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"I Feel Great!": The Pete Maravich Story

"The Vanilla Godzilla" was raised in Ventura County, California. He is a USN veteran, divorced with grandkids, living in Phoenix since 2000.

A mop of hair, floppy socks and triple teamed every game! He still is far and away the highest scorer in college basketball history.  Pete Maravich wanted to be the best person he could possibly be.

A mop of hair, floppy socks and triple teamed every game! He still is far and away the highest scorer in college basketball history. Pete Maravich wanted to be the best person he could possibly be.

A perfectionist of a basketball coach with a flattop haircut would drive the family car on his way to high school basketball practice. Meanwhile, his son, the star player and youngest member of the team, would dribble a basketball outside the passenger's side window without missing a beat.

Petar "Press" Maravich relentlessly drilled his son on every aspect of the game. The kid would eventually become one of the most remarkable basketball players and outstanding individuals this world has ever known. Pete Maravich would earn the nickname "Pistol" for his "shoot from the hip" jump shot style.

A Head Start on a Life of Basketball

Born in the hard-scrabble steel town of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, on June 22, 1947, Peter Maravich left this Earth far too soon at the age of 40. During his lifetime he became a high school phenom, one of the greatest college basketball players of all-time, and the face of a new NBA franchise created just for him. He also found peace with God (which he considered to be his greatest achievement).

Maravich even had accomplishments after his life ended. He was the only deceased player selected to the National Basketball Association's 50 Greatest Players of the 20th century.

The image of him is forever imprinted on the memories of whoever saw him perform in person, including this author. He was unique with his floppy wool socks that hung down on his skinny ankles attached to a brittle looking and lithe 6'5" frame. "Pistol" thrilled audiences with basketball court wizardry that still hasn't been replicated. His long mop of brown hair was always just barely out of his large doe-like eyes.

He thrilled crowds with behind-the-back dribbling and whip-like passes. He was always double teamed by the opposition. It actually wasn't rare to see him triple-teamed.

Did he do it for the show of it all? No, he did it because he wanted to win. A burning desire to succeed was driven into him by his father (who was also his coach in high school and at Louisiana State University), Press Maravich.

The former NBA player Press Maravich was sure of the path his son would take in life, and it was through basketball.

The former NBA player Press Maravich was sure of the path his son would take in life, and it was through basketball.

Peter was already under the spotlight of the media in high school. He was under pressure to perform by a relentless coach—his father.

Peter was already under the spotlight of the media in high school. He was under pressure to perform by a relentless coach—his father.

Always the Leader

Maravich was on the varsity team at Daniel High School in South Carolina before he was even old enough to attend high school. (There was a special rule that allowed him to play.) He averaged 33 points per game on the varsity team as an eighth grader.

Have you ever heard of such a thing? Maravich was a huge force on the team where the next youngest player was still two years older than him. 33 points per game nearly led the entire nation in that statistic. But that was just a preview of what was to come.

When Maravich played on the J.V. team at LSU as a freshman (freshmen were not allowed to play on varsity back then), the stands were packed with crowds.

When the varsity game commenced afterwards, most of the crowd would leave. They had already seen "The Pistol" in action!

The varsity team was terrible; they only won 3 out of 28 games that year. That changed the next year when Pete willed his team to become a major force in the NCAA.

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"Pistol" was the original "Showtime" and can only be described as pure magic on the hardwood floor!

Pete wasn't just a scorer, his passing ability was superb! He had to be a good passer when you frequently get triple-teamed.

Pete wasn't just a scorer, his passing ability was superb! He had to be a good passer when you frequently get triple-teamed.

Only Pete could have his nickname on his NBA jersey. A rarity for the league.

Only Pete could have his nickname on his NBA jersey. A rarity for the league.

The Search for Life's True Meaning

Maravich would struggle with his demons while at LSU. He took to drinking quite a bit while enjoying the college town night life. He learned to control that by the time he became established in the NBA.

Then his mother, a house-bound social recluse who suffered from bouts of depression, took her life with a gun in 1974. Helen Gravor Maravich could have been one reason why Pete and his father became so immersed into basketball. Pete lost his mother during his fifth year in the league, and he was expected to carry a first-year expansion team, the last place New Orleans Jazz.

Pete never won a championship in high school, college, or the NBA. This bothered him immensely for a while. He even became a recluse for about two years while he studied the path to God. He then co-authored an autobiography titled Heir to a Dream. The book was mainly focused on his devotion to Christianity.

After retiring from the NBA, Pete went on to search for himself, for his soul, and for his savior. He practiced yoga, learned Hinduism, became fascinated by UFOs, became a vegetarian for a short time, and finally became even more dedicated to His Savior as a devout born-again Christian.

Pete was quoted as saying "I'll see you soon" to his father immediately after his death from prostate cancer in 1987. He would die only nine months later. The son of Serbian immigrants, Petar "Press" Maravich also became a born-again Christian late in his life. His son would be his "coach" into the transition.

Into Immortality

"I want to be remembered as a Christian, a person that serves Him [Jesus] to the utmost, not as a basketball player," "Pistol" once said.

On January 5, 1988, he flew in to UCLA to film a Christian documentary for a friend of his at no charge. He couldn't resist playing a few games of pick-up basketball with some ex-NBA pals in the gym at First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena, California.

He was having a great time and loving the game that loved him back. He was just being "The Pistol" one last time. After making the winning basket, he wanted to play another game. Then a friend asked him how he felt.

"I feel great!," he said with a huge grin. Then he collapsed and died right there on the court. He's buried at Resthaven Gardens of Memory and Mausoleum in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He is survived by his wife Jackie and two young sons.

LSU's home court was renamed the Pete Maravich Assembly Center soon after his death. An autobiographical movie was released in 1991, The Pistol: The Birth of a Legend. He was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History by a panel made up of NBA historians. He was the youngest player ever inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.

It was later found out that Pete had an undetected heart defect. Instead of an artery to his heart, only a vein was pumping blood through his enlarged heart. It was a wonder that he was even able to play basketball.

He had finally found what he'd been searching for throughout his entire life. He found peace of mind. So he welcomed Our Savior to take him that day. He died with a smile on his face.

Yes, Pete, we all feel you were great, too!

Pete knew there was more to life than just basketball. He searched for it when he retired from the game.

Pete knew there was more to life than just basketball. He searched for it when he retired from the game.

A Statistical Breakdown

Do you want stats? With 3,667 total points, Pete is still the highest scoring player in Division I basketball. Keep in mind that his stats are only for the three years he played on varsity. If a player averages even 30 points a game in any college atmosphere, you are considered a phenom!

Pete averaged 44.2 points per game for all three seasons from 1967 to 1970! Keep in mind this was before the three-point shot was part of the game.

The shot clock was still 15 years away, so teams were able to hold onto the ball and stall his scoring even further. Just think about that a moment. No one has even averaged close to 40 points per game in the NCAA since Pete played.

A calculation of all his games at LSU determined that Pete would have averaged over 47 points per game during his entire college career if there was a three-point line. He could bomb it from anywhere on the court. LSU didn't play pansies either. They had the same big name college opponents that the other Div. I teams played.

A highly successful NBA career saw Pete lead the league in scoring in 1976. His career game high was 68 points against the New York Knicks in 1977; it was the most points ever scored by a guard in one game. In fact, only three players in league history had scored more points in a single game at the time.

He still holds five league records to this day. His number is retired by two NBA teams. His professional career statistics are 15,948 points (24.2 PPG), 2,747 rebounds (4.2 RPG), and 3,563 assists (5.4 APG). The NBA instituted the three-point shot just in time for Pete's last season in the league; he made a remarkable 10 out of 15 shots.

When people who were used to slower-paced basketball knock Pete for his flashy showmanship on the court, he would answer back, "They don't pay you a million dollars for two-handed chest passes." He responded to a reporter by saying, "Shooting is nothing. Anybody can shoot. The big charge is putting on a show for the crowd."

Finally able to just enjoy each other's company, dad and son share a post game laugh in the New Orleans locker room.

Finally able to just enjoy each other's company, dad and son share a post game laugh in the New Orleans locker room.

© 2012 Dan W Miller

Would you like to leave a comment?

Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on November 17, 2019:

You were a fortunate young man, Dan. Coach Smith or Coach K. would always say this player or that player brought back memories of the great Pistol Pete. Without ever seeing him play, and thanks to your well written article, believe me, I'm a fan of Pistol Pete, too. God bless his spirit and integrity. He could have taught many of the young guys a lot, and not just on the court.

Dan W Miller (author) from the beaches of Southern California now living in Phoenix since 2000 on November 17, 2019:

There should be a "AWHELL NAW, FOOL!!" button if you think anyone will ever eclipse Pete's college scoring record.

Dan W Miller (author) from the beaches of Southern California now living in Phoenix since 2000 on November 17, 2019:

Thx Tiny Tim! 1970 was Pete's year. I'm 12. 1973 I'm a tall, skinny, uncoordinated sophomore ridin' the bench on J.V. ... wearing low top Converse kicks and light grey wool socks with no elastic in them.

So he was a huge influence on me and I'd see him live on our new color tv! wow!

Only available now... in my memories.

~D.

Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on November 14, 2019:

Reading this story, I was surprised and pleased. Living near Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill, I can't recall not hearing about Pistol Pete at some point during the seasons that passed from the 1980s through the 1990s, mentioned by the late great Coach Dean Smith or Coach K. He was certainly a special player, deserving every honor on Earth for that, but receiving his greatest reward from Our Lord and Savior. Great article-inspirational and educational.

Dan W Miller (author) from the beaches of Southern California now living in Phoenix since 2000 on January 31, 2014:

Ironic story of an iconic person, eh? Thanks, "Hoops!"

Scott Graham from San Antonio, Texas on January 18, 2014:

Pistol Pete, what a great player on the court and a great Christian role model off the court. He was passionate, some would say to the point obsession for both his faith and the game he so loved.

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