This outburst came in the midst of a 10-game Jazz winning streak, a streak in which Maravich played the best pure basketball of his life. "Pete's progress was right on schedule," says Hundley, the Jazz broadcaster, of those games. "He was at his peak age-wise. He was shooting a better percentage, protecting the ball, working harder on defense. His passes were phenomenal. The guy was smoking everybody—probably out of anger at Schaffel. It was an obvious 'I'll-show-you' deal. And the man was."
On the way to defending his scoring title, Maravich also had made the NBA Top Ten in assists, steals and free-throw percentage. Then, on Jan. 31 against Buffalo, in the ninth game of the streak and the 49th of the season, the Pistol went into the air for a three-quarter-court, between-the-legs impossible monster pass and came down on the Superdome floor all wrong. The inside of his right knee was a mess. Subsequently Maravich missed 23 games, tried to return for three, then missed the Jazz' last seven contests.
Schaffel was finished as soon as the season ended, but his reign was merely the latest in a series of front-office fiascos that have been more responsible for the failures of the Jazz than the passes Maravich has thrown into Bourbon Street. The team's owners routinely ruined the team with hysterical trades and improbable drafts. The franchise is woefully disorganized top to bottom, with authority fragmented and hardly any "basketball people" in sight. As player personnel director and assistant coach—a startling combination right there—Bill Bertka is a good scout. Baylor, a dynamic, charismatic personality when he was the NBA's classic forward, is indecisive and out of his element as a head coach. Basically, he is a figurehead and apparently unable to provide leadership.
Jazz center play always has been erratic when not laughable. Although Goodrich, the guard for whom the club mortgaged its future by giving away two first-round drafts, looks like a juvenile with his Orphan Annie hairdo, he is the oldest player in the NBA. Meanwhile, Forward Aaron James continues to commit blunders such as catching his own jump balls, and in the last college draft the Jazz passed over Kentucky's Jack Givens, the MVP of the NCAA tournament, to pick a hardship case from San Francisco named James Hardy, who has lived up to his nickname, "Sad Sack."
Then there is the Truck. Robinson went public last summer with his disgust for the Jazz' "double standard." "I just want to be appreciated and be granted the same treatment Pete is granted," he said. For all Robinson's scoring ability, the 6'7" forward usually concentrates on rebounding, in which he led the league last year partly because he hangs back guarding the defensive board while opponents, realizing his priorities, invariably begin their offense on Robinson's side, where there is no pressure.
With "the Pistol and the Power" (as Maravich and Robinson are called on the Jazz' posters) alternately throwing up garbage, and with Goodrich scurrying around trying to find a ball of his own to shoot, the Jazz sometimes play like a crew of plastered steamboatmen who have wandered over from an all-nighter at the Absinthe House.
"I get along with Pete," says Robinson, "but does he get along with me? How can he feel I'm taking the glory when he wanted me so bad? He ain't never had a guy get the ball the way I do. Aw, he knows I get upset when it's a four-on-one fast break and he pulls up from 25 and fires. But that's just Pete. Sometimes it's tough to play with a guy who gets on us for not having any talent and for making mistakes. Now, we don't get on him for shooting 35 times with 10 turnovers, do we?"
"Big deal," says Maravich. "I play 42 minutes a game. Look, I was having my best year when I was hurt. We might have won the division if I had kept going. Then this year my bad back has thrown my shot off. But it's coming. Everybody complains I shoot too much. I shoot 22 times a game. They complain about my percentage. What guards shoot 50%? What did West shoot [.474, career]? What did Havlicek shoot [.439]? What about Oscar [.485] or Elgin [.431]? I don't know. We don't have a lot of shooters here. Do people think Walter Payton and O. J. Simpson get all their yards by blocking? What is this? Leadership? What's a leader? What do I have to do, go out and murder? We get beat at Phoenix once by 43 and it was my fault. I've never been only a shooter, or a scorer. I do other things. For four and a half seasons I've done everything I possibly could to help this team. They ain't got no complaints. But, then, I'm the white boy making the most money, so it's my fault.
"Basketball used to be so much fun," Maravich says. "Now I don't sleep for a week at a time. There's a reason I never smile out there anymore. This is the coldest, flesh-peddlingest business around. Other people miss practice and you never hear anything. If I did, the front office would be down at the AP office typing the release. Everybody would hear about it, just because I'm Pistol Pete."
But who is that? The Pistol Pete who came into the league as a vivacious, wisecracking white prince with the wonderful world of advertisements, endorsements and ancillary rights at his feet doesn't even have a sneaker contract anymore. He once did a national spot for Vitalis, and for a time he endorsed Pepsi-Cola, but his condemnation of soft drinks as being harmful to children wiped out that. Once known as a fun-loving midnight rider, the Pistol now refuses to touch anything more serious than natural fruit juices or Perrier. Pistol Pete, who exposes every nerve and emotion on the court and entertains thousands as no other basketball player of his generation, offstage is a recluse who is seldom seen around New Orleans and never in other cities, where he hides in his hotel room, dreaming of civilization in another galaxy.