Remembering “Pistol” Pete Maravich

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"Pistol" Pete on Sports Illustrated cover while playing with Atlanta Hawks in 1973. (Sports Illustrated)

Remembering “Pistol” Pete Maravich

By Keith Champion

Twenty seven years ago this month, in January, 1988, perhaps the greatest player to ever play the game of basketball, Pete Maravich, died at the age of 40.  He had joined Dr. James Dobson in a pick-up game shortly before he was going to be interviewed on Dr. Dobson’s radio show, “Focus on the Family”.  After playing for a short period of time, Pete Maravich collapsed with a massive heart attack, which was a result of a congenital heart defect.

Many of our younger readers are probably not aware of the impact that Maravich had on the game of basketball.  He was college basketball’s all-time leading scorer averaging more than 44 points per game for his career at LSU. 28 times he scored more than 50 points in a game.  Playing before the 3-point line was instituted; Maravich used every shot in the book, as he scored inside, outside, and often for the Tigers who were coached by his dad, Press Maravich.  “Pistol” Pete as he was called, had more to his game than just putting the ball in the basket.  At 6’5”, he was a shooting guard, but more times than not, was at his best when he led the fast break.  He had a remarkable repertoire of passes.  His fakes, feints, behind the back, and between the legs passes were simply dazzling to opponents and spectators alike.  He was the first player to sign a million-dollar contract in the NBA and was the frontrunner in ball handling techniques used today by basketball players everywhere.  He was certainly a man before his time.

I had the privilege of meeting Pete Maravich in Clearwater, Florida in June of 1987, 1-month after he was selected to the NBA Hall of Fame and 6 months before his untimely death.  He was at Clearwater Christian College running the Pete Maravich Basketball Camp. I was introduced to him by a coaching friend and Maravich graciously invited me to go to lunch with him and the other camp coaches.  After lunch, I had the opportunity to talk with him, 1 on 1, at the end of the gym before the afternoon camp session began.  While I thought we would talk a little about basketball, Maravich wanted to talk about his life. For about 20 minutes he talked and I listened to how throughout his playing days he had been living in the fast lane.  He would later say he had all that you could desire in life.  He had money, cars, homes, women, and all of the things that most professional athletes search after.  Even his Hall of Fame career in the NBA did not bring him the satisfaction for which he was searching.  Maravich then told me how he had found that satisfaction he was searching for at the age of 35 when he discovered a new relationship with God.  His life had obviously changed and now he wanted to use his remaining days to share his faith with others.  Little did we realize that his “remaining days” would only be about 6 more months.  I will always treasure those 20 minutes he gave me on that hot summer day in Clearwater, over 27 years ago.

I was in Chattanooga, Tennessee getting my small college team ready for a basketball game, when I heard the word of Maravich’s death.  I immediately thought back to the conversation we had a few months earlier. A more exuberant individual, I have never met.  A transformed life that had been dedicated to reaching young people was now gone at the age of 40.

Four of the next five years, I worked at, which was renamed “The Maravich Memorial Camp”. I personally got to know his wife Jackie and sons, Jaeson and Josh.  It was at those camps I learned how much Pete accomplished in that last year of his life. In 1987, he finished 3 projects he had been working on, as well as being inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.  He came out with “Homework Basketball”, a series of 4 videos on basic offensive fundamentals and ball handling.  To this day, they are as good as any videos/DVD on the market.  Also completed that year was the movie “The Pistol”, an account of Pete’s early years of basketball. It’s a wholesome story about a boy and his love for the game.  The third project was the completion of his book “Heir to a Dream”, a great book about his relationship growing up and playing for his dad.  He was in Los Angeles doing a promotional on that book when he suffered his premature death.

Pete Maravich’s first 35 years of life were dedicated to basketball, the game he loved.  He was College Player of the Year, three times a 1st team All-American, a former NBA scoring champion, and a NBA Hall of Fame selection.  His last 5 years were dedicated to sharing his faith with others and about the transformation that took place in his life.  A few months before he died, a USA Today reporter asked Maravich how he wanted to be remembered.  The reporter expecting an answer that related to basketball instead heard Pete say, “More than anything, I want to be remembered as a good Dad and a good Christian”.   That’s who he was those last 5 years.

“Pistol” Pete Maravich will be remembered as one of the greatest players ever to put on a basketball uniform.  Most people will not argue that point.  I’ll remember him also, as a gracious human being that took his exuberance of basketball and successfully transferred it to living out his faith.

That’s the way I saw him From the Sidelines.

You can contact Keith Champion at keith@fbc-naca.org

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