American Basketball Icons That Shaped The Game Part V: Pete Maravich

The year was 1967. The average cost of a new house was $14,250. The United States had just sent the Lunar Orbiter 3 to go orbit the moon — checking for safe potential landing spots. The first Super Bowl was played between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs. But what’s more, the world of competitive basketball was introduced to “Pistol” Pete Maravich, truly an outlier, in terms of the basketball players.

Pete’s father, Press Maravich, was also the head coach of the Louisiana State University men’s basketball team. His father reportedly had very high expectations for “Pistol” Pete even in the beginning — with one goal: to get Pete in the NBA. And he certainly didn’t disappoint.

Pete Maravich joined his father’s team in 1967 and immediately began to catch eyes and drop jaws. In his first year at LSU, the 6’5″ guard averaged a breathtaking 43.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4 assists a game. His second season, he averaged 44.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4.9 assists. His third and final collegiate season was Pete’s best — averaging 44.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 6.2 assists. It was at this point that everyone wasn’t debating whether or not Pete would leave a mark on the game of basketball, they were bracing for impact!

Pistol Pete was drafted as the third overall pick of the 1970 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks. He signed a $1.6 million contract, which was one of the richest in professional sports at the time.

Joining a professional team can be hard if you had an incredibly talented college career and are already deemed a “star.” This can make the professional teammates of a rookie annoyed, because they often feel that a player hasn’t “earned” the right to be called a “sensation.” That’s just professional sports 101. So, just as it was common for players to see scrutiny from their teammates as a rookie, Maravich did as well. But it wasn’t for the typical reasons.

Maravich brought an interesting aspect to the game that hadn’t been seen before. He brought flashiness. In a way, he was a bit similar to Jason Williams, who would go on to become one of, if not the greatest passer of all time (to read about Williams’ incredible career, click here). But “Pistol” Pete could get buckets. No matter the circumstances, he still found a way to score. Once again, he liked to be flashy. His scoring had a certain finesse that revolutionized the original conservative playing style. He took risks. And because of it, he quickly emerged as a fan favorite — averaging 23.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 4.4 assists a game his rookie season.

In my opinion, Pete Maravich also had the greatest jump-shot of all time. He could be facing the hoop in any direction (forwards, backwards, sideways, etc.) and as long has he had a little bit of space, he could drain shot after shot with no hesitation.

To get the full context of Maravich’s scoring capability, it is important to remember that the 3-point line had not been introduced yet. He was a long-range shooter too. So many of his points would now be considered a “3-pointer.”

A few years later, word broke out that the New Orleans Jazz were entering the NBA and were looking for an expansion. They needed a fan-favorite, flashy, house-hold name to kick start their introduction to the league. I think you see where this is going…

After four seasons with the Hawks, Maravich was traded to the Jazz for two players and four draft picks. Maravich did extremely well for New Orleans in multiple years, but his most-dominant year could be traced to the 1976-1977 NBA Season. In it, he he lead the league in scoring by averaging 31.1 points per game. It’s important to remember that this was the first year of the NBA-ABA merger. The massive influx of players only made it more competitive, which makes Maravich’s stats even more impressive.

The highlight of the season had to be when Pete dropped 68 on the New York Knicks, which at the time was the most points scored by a guard in NBA History. But keep in mind, there still was no three-point line. If there was, he could have easily broke 70.

Three seasons past and because of knee issues, the now Utah Jazz placed Maravich on waivers. The Celtics picked him up to join the brand-new rookie Larry Bird. Boston made it to the playoffs, but were unfortunately cut short in Eastern Conference Finals by Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Unfortunately, it was after this season that Pete Maravich had to make the hard decision to retire, once again citing his knee issues. This was the first season that the NBA implemented a 3-point line, and “Pistol Pete” was known for his range. In the season, he shot 10/15 from the 3-point line — ending his career with a 66.67% 3-point percentage. One could only imagine the records he could have held if they would have implemented the 3-point line earlier in his career!

NBA legend Elgin Baylor once said: “Oscar Robertson was the best guard I’ve ever played against. Jerry West was the best I ever played with. Pete was the best I’ve ever seen.”

“Oscar Robertson was the best guard I’ve ever played against. Jerry West was the best I ever played with. Pete was the best I’ve ever seen.”

-Elgin Baylor on “Pistol” Pete Maravich

Keep in mind, Maravich was 32 when he retired. He was very young. One would think that he would live in the past like other NBA legends have done. But once again, “Pistol” Pete was different. Instead of saying that he wanted to be remembered as one of the NBA players that forever changed the game, he wanted to be remembered by his Christian faith. “I want to be remembered as a Christian, not as a basketball player,” Maravich said.

“I want to be remembered as a Christian, not as a basketball player.”

-Pete Maravich said shortly after he retired.

Sadly, Maravich’s life was cut too short. After playing a pickup game at his church, Pete collapsed of heart failure and died. This was incredibly heartbreaking for the whole basketball community, because Maravich had certainly left his mark on the game.

“Pistol” Pete Maravich left his mark on the game of basketball by implementing range and flashiness into the style of play. He thrived under heavy pressure and competition. That was just who he was. Maravich is considered by many to be the greatest college basketball player of all time, but what he did went far beyond college. It completely changed the game of basketball.