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Building Legends by Remembering Legends

Pete Maravich

Sport: Basketball

Induction Year: 1984

When Pete Maravich was a sophomore at Louisiana State University, Joe Dean said, “One morning you'll pick up a newspaper and read where Pete made 75 points.”

The prediction never came true, but Mravich came close. He scored 69 points in a college game, and 68 in a National Basketball Association game—an NBA record for a guard.

He did everything with a basketball except the one thing he wanted to do more than anything else.

He never played on a championship team.

Ernie Banks made the Hall of Fame without ever playing in a World Series. O.J. Simpson never played in a Super Bowl. Sam Snead never won a U.S. Open. And Pete Maravich never played on a championship team.

Pistol Pete belonged to the Age of Aquarius, flying into a world that had never seen anything quite like him an providing a few golden moments of relief from dreary front page news of campus riots, burning cities and civil right battles that threatened to turn the establishment upside down.

Maravich won his first national scoring championship in 1968—the year Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated and United States astronauts became the first humans to orbit the moon.

When Americans landed on the moon seven months later, pro coach Babe McCarthy said, “The recent moon landing is an accomplishment equal only to Pete Maravich on a basketball court.”

Maravich never played in the Assembly Center that bears his name, but he attracted sellout crowds when LSU played—at home, and on the road. The only people who didn't turn a profit were the guys who operated the concessions stands. Fans didn't want to leave their seats for a few seconds to buy a box of pop corn, because they knew they might miss something they had never seen before—and might never see again.

The record-breakingscoring average of 44.2 points per game was icing on the cake. Shooting the basketball was the least impressive skill displayed by the skinny kid with the big eyes and floppy socks. It was Show Time when Pistol Pete had a basketball in his hands even if the game hadn't started yet. In pregame warm-ups, he would sink behind-the-back shots, or ricochet shots off the floor, or half-court hooks. When he set records for both scoring and assists in leading the freshmen to 17 consecutive victories, the frosh attracted bigger crowds than the varsity. Fans came to see the kid do his thing, and headed for the exits while a mediocre varsity team was warming up. Maravich wasn't just the star of the show, he WAS the show.

Maravich came to Baton Rouge when LSU hired his dad, Press Maravich, to coach a basketball team that nobody had taken seriously in a dozen years. After Bob Pettit graduated, the Tigers managed only one winning season (13-11, 1961-62) in the next 13 years. Pistol Pete wasn't good enough to turn the Tigers into a national power, but he led them to the National Invitational Tournament semifinals in 1970.

Some people thought Press Maracich was hired as part of a package deal, but LSU Athletic Director Jim Corbett didn't know Maravich had a son.

Even when he was performing ball-handling drills for a handful of people, Pistol Pete responded to the crowd's applause. He would end each performance by saying, “Thank you. Thank you very much.”

“if it wasn't for the people,” he once said, “I wouldn't have played basketball. I love to turn those people on.”

Pistol Pete wasn't a great shooter—hitting 43 percent of his field goal attempts in his college career—but he was a great scorer because of his moves. Without them, he wouldn't have been able to get off the shots. When writers compared Pete to Bob Cousy, his dad snapped, “Cousy never saw the day he had moves like Pete.”

In one sense, Pistol Pete was his own worst enemy because he was never satisfied. “One of these nights,” he said during his senor season at LSU, “I'm going to hit every shot. If I take 40, I'll make 40. I don't know when it's going to happen—in college or where—but it will happen.”

He was dribbling through his house blindfolded when he was five years old. He dribbled the ball hanging out the window of the car as his dad was driving. He took aisle seats in movies so that he could dribble throughout the feature attraction. Basketball was an obsession with the entire family, and they paid a terrible price for it. “The only thing that ever mattered to me was basketball,” Pistol Pete recalled later, “I sold my soul to the game.”

He played in five National Basketball Association All-Star games and won one scoring title, averaging 31.1 points per game in 1977. But his supporting cast was never good enough to win a title.

When he retired in 1980, he sought replacements for his old obsession. He tried astrology, astronomy, mysticism, survivorism and nutrition. On the roof of his home, he painted a message for passing UFOs, offering himself for capture.

On Jan. 5, 1988, he suffered a fatal heart attack while he was playing basketball in a church gym in Pasadena, Calif. He was 40 years old. An autopsy later revealed that he had played his entire career with a rare heart condition that never showed up in physical exams. He went so suddenly that his fans never had a chance to say, “Thank you, Pete. Thank you very much.”

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