At first glance, Pete Maravich didn’t look like a basketball player.
His long hair, baggy shirt, and loose-fitting socks made him look more like a hippie surfer just off the beach.
However, it didn’t take long once a game started for Maravich to transform into a maestro with the ball.
He was flashy and always putting on a show, just a few years before the LA Lakers made Showtime cool.
Maravich’s ability to control the ball, pass on the run, and make crazy shots endeared him to people everywhere.
To some, he was seen as selfish, but Maravich’s style soon became the norm in the NBA.
Not long after retiring, Maravich would die suddenly doing the thing he enjoyed most.
Notable Moments in NOB History: "Pistol" Pete Maravich wore his nickname while playing for the Hawks and Jazz in the 1970s. pic.twitter.com/MiYCwo3nGI
— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 20, 2018
This is the story of “Pistol” Pete Maravich.
Practically Born with a Ball in His Hands
Peter Press Maravich was born on June 22, 1947, in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania.
Maravich got his middle name from his father, Press, who coached college basketball and desperately wanted a son to teach the sport to.
Moments before Press’ wife, Helen, gave birth, he pulled the doctor aside and made a deal.
“I told the doctor at the hospital: ‘Doc, I want a son. If it’s a boy, I’ll pay you. If it’s a girl, you pay me.’” said Press Maravich. “The doctor agreed. Later, he emerged from the delivery room with a smile and said: ‘You pay.’ ”
Just a few years later, Press began schooling his son in the fundamentals of basketball.
Young Pete was already hooked on hoops when his dad got him a basketball for Christmas when he was seven.
“I even took a basketball to bed with me until I was 14,” said Pete Maravich years later. “I would just lie there in bed, throwing it up and doing fingertip drills.”
Whenever Press wasn’t coaching and Pete was home from school, both could be found practicing the finer arts of the game.
Pete took a basketball wherever he went and dribbled it constantly.
According to legend, there were times when Press was driving and slowed down just enough so Pete could practice dribbling out the car window.
Pete also liked to fiddle with trick passes and shoot at the basket from all over the court.
By the time Maravich was in middle school, he had a million-dollar handle and could pass and shoot with the best of them.
Pistol Pete Maravich on the court at Daniel High School in 1962. pic.twitter.com/1IYrYwiPl9
— NOLAHistoryInPix (@NOLAHistoryPix) February 3, 2014
Press knew he had a phenom on his hands and would brag about his son to anyone within earshot.
“Even then, as a little boy, he could do things with a basketball that were amazing,” said former UCLA coach John Wooden. “I remember Press telling me: ‘I’m going to turn that boy into the first million-dollar pro basketball player.”
Birth of a Nickname
Pete initially played high school ball as an eighth grader at Daniel High School in Central, South Carolina while Press coached at Clemson University.
Before Pete’s freshman year, Press got a new job as an assistant at North Carolina State.
Pete and his mom moved to Raleigh, North Carolina where he attended Broughton High School.
While playing for Broughton, Maravich was noted for shooting the ball from an odd angle.
Pete Maravich in high school: pic.twitter.com/bfWcINejqN
— Bijan C. Bayne (@bijancbayne) June 22, 2016
He would wind up his shot from down near his hip before rising up and sending the ball airborne.
Those watching him said it looked like Maravich was shooting a pistol when shooting a basketball.
From then on, Pete Maravich became “Pistol” Pete Maravich or just “Pistol.”
As his high school years flew by, Pistol became quite a showman.
He was a one-man circus act, capable of weaving through traffic and hitting big shots from long distances.
His style wasn’t appreciated by everyone, and various people came along in his life who tried to change him.
However, Press Maravich encouraged his son’s unorthodox play style, and Pistol had no inclination of changing.
One summer, Maravich was at a basketball camp overseen by coaching legend Lefty Driesell.
Driesell took one look at Maravich’s trick passes and called him over to correct him.
Maravich discarded the advice saying he wanted to be a millionaire one day.
“And they don’t pay you a million dollars for two-hand chest passes.”
After graduating from Broughton, Maravich attended Edwards Military Institute in North Carolina.
During his one year there, Pistol had over 30 points per game.
Finally free of the constrictions of prep basketball, Maravich wanted to play ball in the ACC and for his father at NC State.
Summer ‘66, after 9th-grade, I attended Campbell College Basketball Camp in Buies Creek, NC. My counsellor had just graduated from high school and was on his way to LSU: Pete Maravich — a skinny kid with floppy socks, and a pure wizard with a basketball in his hands. pic.twitter.com/vxeJddKjT9
— Marcus Rediker (@MarcusRediker) December 26, 2021
Unfortunately, his dislike for school work reared its ugly head when Pete couldn’t pass the entrance exams ACC schools required at the time.
Not to be deterred, Press took a job as the head coach at LSU (an SEC school) and Pete went with him.
The Pistol Shoots His Way to Success at LSU
The Maravichs arrived in Baton Rouge in 1966.
While Press was coaching the Tigers in 1966-67, Pete had to play with the freshman team since freshmen weren’t eligible to play varsity college sports at the time.
He still made the most of it and carried the fresh Tigers to a 17-1 record.
Meanwhile, LSU’s varsity team only managed three wins.
One year later, Press finally had the opportunity to coach his son.
Pete Maravich played 83 games at LSU. He averaged 44.2 points per game. I said AVERAGED. Have a Pistol of a Friday, guys. pic.twitter.com/6tDLbMdhGz
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) June 7, 2019
Press had one guiding principle for his boy: shoot whenever possible.
While some teammates balked at the obvious favoritism, Press believed the only chance the Tigers had to succeed was for Pistol to shoot early and often.
“We win with Pete,” Press said. “If he gets special treatment, it’s because he is so special.”
Maravich averaged 43.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, and four assists during his sophomore year as LSU went 14-12.
Then, as a junior in 1968-69, Maravich had 44.2 points, 4.9 assists, and 6.5 rebounds per game while the Tigers faltered to 13-13.
The Pistol was one of the finest basketball players in the country, but his skills couldn’t help his team during his sophomore and junior years.
That would change during his senior year in 1969-70.
Happy Birthday to the one & only…
“Pistol” Pete Maravich🏀
— Goat Jerseys (@GoatJerseys) June 22, 2020
During his senior season, Maravich averaged 44.5 points, 6.2 assists, and 5.3 rebounds as the Tigers went 22-10.
It was their best record since 1952-53.
In a game against conference foe Alabama, Maravich scorched the Tide for 69 points.
The total was a new record for points made against a Division I opponent and would not be broken for over two decades.
Although they were winning, it wasn’t all fun and games between the two Maravich men.
Press was all business while Pistol enjoyed a night or two of frivolity now and then.
“It’s hard when your father’s the coach, too,” said Maravich. “Sometimes you don’t know where one leaves off and the other begins.”
LSU was invited to the National Invitational Tournament in New York City after the season and beat Georgetown by one before succumbing to Oklahoma by three.
The Pistol was awarded The Sporting News College Player of the Year honors and was also the Naismith Award winner.
In three years at LSU, Maravich was the nation’s scoring leader each season and set numerous NCAA records including all-time points scored (3,667), career average (44.2), most games scoring at least 50 points (28), and single-season records for most points (1,381) and average (44.5) per game in 1970.
Despite only having 3 years of varsity eligibility, no shot clock or 3-point line, Pistol Pete Maravich scored an astounding 3,667 points at LSU, a 44.2 per game average. This record will never be broken. pic.twitter.com/qvKQQN0Pc5
— Pop Culture Plane Crash (@JohnWil85986894) July 23, 2022
Many of his marks still stand.
Maravich was also a three-year letter winner and three-time first-team All-American.
Atlanta Selects Maravich
In the 1970 NBA Draft, the Atlanta Hawks traded up and selected Maravich with the third overall pick.
Atlanta was already a strong outfit having gone to the Division playoffs the previous two years where they lost to the LA Lakers both times.
Pistol joined a team that had stars Walt Bellamy, Lou Hudson, and Walt Hazzard.
The established veterans were a cohesive unit who played the game by their standards.
Suddenly, Maravich was added to the mix along with his record-setting $1.9 million contract.
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) October 17, 2018
That money was more than a majority of the NBA vets made at the time.
Although Maravich still scored his points (23.2 per game, which helped him receive All-Rookie honors), he worked to get his teammates involved.
Hudson, who was also a guard, had enough touches that he scored 26.8 points per game, a career-high.
Even with the Pistol working hard to get into the good graces of his veteran teammates, the Hawks finished the 1970-71 season with a 36-46 record.
That was a dozen wins less than the team had in 1969-70.
After the regular season ended, Atlanta lost to the New York Knicks 4-1 in the Conference Semifinals.
A Down Year Followed by Individual Success
The following year, Maravich hoped to capitalize on his solid rookie campaign.
Instead, he suffered minor injuries and was absent from 16 games.
That led his scoring average to drop to 19.3 points per game.
Atlanta posted the same record as the year before and lost in the first round to Boston.
In 1972-73, Maravich returned strong and averaged 26.1 points and 6.9 assists per game.
“Pistol” Pete Maravich on the cover of Sports Illustrated today in 1973. #whodoyoucollect #thehobby #sportscards #gradedcomics #cgccomics #psacards #bgs #nba #hawks #Atlanta pic.twitter.com/tMBY3OMZJJ
— CGC Sports Illustrated (@CGC_SI) November 12, 2021
His assist total would prove to be the highest in his career.
The Pistol was voted to his first All-Star game and received second-team All-NBA honors.
Atlanta was a difficult team for most opponents as Hudson and Maravich both scored over 2,000 points that season.
They were just the second set of teammates to reach that mark in NBA history.
The Hawks’ record improved to 46-36, the best record for the franchise in three years.
Unfortunately, in the Conference Semis, Atlanta couldn’t get past the Celtics for the second year in a row.
In 1973-74, Pistol thrilled crowds with his dazzling passes and shooting theatrics and was selected as an All-Star again on the strength of his 27.7 points per game.
He ended the year as the second leading scorer in the league.
Despite Maravich’s numbers, the Hawks dropped to 35-47 and didn’t make the postseason for the first time since 1961-62 when the team resided in St. Louis.
Trade to New Orleans
The NBA expanded in 1974 to include the newly formed New Orleans Jazz.
In an attempt to bring fans to the arena, the Jazz traded a king’s ransom of future draft picks to Atlanta to bring Maravich back to Louisiana.
Even with the Pistol, the going was tough for New Orleans in their first year.
Maravich had the most steals (120) and rebounds (422) of his career but suffered from the field where he made only 21.5 points per contest.
As can be expected, the Jazz suffered through a 23-59 record, the worst in the league.
New Orleans improved to 38-44 in 1975-76 while Pistol excited the home crowd with his nifty ball handling.
Pistol Pete Maravich. ‘Nuff said. pic.twitter.com/AZpuNvvxf0
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) January 20, 2021
He was again hampered by injuries, but that didn’t stop Maravich from raising his points per game average to 25.9, which was third best in the NBA and netted him first-team All-NBA honors.
During Maravich’s third year with the organization in 1976-77, he exploded to lead the league in scoring average (31.1) and tally 13 games of 40 or more points.
The Pistol also scored 50 points or more a handful of times. A particular special night was on February 5, 1977.
In a game that night against the Knicks, Maravich brought out the big guns and hung 68 points against New York.
On this day in 1977, "Pistol" Pete Maravich scored a career-high 68 pts in the New Orleans Jazz's win over New York pic.twitter.com/aqjgqIMlCk
— NBA TV (@NBATV) February 25, 2015
There was almost no stopping him, and the Pistol seemed to hit his shots from everywhere.
“It was just amazing,” said then-Jazz forward Aaron James. “We were just watching Pete. He could score in just about any way possible. He could shoot right-handed, left-handed, off the wrong foot. He could shoot hooks.”
Maravich’s total that day is still in the top 13 all-time single-game totals from a player in league history.
Maravich reached his third All-Star game and was voted to the first-team All-NBA squad for the second year in a row.
Injuries Begin to Slow Maravich
1977-78 wasn’t very kind to Maravich.
In addition to missing games due to an infection and tendinitis in one of his knees, he severely injured his other knee in a game against the Buffalo Braves.
While making a pass during the Braves game, Maravich jumped into the air to deliver the ball between his legs.
When he landed, Maravich’s knee buckled, and he was lost for the next several weeks.
Although he would only play 50 games in ‘77-’78, Maravich still led the Jazz in scoring with 27 points per game.
"Pistol" Pete Maravich, playing for the New Orleans Jazz (NBA), 1977 (source: The Sporting Archives) pic.twitter.com/D7x2Xw5Uth
— NOLA History Guy (@NOLAHistoryGuy) August 1, 2019
That was enough to get him invited to another All-Star game and a spot on the All-NBA second team.
New Orleans finished a then franchise-best 39-43 that year. One season later, they fell to 26-56.
The primary reason for the reduction in wins was Maravich’s knee issues.
They weren’t healing properly, though Pistol still fired away to the tune of 22.6 points per game and a fifth All-Star game appearance.
Meanwhile, New Orleans was suffering in attendance, and revenue and management realized they had to abandon ship.
Once the season concluded, the franchise relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah to become the Utah Jazz.
The End for Pistol
A new home may have been a fresh start for the Jazz, but it was the beginning of the end for Maravich.
His declining health and role with the organization made him expendable.
In fact, Utah already had his replacement, Adrian Dantley, scoring buckets at will.
Maravich’s days with the Jazz were numbered and he was released after playing in 17 games during the 1979-80 season.
The Boston Celtics reached out and signed Maravich for the rest of the year.
He was a consistent sub for the Celtics and played well alongside rookie Larry Bird.
It didn’t last long, but it’s still pretty goddamn cool Pistol Pete Maravich and Larry Bird were teammates. pic.twitter.com/cJa6prdtzU
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) May 30, 2021
Boston ended the season 61-21, and Maravich played respectable minutes in the playoffs before the Philadelphia 76ers eliminated the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.
After the season ended, Maravich recognized that his playing days were finished, and he retired.
During his career, the Pistol had 24.2 points, 5.4 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game.
The three-point line was not in existence until Maravich’s final year as a pro.
Many NBA vets and basketball historians believe he would have had many more points had the arch been in place during his college and NBA careers.
“They didn’t have the three-point line when Maravich played,” said former Hawks teammate Walt Hazzard in 1988. “I figure if he’d played with the three-point shot, you could add one-third more to his career scoring total.”
Maravich was selected to five NBA All-Star teams and was a two-time first-team All-NBA member, a two-time second-team All-NBA member, and a league scoring champ in 1977.
His number 44 jersey has been retired by the Hawks and his number 7 has been retired by the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans.
It’s been said that retiring from a sport is like death for many athletes.
Without the game, former players lose their identity and find it hard to fill the void.
For Maravich, this was certainly true.
He found solace in alcohol and driving around the countryside in his sports car at high speeds.
Nothing filled the emptiness of his life without basketball.
Eventually, Maravich and his wife, Jackie, had two boys, Jaeson and Joshua, but he still could not find happiness.
That changed in the most unexpected way.
“I was in the bedroom,” Maravich said in a 1984 interview. “It was 5:30 in the morning, and I was lying there awake when a voice said to me, ‘Be strong. Lift thine own heart.’ I heard it! I woke Jackie and said, ‘Did you hear that?’ She thought I was crazy and went back to sleep. But I felt an unbelievable peace.”
Rejuvenated, Maravich turned his life around and found positive things to fill it.
Pistol Pete Maravich passed away 30 years ago today. Maravich had it figured out, saying: "I want to be remembered as a Christian, a person that serves Him to the utmost, not as a basketball player." pic.twitter.com/2fMkwRpAJb
— Brayden Hall (@BraydenHall7) January 5, 2018
He became a motivational speaker and reconnected with LSU.
The Tigers had fired Press Maravich after the 1971-72 season, and the Pistol cut off communication with the school.
However, he reconciled with the program after his conversion to Christianity.
In 1987, Maravich was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
He has also since been selected as a member of the NBA 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams.
Pistol’s life was glowing by the late 1980s and he enjoyed talking to people about his faith.
In early January of 1988, Christian author and speaker James Dobson invited Maravich out to Los Angeles to be a guest on a radio show and to discuss plans for a movie based on his life.
Dobson and a group of friends regularly played pickup basketball games at a court in the building of the First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena.
He invited the Pistol to play some hoops with the group and Maravich accepted.
“I loved to play and inviting Pete was one of the most audacious things I’d ever done,” Dobson said. “He was showtime before anyone knew what showtime was.”
After arriving at the church, Maravich introduced himself and admitted that he had not played ball for a while.
There was an initial game of three-on-three that was played at a very slow, leisurely pace.
When the first game ended, many of the men rested and drank water before beginning a second game.
Dobson could see that Maravich was breathing hard and asked how he was doing.
“How do you feel, Pete?” asked Dobson.
“I feel great,” said Maravich.
After the exchange, Maravich turned and fell to the floor.
“We could tell immediately that it was very severe,” said Gary Lydick, who was present at the gym. “I’m sure he probably went into a seizure. His eyes started to roll and he became very jaundiced almost within a minute or two.”
An ambulance was called, and Maravich was rushed to a nearby hospital.
Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.
Pistol Pete Maravich passed away at 9:23 a.m. on January 5. He was 40 years old.
Not long after his death, a quote from an interview Maravich gave in 1974 was re-printed by the national media.
“I don’t want to play 10 years [in the NBA] and then die of a heart attack when I’m 40.”
His statement was eerie as Maravich only played 10 years in the NBA and died of an apparent heart attack at 40.
When he was 26, “Pistol Pete” Maravich said “I don’t want to play 10 years in the NBA and die of a heart attack at age 40” in an interview. He went on to play 10 years in the NBA, and died of a heart attack at age 40. pic.twitter.com/wZPIRmJA5W
— A SLICE OF HISTORY (@asIiceofhistory) June 25, 2022
Maravich’s death came only nine months after Press Maravich passed away in April of 1987.
His mother died of suicide in 1974.
The autopsy revealed that Maravich had a congenital heart defect that was undetected in every physical he had dating back to high school.
Maravich was born without a left coronary artery. The artery on the right had been compensating his entire life.
It’s been over 34 years since the Pistol passed away in a gymnasium playing the sport he loved.
His style has since been replicated by hundreds of basketball players worldwide who believe basketball needs a little showtime element.
Maravich’s legacy is secure and he remains forever immortalized in basketball lore.
“Inch for inch, pound for pound, Pete Maravich was the best player on the hardwood,” said LSU Athletic Director Joe Dean, who covered him as a broadcaster. “There were the Bob Cousys before him, but the truth is he did things with the ball that the Cousys could only dream about.”