Ronnie, five years Pete's senior, worries about his half-brother. "Nine for nine," Ronnie says. "Nine years in this rat race and something's always gone wrong for Pete. It's not getting better. There is a certain paranoia. Pete just doesn't trust people. It started in Atlanta where they froze him out and he was too young to understand. It was a business, nothing personal. Except—hah!—black versus white. That's all. LSU was Tigertown and lots of laughs. Then all of a sudden there was no Tigertown. He wasn't a hero anymore. When people got on him, it was like a bomb hitting. He's been shell-shocked ever since. Basketball is Pete's whole world. He still thinks the world is out to get him."
In the past few seasons Maravich's teammates have taken to calling him the Wildman. With all due respect to his freewheeling ways on the floor, the name is a reaction to his recently formed radical opinions on such subjects as meat (terrible), Laetrile (terrific), world politics and outer space. It isn't that Maravich forces his views on anybody, it is simply that he is so overwhelmingly sincere as he voices the desire, for instance, "to be invisible so I could kill the heads of all the rich banking families, redistribute the wealth and make the world a better place." The Pistol also has discussed with his teammates his hope someday to draw a huge target on the roof of his house accompanied by the words "Come Take Me" so that when the spaceships start circling they'll know where to land. Is this a giant put-on? "I'm going," Maravich says grimly. "I've made a commitment to myself and Jackie that I'm going."
One Jazz player says, "The man is going through hell with losing and with that knee. He's consumed by his health-food kick. He's blamed for everything, and that makes him elusive from us. We can kid around with Pete, but there's always that jagged edge. We pull up short, and so does he. I think he's very, very sad. The stuff about being carted away to another planet is just a basic reflection of his being unhappy in this world."
Another teammate, referring to Maravich's sometimes disappointing performances on road trips, during which he closes himself off from any companionship, says, "The road is totally unnatural for Pete. He hates it, but he makes it worse by wanting to be alone. He looks at those four walls and goes into that blue mood. You know how the players get comp tickets for friends in different cities? On most teams all the tickets are used. On the Jazz there are extras. Everybody knows we can always get Pete's tickets on the road."
Precisely because he is the Pistol, it is hard to imagine Maravich being happier with any other team. It is also hard to see him playing anywhere but in New Orleans. Most teams cannot afford his more than $600,000 a year salary. Those that can, either don't need him or don't want him. In any case, Maravich has a trade-approval clause in his contract.
More significant, it's worthwhile to speculate how a trade would affect attendance at the Superdome. Last season the Jazz was third in NBA attendance before Maravich was injured, whereupon the team dropped to sixth (an average of 13,209). The club always has depended on "walk-up" sales, but with the Pistol's condition a game-to-game question, Jazz attendance is down to 10,227 a night.
"Winning draws the people," one Jazz executive says. "All we have to do is win."
But is it?
"Remember, Maravich is not only the white star," says a local man. "He's the white who makes the blacks look bad. He's the white who got the 68 points off Walt Frazier. New Orleans is the original town where blacks were 'jigs.' They still are. New Orleans gets off on the Pistol doing it to jigs."
Club officials estimate that by himself Maravich may be responsible for as much as 30% of the hard-core Jazz fans, folks who discovered basketball when he was playing up the road in Baton Rouge and have continued to follow his career.