Maravich has played this way since swaddling clothes, destined—or doomed, take your pick—to suffer all the terrible blessings a coach's son is heir to. "My father has the most brilliant coaching mind in the game," Pete says. The irony is that the old man never really bothered to coach Pete.
Press Maravich came out of the Pennsylvania coal mines and knew hard days riding the buses in the old pro leagues. He was a fine, disciplined coach at Clem-son and North Carolina State, though virtually unknown. But when his kid reached adolescence, all the books went out the window. Surely Press saw in his fabulously talented, tricks-laden offspring a future headliner in the big time. From the schoolyards of Clemson and Raleigh to the bayous of Baton Rouge, Press would work with his son under the hoop out in the backyard like some latter-day Geppetto and he would tell everybody, "I've got a kid better than any of 'em."
Sure enough. In 1967 Pinocchio was ready. In three years at Louisiana State, where hardly anyone but Bob Pettit had ever heard of the game, Pete Maravich did things with the basketball that no one had seen or even thought of before.
He spun the ball on his fingers, bounced it off his head, passed it every which way. And he shot. Oh, how he shot! He shot 50 times and scored 48 points in his first varsity game. He went for 66 against Tulane one year, 69 against Alabama the next. In 27 games he scored 50 points or more. Against St. John's in a tournament in Hawaii he scored 41 points in the second half (after which the mostly black St. John's team rushed onto the court to embrace him). Maravich developed a nightly warmup routine of spectacular dribbling, ball handling and shooting drills that packed arenas. He led the country in scoring for three years, at the end of which he had 3,667 points and a 44.2 average. The Pistol was called "the first white Globetrotter." As a senior he co-wrote a story for this magazine entitled I Want To Put on a Show. In the history of college basketball there had been other marvelously talented players—Wilt, Russ, the Cooz; Elgin, Big O, West—but at the top of his game, when he was popping and cooking and putting on that show, nobody—absolutely nobody, notime, nowhere—approached Pete Maravich.
After college, as the subject of a bidding war between the Carolina Cougars of the ABA and the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA, Maravich commanded contracts worth a king's ransom. The Cougars' offer consisted of close to $5 million in cash as well as parts in three Hollywood movies for Universal. Instead, Pete took his pistols to the NBA.
As a rookie in Atlanta, Maravich was subjected to hostility, taunts and reverse racism from some of the Hawks' black veterans, who resented his enormous salary and the fact that he was being promoted as the whole show. They tried to drive their new teammate out of the NBA.
Perhaps as a result, Maravich contracted Bell's palsy—the right side of his face was paralyzed for three weeks, his eyes had to be taped shut so he could sleep and he was sometimes unable to eat.
Lenny Wilkens, now coach of the Seattle SuperSonics, says, "A lot of guys who might have been good cracked under such circumstances. Pete kept his wits. He hung in there. He survived."
That experience undoubtedly steeled Maravich for another crisis that occurred last season only a few months after what appeared to be the crossroads event of his career.
The cornerstone of the New Orleans Jazz since he was obtained from Atlanta in 1974 for players, draft choices and most of the wrought iron in Le Vieux Carr�, Maravich had led the team to a three-year record of 96-150 when his contract came up for renewal in the summer of 1977. "I'd play on the moon to win a championship," Maravich said then. Because the other players on the Jazz were conspicuously earthlings, everyone naturally assumed he would play out his option year in New Orleans, become a free agent and sign with the Alderaan Darth Vaders or some such. Instead, Maravich came to terms with the new Jazz general manager. Lew Schaffel, signing up for five more years for approximately $3 million.