25 Years Ago: Pete Maravich Dies At 40

 

The best anniversaries get celebrated. Others get commemorated, observed or simply remembered. This is one of those.

Twenty-five years ago on this date, “Pistol” Pete Maravich died suddenly after a pick-up basketball game in Pasadena, Calif. He was 40 years old.

Lots of great things in NBA history happened on Jan. 5. Wilt Chamberlain scored 50 or more points on that day for four consecutive seasons (1960-1963). Magic Johnson dished 22 assists against Philadelphia on Jan. 5, 1983, then Nick Van Exel (1997) and Rajon Rondo (2011) pushed that to 23. Hall of Famer Alex English was born on Jan. 5, 1954 and four-time All-Star Spencer Haywood made his NBA debut on that day in 1971.

Maravich’s plans for Jan. 5, 1988, though, were hardly memorable, his expectations low, as Bill Dwyre writes in the Los Angeles Times:

Everything seemed normal that morning in the gymnasium at the First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena. Maravich had flown in from his Louisiana home to do some radio work with James Dobson. Maravich had become a born-again Christian. Dobson was the nationally known head of Focus on the Family …

Dobson, 6 feet 5, was then 51, loved sports, was once captain of the tennis team at Pasadena City College and put together morning pickup basketball games at Nazarene on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. This was a Tuesday, but it was a special day.

The guy with the scraggly hair and floppy socks was joining the game.

Maravich had been out of the NBA for eight years, his dazzling professional career curtailed after 10 seasons by knee injuries. But when he played, and particularly when he felt healthy, there was no better show and few more effective scorers: Across seven seasons – from his third with Atlanta through his fifth with the New Orleans Jazz – the scrawny, 6-foot-5 gunner averaged 26.1 points with 4.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.4 steals in 38.7 minutes.

He also averaged 23.1 field-goal attempts – a significant drop from the 38.1 he launched in three seasons at LSU, when he set the NCAA career scoring mark of 44.2 points. Maravich was a five-time NBA All-Star who became the youngest person elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1987, and he still ranks among the NBA’s top 100 in several career categories (field goals, shots, free throws, assists per game), including 20th at 24.2 ppg.

None of that, however, even scratches the surface of the showmanship Maravich brought to the court as a ball handler and passer. “A white Globetrotter,” Dwyre called him. And there was this:

He could spin the ball on his fingertip and dribble between his legs and behind his back as routinely as he could walk. His shooting range was anywhere inside the gymnasium.

A recent article by Yahoo.com’s Jeff Eisenberg quoted former Georgia guard Herb White on the challenge of guarding Maravich, especially with the myriad screens set by LSU teammates.

“It was like trying to catch a housefly in a really dark room full of refrigerators,” White said.

No one harbored ambitions like that when Maravich, Dobson, former UCLA center Ralph Drollinger and three others picked sides for some 3-on-3 action in Pasadena.

“Pete was the same,” says Drollinger, who was 34 at the time. “Droopy socks, floppy hair. I always said you couldn’t guard him by watching his hair. It always went the opposite way of his body.”

They played three-on-three for about 20 minutes and took a break. Drollinger walked to a drinking fountain and then Maravich — standing near Dobson, and just after proclaiming “I feel great” — collapsed. There were a few seconds, Drollinger says, “when we all thought he was faking, just joking.”

You can’t fake foaming at the mouth, and soon, Dobson and Drollinger were doing CPR.

Maravich was gone. The trip to St. Luke’s Hospital and two-hour wait was a formality. An autopsy, Dwyre wrote, revealed that Maravich, that whippet-thin court magician, had racked up all those minutes and highlights without a left coronary artery in his heart. His right coronary enlarged and ultimately gave out.

When the NBA named its Top 50 players in 1996, all of the league’s legends were alive – George Mikan, Dolph Schayes, Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, Chamberlain and on and on – and most of them showed up at the 1997 All-Star Game in Cleveland. Except for Maravich, who was represented by his sons.

The Top 50 team was linked to the NBA’s debut a half-century earlier (1946-47), part of an anniversary that truly was celebrated. The one on this day in 2013 is better off commemorated or simply observed: “Pistol” Pete Maravich, R.I.P. (June 22, 1947 – Jan. 5, 1988).

38 Comments

  1. jonniefox says:

    Knew him, loved his game, respected his wife Jackie and his father Press. Remember his young children. Such a loss. Will never forget my tenure with the N.O. Jazz and witnessing the amazing talent of the “Pistol”.

  2. Cross says:

    I’m only 17 but just watching the videos on YouTube of him give me chills. He was truly ahead of his time.
    Pete Maravich fans should watch the movie of him, it’s amazing.

  3. Florida says:

    He was playing like Magic J. RIP Maravich.

  4. J-Short says:

    i came up watching the league in teh 80′s but to read this mans bio and to see the stats/highlights he was a great player and a crowd pleaser. I think like anything over time greatness is only what people see in the present without truly appreciating the past. I dont believe in a GOAT, so i wont even go there, but for his time and his era PP was a players, player.

  5. First off, very well written article! I was born too late to enjoy Pete playing live, but I remember being blown away watching him on tape or reading stories about him. It’s prety amazing that he did all he did, with a heart that wasn’t built correctly!! What I mean to say is, in reality with a heart defect like that he could of died at any time through out his life, ATLEAST we got to enjoy his play and person for as long as we did!

  6. James says:

    Loved to watch the Pistol, but the only time I got to in person was when me and some friends were going downtown to tour the French Quarters only to see that the Jazz were playing at the SuperDome.. Guess where we went. Pistol had a hard life until he met Jesus, then he lived the dream. His records won’t be broken. Its said he would have averaged 55 per game with the 3′s .. but you know 44 ppg is still untouchable .

  7. Baller says:

    Great player, absolutely a wizard on the court. Greatly missed.

  8. João Fernandes says:

    «Love never fails,character never quits,and with patience and persistance,dreams do come true.»
    Pete,the NBA and it´s fans miss you because there will never ever be another «Pistol».
    May you rest in peace.

  9. Listen up! says:

    I don’t think I’ll ever see a player with the razzle-dazzle of Pete Maravich. The closest one was Jason Williams; and he was a distant second!

  10. Kurt says:

    My favorite player of all time and I am 51 years old. I’ve seen a lot of the great players, MJ, Magic, Bird, Chamberlain, Kobe, LeBron but for my money I’ll take Pistol Pete every time. He was a magician with a basketball! As a fan of the game of basketball, you had to love watching Pistol Pete do his thing on the court! RIP Pete!

  11. Keith Chagnon says:

    Thanks so much for this great piece on Pete. He’s always been my basketball hero.

  12. Tyler says:

    One of my favorite games to watch every Christmas is the 1970 Christmas Day game against the Suns when Pete was a rookie. I’ve watched it every year for about the last 8 years or so, it always makes me feel warm and toasty.

  13. Tyler says:

    Pete Maravich probably had the greatest hair the NBA has ever seen….I can’t think of another player ever being in a shampoo commercial. I always thought of Topher Grace as Eric Forman on that 70′s show, from a physical standpoint, as a shoutout to Pistol Pete. I will always have the image of Pete’s father Press driving him down the road in their car as Pete dribbled a ball out the window, thinking, HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?!?! Awesome legend, gone too soon.

  14. Michael Ladd says:

    Pistol was Magic long before there was Magic Johnson….Pistol was the greatest entertainer of them all on the court!

  15. Tucker says:

    I’m only 16 but I consider Pete the greatest. I favored him over great players like MJ only because if you live in Louisiana and play basketball, you have to know the Pistol. He’s def my favorite player of all time. And he was such a great guy.
    RIP Pistol Pete and we will never forget…

  16. choylu says:

    HE IS THE BEST OF THE BEST!!!!!!!!!!!! HE FIRST NBA ROCKSTAR!!!!!

  17. Terry says:

    We all wore Pro Keds and ripped the elastic from our socks so that they’d fall down on our ankles — spending hours upon hours trying to imitate ‘The Pistol’ on the basketball court.

  18. Fefe (Nets) says:

    What a great player, one of my favorite (and I’m only 26 too nearly 27 but I know the NBA and its history very well and seen 100 vids and footage of him). Trulyyyyyyyyyy a great!!!! Even young generations like mine can recognize him!

  19. WILFRI says:

    BEST SHOWMEN EVER PETE WAS A MAGICIAN

  20. D says:

    He reminds me of Manu Ginobili.

  21. Hi says:

    I once saw someone in a pistol Pete shirt and then I looked up and it was Brent Barry

  22. Charlie says:

    Pistol was the orchestrator in a game that was more graceful and poetic due to its play before the 3 point shot. Ironically from a statistical standpoint what would Pistol had averaged with the 3 point shot to spread the court out?

    • Jay says:

      Every shot Pete attempted during his career at LSU was tracked and archived. Using these stats, a study showed that his career scoring avg. would’ve been 58.3. 58.3! Again, this would’ve been his CAREER scoring avg. if there would’ve been a 3-point line. Amazing.

  23. DSG says:

    I’m only 26 years old and have only been watching the NBA for the past year and a half now, but Pistol Pete is one of my all-time favorite players. It took a mixture of NBA TV, DVD’s, and books to get to know the genius that was and is Pete Maravich, but it’s an education that I loved to take the time to learn about in a sport that I truly love.

    Had Pete never gotten injured or came along a little later (playing with the Celtics or the Lakers in the 80′s), the man would’ve for sure been an NBA champion. While it’s a true travesty that he never got the ring, he at least accomplished becoming an even greater man after his retirement.

    Today is a day of sadness for the fans of Pistol Pete, but at least we have amazing memories of this man, what he did for the game of basketball, and the good he did after leaving it behind. Let’s fire up some Pistol Pete highlights, or even better, let’s play some of his greatest games on DVD or YouTube, or however. Anyone wanna watch the 68 point game against the Knicks back in ’77? I know I do!

    R.I.P. Pistol, gone but NEVER forgotten!

  24. MagicWheel15 says:

    To truly appreciate what PP did you have to be at least 40 years old. Sorry but that is probably why there are so few comments. The NBA has turned into, into, well let’s put it this way, the players of today couldn’t hold a torch to yesterdays players. Half the rules are ignored now so it’s a fake game we watch now, when and if we watch. Pistol Pete was a unique player, not ahead of his time,he’d probably average 40 a gameon’t even mention Kobe in the same breath. Kobe cries and complains all the time. Gimme PP ever time. I miss watching him play whether with the Jazz or LSU (ooops gave away my age-57) We will never see another Pete Maravich.

    RIP

    Your Fan
    Jeff

    • djjenkin says:

      I kno this is a sentimental piece and all but let’s not get to crazy/hype. Pistol Pete was a GREAT player, but takin him over Kobe is down right ridiculous. I agree Kobe whines a lot but that doesn’t take away the fact that he’s top 10 all time

  25. Jerome says:

    It’s really sad how most of the younger generation doesn’t even know who Pete Maravich is, I mean really only 8 comments before my post.

  26. art santiago says:

    Pete the original magician, game changer and a trailblazer on the court. Salute!!!

  27. Niji says:

    Thank you for remembering and writing this article.

  28. Jay says:

    AMAZING player. He was truly before his time

  29. READ says:

    ricky rubio..

  30. Ahmet Turan says:

    there was a nba commercial 5 or 6 years ago and one player just said that : nobody is play like mr. pete. im completely agree with him. rip mr. pete.

  31. rondonian says:

    i am happy with what rondo did on jan 5

  32. ken blankenship says:

    I was lucky enough to get to know Pete back in 1979-80 while working at a health club in Kenner La. Pete worked out in the weight room most every morning that he was in town.
    He was usually getting on me about what I was eating or how I was working out. He’d give you that wry smile of his after busting your chops. Nobody and I mean nobody was more intense in a weight room than Pete Maravich. It was a special treat to have that time with him and he will always be missed. Rest in peace Pete.
    KB

  33. He will always be my favorite bball player…

  34. Ryan says:

    Truly one of the all time greats. I remember reading Pistol Pete would dribble a basketball in a moving car outside of the window on his way to school. Such a great talent. RIP Pete Maravich.

  35. GREAT says:

    Great basketball player! “Fake behind the back”, dont forget, it’s not Rondos’, not even J-Wills’. Pistol Pete Maravich is still GREAT to remember!