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I guess I love the game of basketball more than anything else in the world. From the beginning it was like an addiction with me, I played it so much. Forty-seven weeks out of the year. Four to five hours a day. I never really was interested in other sports or in anything else, either. For a while I ran some track. But I could never see running around in a circle for a long time and just getting tired. Really it was all basketball. The fact that my father, Press, was coaching the game probably had the most to do with it. I mean, if he had put a football in my hand I would have wanted to be a football player, or if he had been a plumber, maybe I would have been tough with a wrench. I don't know.
I will admit my dad taught me a lot way back when I was a little skinny kid, and he has continued to teach me everything he knows at LSU. But then again, I get the reds about that on occasion. I mean I really get the reds. Some people all along have said, well, Pete Maravich scores all those points and makes All-America all right, but he's had his father along and it's easier that way. That's just so ridiculous, I can't even believe it. Those people can just go to their damn rooms. That's like having me sit in a chair and having someone go over an English novel with me and tell me everything that's in it and then say: I "Well there it is, you know it all now."
Yeah, right. I know it all. I don't have to go out and read the novel, do I, because I know everything about it. That's about as stupid as saying I learned all there was to know about basketball from my father, so all I had to do was wait until college and then go out and play the game.
Dad taught me everything, sure, and all I had to do was practice. But that's it, that's the hard part. Practice. And I did practice. Man, I practiced.
Even very early while growing up and playing every day, I felt I would have a future in basketball, if only for the fact that I did practice and work so hard at it. I would seclude myself in a gym at the YMCA, or go out in the backyard, playing alone most of the time, and say to myself, "Well look now, from what I've seen around me, the people in the pros and in college must have worked hard or they wouldn't have earned a scholarship and they wouldn't have been able to make a living at this game. Well, they aren't working any harder than me, because I'm out here four and five hours a day." And I was.
I first started playing around with a basketball when I was 7 and it was just a toy, like my bicycle and fire engines and my toy guns—yeah, I guess they were pistols.
In those days we lived about two miles from town and I'd walk there all the time, dribbling a basketball most of the way, to work out at the Y and go to the movies. Whenever I went to the movies I'd take my ball with me and be sure to get an end seat so I could dribble in the aisle while the movies were on. There were only a few people in the theater then. Clemson, S.C. isn't the biggest metropolis in the world, you know. It isn't Atlanta. These people in the theater were old and tired, and they looked like they'd been sitting there for three years. They didn't mind my dribbling—the floor was carpeted and I had a rubber ball—and I never got thrown out for it or anything.
Later, about the fourth or fifth grade, I was still timid and shy around people—like a lot of kids my age—and I would practice in the gym all by myself. When you're in the gym alone, you know, you can do anything you want, because nobody is there to stop you. I began finagling with the ball in there, fooling around with it and doing funny things. I would get bored with just shooting straight to the basket or dribbling around in circles. So I practiced different stuff with ball handling and dribbling, stuff that was exciting to me and much more fun. I would throw it off the wall and try to make a basket. I'd bounce it off the floor and up to the rim. I'd throw it over the rafters and try to bank it, stuff like that.
Then I'd try passing against the wall, first throwing the ball behind my back, then through my legs and around my neck, aiming for a spot on the wall. Usually I made all kinds of difficult shots that seemed impossible to the rest of the kids when I would go tell them about it. Then, of course, when they'd come to see me do the stuff, I'd never make it. The ball just would not go in. I wasn't choking or anything, I don't think. (You don't choke at 11 years old, do you?) But I did get awfully uptight when the other guys would watch me try.
As I grew up I continued to work on my drills—I didn't have a name for them then—and even began to use the funny passes in games and other competitive situations. In high school I had five different coaches in five years, and they never gave me much hassle about my stuff because they knew I'd play like this whether they liked it or not. I always put it to them this way: if I can get the ball to a man with a pass behind my back as well as I can with a regular chest pass, what's the difference? They didn't really appreciate that, but they let me do it anyway.