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THE UPSTAGING OF PISTOL PETE
William F. Reed
March 30, 1970
Showtime with Pete Maravich came to Madison Square Garden and New Yorkers loved it, but Marquette brought in a star performer of its own—a local boy at that—and easily won the NIT tournament
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March 30, 1970

The Upstaging Of Pistol Pete

Showtime with Pete Maravich came to Madison Square Garden and New Yorkers loved it, but Marquette brought in a star performer of its own—a local boy at that—and easily won the NIT tournament

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The next night one of Pete's fans—Al Hirt—invited the team to attend his concert at Carnegie Hall, where he called the players up on stage and introduced them. At about 2:30 a.m. Maravich was sound asleep in his room ("It was so small I had to put my suitcases in the bathroom") when he was awakened by a soft knocking on the door.

"Some girl had gotten outside in the hall," he said, "and she was calling, 'P-e-e-te, P-e-e-te.' I lay there for a few minutes just listening to her. I couldn't believe it. And then, just as I was getting ready to get up, somebody came along and ran her off."

On Sunday afternoon, LSU's opening game was televised nationally; since the New York area was not blacked out Garden attendance was a mere 16,000, more than the size of capacity crowds at the NCAA. But Maravich noticed the empty seats as soon as he jogged out on the floor. "It wasn't packed and I realized that," he said. "When I first went out there, I was scared—I was afraid everybody thought the game was being played somewhere else. The more people there are in the stands the better I like it." One other possible reason for the empty seats is that LSU was supposed to have an easy time with its opponent, Georgetown, an idea that was quickly dispelled.

The first time he put his hands on the ball in a game at the Garden, Pistol Pete gave the crowd what it wanted to see. With only eight seconds gone, he whipped a pass behind his back into a crowd of players jostling under the basket. Although the pass was right in his hands, Maravich's receiver was so surprised, or nervous, that he blew the shot. But nobody in the crowd seemed to mind. After letting out a loud ooooh, the fans settled back, ready to be entertained some more. Showtime was here.

But Georgetown was ready for The Pistol. The Hoyas assigned Guard Mike Laska—"best defensive player in the country," according to his coach—to cling to Maravich, and they had two more players running at him whenever he tried to maneuver into shooting territory. At halftime Pete was only 1 for 4 from the field. "I saw two men on me all the time and I thought, well, hell, I'll just throw the ball around and we'll score that way," said Pete.

He began taking more shots in the second half and in one period hit three long jumpers in a row. "I was starting to wonder how good he was about then," said Laska, "but when he hit those I knew he could have been doing it all day." What really turned on the crowd was a pass Maravich made on one of the few fast breaks LSU was able to generate. With a defensive man planted only steps in front of him as he charged up the middle, Maravich took a pass from his left and zipped it to his right all in the same motion, setting up an easy basket. His two free throws in the closing seconds enabled the Tigers to win 83-82, but Pete was not pleased. In his New York debut he had a modest 20 points—making six of 16 shots—and for the first time this season he was outscored by a teammate. Dark, husky Danny Hester, a 6'8" senior forward, had 30.

"I was pitiful, I was terrible, I stunk," said Pete. "It was one of my worst, no doubt about it. How many shots did I take? Sixteen? That's about 90 under my average, but I had nowhere to go. When I play that bad, I try to forget it. I'll just go hide in my little corner." The corner turned out to be Mr. Laffs, one of the swinging East Side bars.

Pete's best NIT performance—and also his roughest experience—came Tuesday night against Oklahoma in the quarterfinals, and this time there was a full house in the Garden. Showtime fans saw Pistol Pete score 37 points and again hit two free throws in the closing seconds, giving LSU a 97-94 victory. They also saw Pete get hit in the face going for a rebound, scrape his shin diving for a loose ball and twist his ankle while trying to drive between two Oklahoma defenders. After the game his stomach and ankle were troubling him enough so that he turned down an invitation to appear on the Dick Cavett show, which was just as well because his dad was fuming over the team's extracurricular activities anyway.

"We played like a bunch of fifth-graders," said his father. "These kids have been up till all hours of the night. I know they're up watching TV until 2 or 3 in the morning—you have 17,000 channels up here! They get up in the morning and they look like they've been on a seven-day drunk."

After the game a stranger walked up to Lou Carnesecca, the effervescent little coach who was winding up his career at St. John's to take over the New York Nets of the ABA, and pointed out that Maravich had made 14 floor errors. Said Carnesecca, "So what? Michelangelo ruined a few pieces of marble, too."

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