MULE': Remembering Pistol - More on Maravich

Pistol Pete caught everybody's attention. In the 114 years since LSU began sponsoring sports, no athlete – either while in school or later – ever garnered as much notice.

The sporting world was captivated when he averaged an astounding 44.2 points a game, 3,667 points for his three-year college career, achieved without the modern prodding of the 3-point shot or the 35-second clock. It's a record that could be broken only with an extraordinary set of circumstances: a wondrous athlete, in a program where he was the only consistent scorer, who stayed in school long enough to accomplish it.

 

In this day and time, that's not likely.

 

To put the Pistol in focus, remember that the NCAA's second-leading scorer is Freeman Williams of Portland State, who in a four-year career between 1974-78 scored 3,249 points – 418 fewer than Maravich. And Pete played significantly fewer games – a career total of 83, which was 23 less than Williams and about 70 percent of what they play today. Duke All-American J.J. Redick, for example, scored a four-year total of 2,769 points in 139 games.

 

And that wasn't even the strength of Maravich's game, which was a near-magical gift of handling the ball.

 

Obviously, back in the late 1960s, Pete, with his ball-handling wizardry to supplement his prodigious scoring, was the focus of headlines and camera angles across the globe.

 

As a five-time All-Pro in his short, largely unsatisfying 10-season career, he was still the focus of the media everywhere. Like Fred Astaire, eyes seemed to follow his every move.

Even now, almost two decades after his untimely passing, he is the subject of two tomes:   "Maravich," written by Wayne Federman and Marshall Terrill in collaboration with Pete's widow, Jackie, and former New York Daily News sportswriter Mark Kriegel's "Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich."

 

Yet, and this is our real point, for all attention he has ever received, and especially since he left basketball in 1980, there are parts of Pistol Pete's story that never seem to be fully recognized. It's almost as if everyone is determined to make the Maravich saga a tragedy. Their interpretation, and I once regrettably took part in one, a CBS documentary, harped on the fact that Pete was never on a championship team, never even played in the NCAA Tournament as a collegian.

 

The inference was that for all his individual greatness, Maravich never had a measure of success in basketball. I made a couple of points that apparently didn't fit into the preconceived notion of what CBS wanted, and they never appeared in the final version.

 

The truth is, Pistol Pete accomplished tremendous success, certainly at LSU. The season before he played his first varsity game, the basketball Tigers were 3-23. In his senior season, LSU was 22-10 – a .700 percent improvement. His first two varsity seasons produced average at best records (14-12 and 13-13), but they were light years better compared to what LSU had before.

 

And to put the rap about the NCAAs in context, you have to remember that in those days only the champion of each conference went to the 16-team tournament. It wasn't like now where every half-decent team gets a bid. LSU finished second to Kentucky in 1969-70. With today's less-demanding restrictions to get into the field of 64, the Tigers would have been a slam-dunk.

 

One other thing that never seems to be brought up: No guard, no matter how gifted, is going to carry any team to a championship by himself. The most prized ingredient of any title team is a quality big man. Oscar Robertson, the guard those of Maravich's era were measured by, never got remotely close to a championship until late in his pro career when he landed with the Milwaukee Bucks where young Kareem-Abdul Jabar was holding down the middle.                                    

 

Not once in his prime – college or productive pro career, before he was seriously injured – did Maravich find himself on the same roster with a quality big man.

 

The championship portion of the Maravich legacy was doomed by that most unmentioned fact.

 

There is one other thing to always remember when dissecting the accomplishments of Pistol Pete: the heart anomaly that killed him. He was born without one of the two artery systems that supply the heart with blood, a condition that should have precluded living beyond adolescence.

 

We didn't know any of this at the time, of course, but think of all those points, all those mesmerizing ball tricks, all that up-and-down the court athleticism for all those years.

 

Things that no one else ever did – and they were done with essentially half an engine.  That alone puts the Pistol in a certain – and singular – context.

 

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Marty Mule' can be reached at MJM981@Bellsouth.net.

 


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