For one thing, I used to always take hook shots from 15 and 20 feet away in junior high. It was easier for me to get the ball up there that way. I also shot from the hip, because I wasn't strong enough to get the ball high on my chest or over my shoulder. I was about 4'11" then, maybe 85 pounds, really a spaghetti, and I fired it one-handed, from the hip. I think that's when somebody first called me Pistol. Anyway, I would throw those hook shots and also some two-handed sets from 35 feet (which was my most accurate shot of all), and the coaches would go just about crazy.
The other tricks were just something for me to do, something to fool around with because I was always playing with guys older than me. When I was 10 and 11, I'd be playing against guys 15 and 16. I'd dribble through my legs and throw the ball around my back and everything. I'd get the biggest kick out of it—I could hardly stand it. I'd go crazy. I'd love doing different things to an opponent. All of this was really just preliminary hacking around.
Two incidents, one in junior high school, the other in high school, really shaped my whole outlook on the game. The first came when I was in seventh grade and went out in front of a crowd for the first time. It was a junior varsity game in Clemson and there were only about 87, 88 people in a small gym, but I got such a feeling in my stomach, it was amazing. I just wanted to do everything and be everything in front of that crowd. I wanted to put on such a show. I don't even remember what happened in the game; I just remember the feeling.
Three years later when I was in high school and had more confidence, I began throwing wilder passes and connecting with them. The crowds were getting bigger then, and once I had the people behind me, I wanted to do more and more with the ball. I remember one game I threw a behind-the-back bounce pass on the move through a guy's legs! I mean, man, you understand? A behind-the-back through his legs! Oh, whoa! I remember I was coming down on a three-on-one break, and my man was over-playing me to the left and giving me the open teammate on the right. But that was too easy a pass. We were going to get two anyway, so it didn't make any difference. As my man was sliding and I was dribbling, I noticed his legs moving in and out, in and out. Still on the move, I saw the right moment and threw the ball when his legs were out—behind my back, now, not a straight pass—and I put it right through him to a teammate on the left. He converted for the basket. The crowd, boy. The crowd, I want to tell you, they went berserk. I couldn't believe it. My man looked like somebody stepped on his head I think right then, show time was born in Pete Maravich.
The audience—the spectators, the fans, the people who watch on television, all of the crowds—has always been one of the most important parts of basketball to me. Without the fans, you don't have a game, any game. I mean, what are you playing for if not the fans?
I guess there are several tons of ham in me—that must be obvious—and I recognized early that basketball, more than any other team game, gives a guy the opportunity to be a showman. I've always wondered why in football a quarterback couldn't learn to flip a behind-the-back pitch-out to one of his running backs, or in baseball a pitcher try to fool a batter with a behind-the-back fastball. But you know there isn't anybody who's about to do that. The skills involved in basketball are different. You can do more stuff, more antics. And one guy has much more leeway to put on a show. That really is what basketball is for me—an entertainment, a chance to express myself. It's what I've chosen to do in my life, it's my thing.
The people at LSU and in Baton Rouge, where I play, and all over the Southeastern Conference know that when Pete Maravich comes out on the court it's show time. Sure I come out to win the game. That's always No. 1. But I also want to put on a performance that the fans will enjoy. I never go into a game thinking, "Oh, here's another 40 minutes to kill. I'll just go out, run around and then head back to the shower."
There's one misconception I'd like to clear up. When most people hear the name Maravich, all they think of is a skinny kid who shoots all the time. Well, I do shoot a lot [1,022 times as a sophomore, 976 times last year]. But, and this may sound funny, shooting is not really my game. Passing is. Passing and ball handling and dribbling—that is the most exciting part of my game, the most devastating part, the part that people come out to see, the part I like to talk about.
Shooting in basketball is very unimaginative, really. Almost boring. There is so little margin for error in shooting, so very little chance to be flashy. I have the same shots most other players have—the jump, the one-hand push, the set, the hook. I do have a hesitation jump shot. I picked that up by watching stars like Elgin Baylor, only I have to use more positions in the air, because I never seem to get free with just one or two moves.
But passing is what I like to do best. I've said many times that I don't think our team could have put people in the stands at LSU if we had just won a lot of games, or if I had just scored a lot of points. I think it was something else. I think it was the style, the passing.