March 9, 2007


The Range of Pistol Pete: Pete Maravich's influence on basketball is still alive today: a review of Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, by Mark Kriegel (Harry Stein, 9 March 2007, City Journal)

For many of us of a certain age, "Pistol" Pete Maravich remains forever fixed in the amber of memory, one of the iconic images of our fast-departing youth: the skinny kid out of Louisiana State with floppy hair and even floppier socks doing utterly impossible things with a basketball. Celebrated as few college athletes had ever been, on going pro he became one of the richest athletes in the world. Though he perhaps failed to live up to his astonishing potential, in 1997 the NBA named him one of the 50 greatest players of its first 50 years. He was the only one so honored who did not survive to see the ceremony, having died of massive heart failure nine years earlier at 40. (By then he'd found God, and he died during a break in a pickup basketball game in the arms of one of his fellow players--Reverend James Dobson.)

The proximate cause of death was a rare, previously undiagnosed heart defect, but as Mark Kriegel makes abundantly clear in his compelling biography, Pistol, Maravich lived not only exceedingly hard--even by pro athlete standards--but also in almost unrelenting psychic torment. Surely the anguish and self-loathing were in part genetic: his mother, also long beset by depression and like Pete an alcoholic, killed herself at the height of his NBA stardom.

But in this respect and others, Pete was even more his father's child--indeed, his father's creation. Born of Serbian immigrants in hardscrabble western Pennsylvania, Press Maravich grew into a gifted basketball player and an even more gifted coach, one who enjoyed the enduring esteem of such legendary contemporaries as UCLA's John Wooden and the Harlem Globetrotters' Meadowlark Lemon.

But when Pete came along, he became his father's life's work. Press began nurturing Pete's extraordinary talent literally in his infancy, devising ever more complex drills throughout his childhood, until, by nine or ten, he was dazzling his father's friends with his astonishing ball-handling and passing skills. Years later, NBA defensive ace Walt Frazier would explain his technique for neutralizing the league's premier ball handler: "You sort of wait for him to stop dribbling," Frazier said. "Then for a second all the hair that's been flying in the wind comes down over his face and he can't see. That's when you steal the ball."

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 9, 2007 7:31 AM

I sent our son, the basketball player, the link. He was quite the Pistol Pete fan. We had posters and pictures all over the house. Goodness, can it be over 30 years ago.

Posted by: erp at March 10, 2007 1:44 PM

Bill Simmons got it right: the Pistol is maybe the only athlete one can think of that actually would have been more successful playing today than in his own time.

Posted by: Foos at March 10, 2007 8:56 PM

Now that no one plays defense.

Posted by: oj at March 10, 2007 10:58 PM
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