Who says all basketball bios are alike?
A GOOD MAN: THE PETE NEWELL STORY
By Bruce Jenkins, Frog Ltd., $27.50
FOREVER SHOWTIME: THE CHECKERED LIFE OF PISTOL PETE MARAVICH
By Phil Berger, Taylor Publishing Co., $23.95
THE BOB LOVE STORY
By Robert Earl Love with Mel Watkins
Contemporary Books, $24.95
When Pete Maravich was six years old, his stage-managing father, Press, already had him executing sophisticated ball-handling drills. When future NBA All-Star Bob Love was six, he was living hand-to-mouth in rural Louisiana and developing the terrible stutter that would dog him for three decades. When Pete Newell was six, he was a child actor in Hollywood, taking direction from Erich von Stroheim, who called him a dummkopf. Obviously these are three vastly different stories.
If you have time for only one, make it Jenkins's page-turning biography of Newell, whose seminal role in hoops history remains unfamiliar to generations that followed, despite the NBA Big Man's Camp he runs each summer. "In all of sport, I think Pete is the least-known outstanding figure there is," says Bob Knight. According to Jenkins, Knight spoke with "profound reverence" of Newell and calls Newell "absolutely the premier coach that we have ever turned out in this country."
Newell's college coaching career spanned 1946 to '60. He coached the gold-medal-winning 1960 U.S. Olympic team that included Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Jerry Lucas. Later, as general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, he spurned Maravich ("I didn't think you could win with him, and I was right," Newell said) in favor of Rudy Tomjanovich and pulled off the trade that brought Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from Milwaukee to L.A.
Exhausted by the pressure of college coaching, Newell retired at age 45, one year after winning the 1959 NCAA championship with an undermanned Cal team. His last college game speaks to his legacy: He lost the '60 NCAA title game to Fred Taylor's star-studded Ohio State squad, which played a defense that Newell had taught to Taylor the previous year. And to think none of this might have happened had Newell not lost the featured role in Charlie Chaplin's The Kid to Jackie Coogan.
Berger's biography of Maravich, who died of a congenital heart defect in 1988 at age 40, a few years after finding peace as a born-again Christian, is darker. The elder Maravich was a pistol, too, and Berger does his best work in reporting the twisted dynamic between father and son. Though Press, Pete's coach at LSU from 1967 to '70, let his superstar son do almost anything on the court, he often swore at him and even slapped his face during timeouts. Father and son also shared an agonizing bond in dealing with Pete's mentally unstable mother, Helen, who committed suicide in 1974.
As star-crossed as Maravich's life was, the tale told by Love is, in spots, just as tragic. Paralyzed with fear by his stuttering, Love tells of the night he was practically dragged to the stage at a banquet in Chicago and, with his son looking on, froze at the podium and said nothing for three minutes until he sat down, overcome by shame. Thank goodness for happy endings. Love, who played 11 seasons in the NBA and is now the Chicago Bulls' director of community relations ( Michael Jordan wrote the introduction to the book), overcame his stuttering with years of therapy and writes in the final chapter, "I wouldn't trade places with anybody in the world." It would've been nice if Maravich had lived long enough to be able to say that. I'm pretty sure that Newell, still going strong at 84, would say it now.