SI Vault
Peter Carry
November 12, 1973
Pistol Pete Maravich is swishing them in from near and far to lead his league in scoring. With the help of Sweet Lou Hudson, he is keeping the Atlanta Hawks aloft
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November 12, 1973

He's Shooting The Works

Pistol Pete Maravich is swishing them in from near and far to lead his league in scoring. With the help of Sweet Lou Hudson, he is keeping the Atlanta Hawks aloft

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As much as anything, their nicknames set forth the differences between them. The one called Pistol Pete is as hot and loud as a Saturday Night Special. His face is as angular and pointy as a Buntline Special and his skin as pale as a pearl handle. On a basketball floor he can be as fleeting and unpredictable as a ricocheting bullet and his jumper is often launched with all the grace of a man being gunned down from behind.

The other is named Sweet Lou, sweet as in cool jazz put down by a lightly plucked bass and the hushed swirling of brushes around a drumhead. His skin is the color of light coffee, his features regular and smooth, his temperament equable. His game is heavy on the sugar: there is a gentle rhythm to his constant motion on offense and a classic softness in his jump shot, of which there is none prettier.

Along with these dissimilarities, the two, Pete Maravich (see cover) and Lou Hudson, have a couple of things in common. They both wear the uniform of the Atlanta Hawks, and both were among the six NBA players who scored more than 2,000 points last season. Together they gave Atlanta a one-two punch matched only once before in the pros; in 1964-65 Elgin Baylor and Jerry West each topped 2,000 for the Lakers. And after the first dozen games of this season, Sweet Lou and Pistol Pete are picking up where they left off; Maravich has a 29.6-point average, Hudson a 23.8.

With a seven and five record at week's end, Atlanta has a 1�-game lead in the Central Division. The main reason for the Hawks' success is that their two stars glitter in decidedly different ways. Whenever a team has two exceptional scorers, the problem of who shall have the ball—and thus the opportunity to shoot it—can be nettlesome, particularly if the two have similar styles. If both are one-on-one artists who need to dribble for prolonged periods before they can score, their coach is apt to find them going one-on-one against each other to see who can rack up the most points. This tends to make their team susceptible to being racked up by any five guys who show up at the arena. For the past year Atlanta Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons has generally been able to avoid this kind of problem by leaving the ball with Maravich at guard and moving Hudson—twice an All-Star as a backcourt man and thrice as a forward—into the frontcourt. There he is free to do what he does best: move without the ball to get free for open shots. On the fast-breaking Hawks, that often means using his extraordinary quickness to fill an outside lane on a dash downcourt. But in pattern situations, Hudson must slog through the enervating business of cutting, dragging his man through picks and fighting defensive switches while his teammates enjoy the good feel of leather in their palms and the bulk of the referees' protection.

This state of affairs would be understandably irksome to Hudson if Maravich was off with the ball firing at will, as he did at LSU when he scored 3,667 points by attemping 38 field goals per game, or throwing ill-conceived passes into the loges, as he did during his first pro season. Not that the Pistol has become shy about shooting. Indeed, he is the NBA's leading scorer, but his .479 field-goal percentage, far higher than in previous years, indicates he has improved his shot selection. And last season he began completing more of his passes. While Hudson and Maravich were busy becoming the league's best scoring combination, Pete and his backcourt partner Herm Gilliam became the NBA's top assists team. Maravich flipped 153 more scoring passes than in his previous best season and finished with a 6.9 assists average, sixth best in the NBA.

All those points and passes, plus a modest improvement in defense, have earned Maravich the recognition from his peers he did not get after his ballyhooed arrival in the NBA in 1970. Back then Maravich received only six votes in the players' balloting for Rookie of the Year. Last season the players voted him a starter in the All-Star Game and in March elected him to the 10-man All-NBA squad.

In Maravich's rookie year the perennially powerful Hawks, a veteran team with all black starters, did not take kindly to the brash young white parvenu with the $2 million contract. Some of Pete's old teammates—Hudson is the only Hawk remaining from the pre-Maravich era—blamed Maravich, claiming he was selfish and sloppy on the court, and gauche in his personal relations. Hudson prefers to blame management. "It wanted us to bend to Pete," he says. "That's backwards. When I was a rookie, I was treated like one and I was glad just to be there. In Pete's case they said we should be happy just to be able to play with him."

Time and trades eventually solved that problem, but then Maravich had others. At the start of his second season, mononucleosis knocked his weight down from 205 to 169. and his stamina to zero. It was midseason before he began playing effectively. Then one day early last year he found he could not close his right eye. That side of his face was paralyzed as a result of bell's palsy. Maravich slurred his words like a drunk, had to tape his eye shut to sleep and feared he would never play again. Doctors, who know neither the cause of nor the cure for the ailment, told him it could last from two weeks to two years. Fortunately the palsy subsided after three weeks.

Long before that, Maravich's prominent place in the consciousness of basketball fans had subsided as well. Clearly, he was good but, just as clearly, he was a disappointment. In fact, it was not until the waning months of last season that he regained some of his old luster.

The current Pistol Pete is an improved model. Rarely does he drive at breakneck speed into the corner or wildly fling the ball up from midcourt. He usually concentrates on what his team is trying to achieve. Some of the original Maravich remains, but he does his between-the-legs, behind-the-back and over-the-shoulder passing and dribbling so fluidly that, along with his phenomenal quickness, they are now taken for granted. Still, in the last year he has proved that there are two things he does superlatively, perhaps better than anyone alive: handle the ball and shoot on the move.

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