As a young kid, I heard tales of Pete Maravich dribbling out of
the window while his dad drove the family car down neighborhood
streets. After years of watching Pistol Pete’s instructional videos
and practicing his basketball drills in my driveway, I asked my
dad, Ernie, if I, too, could try dribbling out of the car window.
The response was immediate, forceful, and clear: No.
My dad was not an applied physicist, per se, possessing no
advanced knowledge of how objects move through time and space, but
he was intuitively skeptical. He’d bounced plenty of basketballs in
his day, and I think he just doubted the aerodynamics of it all. I
remained persistent and hopeful until he eventually relented.
I can still remember my excitement as he drove the car down the
road and told me I could dribble out of the window whenever I
wanted. I can still hear his laughter as my ball made first contact
with the ground and flew 20 feet into the bushes like it was shot
out of a damn cannon. I can still admit that I want to try it
again, right now, just to see if I can conjure up a few seconds of
Pistol Pete’s magic. I learned early on that I was no Pete
Maravich, but I was okay with that. Even at that tender age of 10
years old, I had a keen awareness that there would never, ever be
another Pete Maravich.
As a basketball lifer, I have worshipped Pistol Pete for many
reasons. He is not only one of the greatest players in history, but
he is also one of the most iconic. His floppy hair and socks, his
creative passing, his otherworldly scoring ability, his
revolutionary flair and his complex legacy all endure. Maravich was
a maestro with a basketball, equal parts style and substance,
someone who both played and performed the game. Over decades of
loving the game of basketball, I came to understand that good
players tap into the mind, great players tap into the heart, and
immortal players tap into the imagination. Pistol Pete was one of
Today would have been his 74th birthday. Though he died more
than 30 years ago, his legend lives forever.
Basketball is a sport of majesty and mystique, performances and
personalities, and possibilities that seem endless. Pistol Pete
Maravich is the embodiment of the game’s most romantic qualities.
He is such a core figure in the history of basketball that any true
hoops fan must always have several Maravich tidbits at the ready,
for all occasions, just in case. It doesn’t matter if it’s a
factoid to share, an anecdote to recount or a statistic to cite. If
someone is participating in a serious conversation about basketball
but cannot speak about Pete Maravich, then that someone would be
well-served to see themselves out of that conversation, politely of
course, so they can go hit the books and get educated.
Next time around, they can hold their head up high and proclaim
that, when Pete enrolled at Louisiana State University and freshmen
were not allowed to play varsity, he had 50 points, 14 rebounds and
11 assists in his first game against freshman competition. Or that
he’d go on to average 44.2 points per game at LSU and is still the
all-time leading scorer in college basketball despite playing only
three seasons. Or that, as a member of the New Orleans Jazz, he led
the NBA in scoring and gave the Knicks 68 points in the Superdome,
two years before the three-point-line was even invented. Or that he
was voted as a five-time NBA All Star and one of the 50 greatest
players in NBA history.
If nothing else, Pistol Pete was a bold and complicated book
that could not be judged by its cover. He was skinny and spindly,
looking more like a shy little brother than an unapologetic
basketball assassin, but he wowed fans with his wizardry. Maravich
so aptly captured the imagination because he was remarkably
artistic on the court and imminently human off it.
His style of play was flashy and brash, consisting of
behind-the-head passes and ruthless shot hunting, but he was known
as sullen and moody in his personal life. He cast spells with a
basketball while dealing with personal demons – most notably the
weight of a demanding father who was his coach at LSU – that made
him distant and enigmatic. Pistol Pete represented both sides of
life’s coin. He lived at the intersection of triumph and sadness.
He was pleasure and pain, wrapped into a ball and placed in the
hands of a basketball genius.
In 1978, during a blowout win in New Orleans against the Buffalo
Braves, Pistol Pete collapsed in a heap late in the game after
tearing cartilage in his knee. He hadn’t hurt himself by making a
hard move to the basket or battling a big man for a rebound; the
showman tore up his knee while throwing an unnecessary
between-the-legs pass from half-court to a streaking teammate in
front of his hometown fans. The dazzling play was completed, his
15th assist of the night, but it marked the beginning of the end of
He retired from the NBA a few years later, and died from heart
failure while playing pickup basketball not long after that.
Shockingly, an autopsy would reveal that Pistol Pete was born on
this day in 1947 without a left coronary artery, an extraordinarily
rare and dangerous heart defect. Had his condition been known, he
would never have been cleared to step foot on those basketball
courts that he set ablaze with his brilliance. For many reasons,
his career and life were miracles, and so we must never forget to
celebrate Pete Maravich.
Thankfully, there will always be basketball fans who succumb to
his sorcery. There will always be young girls and boys who try to
dribble out of car windows, because that’s what Pistol Pete did.
His story remains an absorbing and exhilarating basketball
enchantment for his millions of fans around the world.
Maravich was just a man, but he’ll always be a myth to me. I’ll
be thinking about him on his birthday, that’s for sure. He really
was one of a kind.