the conservative play of Hudson and the team”s star, Walt Bellamy. And it didn”t help that many of the veteran players resented the $1.9 million contract that Maravich received from the team – a very high salary at the time.
Maravich played in 81 games and averaged 23.2 points, good enough to be selected to the NBA All-Rookie Team. And he was able to blend his style with his teammates, so much so that Hudson set his career high in scoring with 26.8 points. But the team had a record of 36-46 – 12 wins less than the previous season. Still, the Hawks qualified for the playoffs, where they lost to the New York Knicks in the first round.
Maravich struggled during his second season. His scoring average dropped to 19.3 points per game and the Hawks finished with a disappointing 36-46 record. Once again they qualified for the playoffs and once again they were eliminated in the first round. However, Atlanta struggled mightily against the Boston Celtics, with Maravich averaging 27.7 points in the series.
Maravich burst into his third season, averaging 26.1 points (5th in the NBA) and dishing out 6.9 assists per game (6th in the NBA). With 2,063 points, he combined with Hudson (2,029 points) to become only the second pair of teammates in league history to have 2,000 points each in a single season. The Hawks shot to a 46-36 record, but again were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. However, the season was good enough to give Maravich his first NBA All-Star Game appearance, and also NBA Second Team honors.
The following season (1973-74) was his best so far – at least in terms of individual accomplishments. Maravich had 27.7 points per game – second in the league behind Bob McAdoo – and earned his second All-Star Game appearance. However, Atlanta had a disappointing 35-47 record and missed the postseason.
New Orleans Jazz
In the summer of 1974, an expansion franchise was preparing for its first NBA season. The New Orleans Jazz were looking for someone to generate excitement among their new basketball fans. With his exciting style of play, Maravich was seen as the perfect man for the job. In addition, he was already a celebrity in the state due to his accomplishments at LSU. To acquire Maravich, the Jazz traded two players and four draft picks to Atlanta.
The expansion team struggled mightily in their first season. Maravich managed to score 21.5 points per game but the Jazz posted a 23-59 record, the worst in the NBA.
Jazz management did its best to give Maravich a better supporting cast. The team posted a 38-44 record in his second season (1975-76), but failed to qualify for the postseason. Maravich struggled with injuries that limited him to just 62 games that season, but he averaged 25.9 points (behind only McAdoo and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). He was voted to the All-NBA First Team that year.
The following season (1976-77) was his most productive in the NBA. He led the league in scoring with an average of 31.1 points. He scored 40 points or more in 13 games and 50 or more in 4 games. His 68-point masterpiece against the Knicks was at the time the most points ever scored by a shooting guard in a single game, and only two players at any position scored more: Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor.
Maravich earned his third All-Star Game appearance and was selected to the NBA First Team for the second consecutive season.
The following season, injuries to both knees forced him to miss 32 games during the 1977-78 season. Despite being deprived of some agility and athletic ability, he still managed to have 27.0 points and 6.7 assists per game. Many of those assists went to new teammate Truck Robinson, who joined the franchise as a free agent during the off-season. His presence kept opponents from focusing their defensive efforts entirely on Maravich and lifted the Jazz to a 39-43 record – just before making the team”s first playoff appearance.
Knee problems plagued Maravich for the rest of his career. He played in only 49 games during the 1978-79 season and scored 22.6 points per game, and was selected for his fifth and final All-Star appearance. But his scoring and passing abilities were severely hampered. The team struggled on the court and also faced serious financial problems. Management became desperate to make some changes. The Jazz traded Robinson to the Phoenix Suns, receiving draft picks and some money in return. In 1979, team owner Sam Battistone moved the Jazz to Salt Lake City.
Maravich moved with the team to Salt Lake City, but his knee problems were worse than ever. He played in 17 games at the beginning of the season, but his injuries prevented him from practicing much, and new coach Tom Nissalke had a strict rule that players who did not practice were prohibited from playing. Thus, Maravich was benched for 24 consecutive games, much to the consternation of Utah fans and Maravich himself. During this time, Adrian Dantley emerged as the franchise player.
The Jazz dismissed Maravich in January 1980. He signed with the Boston Celtics, the best team in the league that year, led by rookie superstar Larry Bird. Maravich adjusted to a new role as a part-time contributor, giving Boston a “weapon” off the bench. He helped the team to a 61-21 regular season record, the best in the league. And, for the first time since the beginning of his career in Atlanta, Maravich was able to participate in the NBA playoffs. He played in nine games during the postseason, but the Celtics were defeated by Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
During his ten-year NBA career, Maravich played in 658 games and averaged 24.2 points and 5.4 assists. In 1987, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and his #7 jersey was retired by the Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans, as well as his #44 jersey by the Atlanta Hawks.
After injuries forced his retirement in the fall of 1980, Maravich was reclusive for two years. Nevertheless, he said he was searching “for life. He experimented with the practices of yoga and Hinduism and became interested in the field of ufology. He also explored vegetarianism and macrobiotics. Eventually, he embraced evangelical Christianity. A few years before his death, Maravich said, “I want to be remembered as a Christian, a person who serves Jesus to the fullest, not as a basketball player.”
On January 5, 1988, Maravich died of heart failure at the age of 40 while playing basketball in the gymnasium of the First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena, California, with a group that included gospel author James Dobson. Maravich flew from his home in Louisiana to record a segment of Dobson”s radio show that aired later that day. Dobson said that Maravich”s last words, less than a minute before he died, were “I feel great.” An autopsy revealed that the cause of death was a rare congenital defect; he had been born without a left coronary artery, a vessel that supplies blood to the muscle fibers of the heart. His right coronary artery was very dilated and compensated for the defect.
Maravich died a year after the death of his father and several years after his mother, who shot herself to death. Maravich is buried in the Gardens of Remembrance and Resthaven Mausoleum in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Maravich leaves behind his wife Jackie and their two sons Jaeson, age 8, and Josh, age 5. The year before, Maravich took Jaeson to the 1987 All-Star Game in Seattle, Washington, and introduced him to Michael Jordan.
Since Maravich”s children were very young when he died, Jackie Maravich initially shielded them from unwanted media attention, not even allowing Jaeson and Josh to attend their father”s funeral. However, their penchant for basketball seemed to be an inherited trait. Despite some setbacks in dealing with their father”s death and without the benefit his guardianship might have provided, both sons were eventually inspired to play basketball in middle school and high school – Josh at his father”s alma mater, LSU.
On June 27, 2014, Governor Bobby Jindal proposed that LSU erect a Maravich statue outside the Assembly Center, which already bears the basketball star”s name. Former coach Dale Brown opposes such a monument, but Maravich”s widow, Jackie McLachlan, said she was promised a statue after her husband passed away. McLachlan said she has noticed how fans fight to get Maravich”s name on Assembly Center on camera.
In February 2016, the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame Committee unanimously approved a proposal that a statue honoring Maravich be installed on campus.
A street in Belgrade, Serbia, is named after Pete Maravich.
Maravich”s untimely and mystical death have made the memorabilia associated with him among the most valuable of all basketball collections. T-shirts worn by Maravich for games make more money at auction than similar items from anyone other than George Mikan, with the most common items selling for $10,000 or more and a game-worn LSU jersey selling for $94,300 at a 2001 auction.
The game ball signed on his 68-point night, the highlight of his career, on February 25, 1977, was sold for $131,450 at a 2009 auction.