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Peter Carry
October 26, 1970
Pete Maravich's debut earned him mixed reviews as Oscar Robertson made his first Buck game a winner
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October 26, 1970

We Have A Slight Delay In Show Time

Pete Maravich's debut earned him mixed reviews as Oscar Robertson made his first Buck game a winner

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Only one small boy waited in the Saturday afternoon sunshine to collect the autograph of Pete Maravich, who an hour earlier had completed his debut as a professional basketball player. He smiled thinly as he signed "Pistol Pete" on a file card and handed it to the youngster. Then, unimpeded by the attentions of any other fans, Maravich ambled slowly out to the arena parking lot in Atlanta, climbed into his dirty green Plymouth and drove away.

It was a somber ending to what started out as a very promising afternoon. The casting was perfect. Maravich, the top college scorer ever and the master of showmanship with a basketball, would play his first NBA game against Oscar Robertson (see cover), formerly the top college scorer and the complete fundamentalist. Maravich's team, the defending Western champion Atlanta Hawks, faced the unofficial crowned princes of all basketball, the Milwaukee Bucks of Robertson and Lew Alcindor. Despite some predictably erratic play, Pete had been the Hawks' second-highest scorer during the exhibition season, while the Bucks had defeated 10 successive opponents. ABC found it all too mouthwatering and added $75,000 to its $17 million TV package with the NBA for rights to the game. And a full house of normally football-crazed Georgians sacrificed a beautiful fall day to sit inside and watch another sport.

Theoretically, their instincts were sound. Along with the matchup of two excellent teams, putting Maravich and Robertson on the same floor was a handsome piece of counterpoint. One-on-one Pete came out of college with a reputation for floppy hair, saggy socks and a repertoire of fancy ball-handling stunts. Robertson surely belongs to an older generation. His hair is closely cropped and his wardrobe, as he showed while attending a stockholders' meeting and a press luncheon last week in Milwaukee, tends toward finely tailored brown and dark gray suits. Robertson's playing style is just as meticulous, relying on tempo. He bases his game on the nuances of change of pace and economy of movement. The only flamboyance he allows himself is a hard one-handed pass thrown off the dribble. "Oscar does everything exactly the way it should be done—with as few frills and flairs as possible," says Alcindor.

Robertson always seems to jump precisely high enough for his shot to clear an opponent's block and to move exactly as fast as he must to elude a defender. Everything is under control—only his large eyes change, popping open double size when he glances toward the basket to measure a shot. Maravich seemed reluctant to gauge anything as a collegian, preferring to rush in and then rely on instinct and his extraordinary cleverness to turn a dire situation to his advantage. But his desperation dribbles have hurt him during his short time as a pro. In exhibition games he was repeatedly trapped in crowds or chased into corners, where he was unable to fire off anything better than a forced pass or shot. Atlanta Coach Richie Guerin has urged Maravich to control his game, and presumably Pete will not start at least until he does that.

"He's got to discipline himself to the obligations of a guard," says Guerin. "He's got a responsibility in that position to do things I want him to and not just dribble around. He's got to work plays." Walt Hazzard, the Hawks' playmaker who was widely thought to be out of a job when Maravich was drafted last spring, adds, "It's just a different philosophy Pete's got to adjust to, but he'll adjust fast because he's such a good player. He'll learn that the easy way is the best way, and he'll expend less energy than he does now."

Maravich's basic style has indeed become more subdued. There have been fewer behind-the-back passes, less between-the-legs dribbling and none of the obvious crowd pleasers he performed in college, among these the volleyball-serve pass he launched in midair during a tournament game last year. And he has drawn some praise from Guerin, particularly after he played well in last week's practices. "I'm not trying to change Pete," Guerin said. "I'm just trying to get him to use his talents the right way." Ultimately, if Maravich develops into the player the Hawks hoped for when they paid him a bonus of more than $1 million, show time should be back in. But last Saturday was not the time.

It was a fine occasion, however, to examine the Bucks. Best in the NBA during the second half of last season, they have since acquired Robertson, Lucius Allen and Bob Boozer in stunningly lopsided trades in their favor. Milwaukee seems as threatening now as Los Angeles did two years ago when the Lakers obtained Wilt Chamberlain—and far better protected against the twin vulnerabilities of age and injury.

Some of the Bucks' new strengths are obvious; one is Alcindor's improvement. Dick Cunningham, the Bucks' 6'10" substitute center who practices one-on-one with Alcindor, said, "The first time I played against Lew I hit him and I was scared. I thought I had broken his bones. He kind of fell over. Now it's impossible to rough him—he just rolls off and scores. He doesn't even know I'm there most of the time. At first he only used his hook and occasionally a little jumper on the baseline. Now I never see him use the same move twice against me in practice."

Alcindor has been helped by Robertson and Allen, who get him the ball more often and in better position than the backcourt men who were humiliated by New York in the playoffs last season. The problems that were supposed to arise because of two superstars on one team have yet to surface, and probably never will. Lew has a firm grasp of what he calls "the totality of the game." He knows it should be played by five men, preferably the best available.

On Saturday the Hawks led by six points when Maravich entered the game at the start of the second period. He quickly helped his team to a 16-point edge. The loudest cheer of the afternoon erupted when Pete broke up a Milwaukee fast break with an interception, dribbled full court to his own foul line and shot a jumper that jiggled around the top of the basket before dropping through for his first professional field goal. Maravich again looked good two minutes later when he scored on a showy break engineered by Hazzard, but that was all. As the lead changed hands in the third period, it was Pete's desperation cross-court pass that was snatched away by the Bucks' Bob Dandridge. The interception led to a breakaway basket that, more than any other play, shifted the momentum to Milwaukee.

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