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The Pistol
MARK KRIEGEL
January 08, 2007
Before Magic Johnson and Showtime, before Michael Jordan's scoring sprees, fans and players alike were dazzled by Pete Maravich. This excerpt from a revealing new biography traces the creation of a legend who shattered NCAA scoring records while at LSU and went on to star in the NBA with shooting and ballhandling wizardry worthy of the Globetrotters
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January 08, 2007

The Pistol

Before Magic Johnson and Showtime, before Michael Jordan's scoring sprees, fans and players alike were dazzled by Pete Maravich. This excerpt from a revealing new biography traces the creation of a legend who shattered NCAA scoring records while at LSU and went on to star in the NBA with shooting and ballhandling wizardry worthy of the Globetrotters

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He hugged Robinson. For once Pete was in awe of himself. "Les," he whispered, "I think it's the greatest game I've ever played."

Soon after Pete Maravich collapsed during that pickup game in Pasadena in 1988, the phone rang in Covington, La. Joshua Maravich, then five years old, heard the maid let out a piercing howl. Then he was quickly ushered into another room. He closed the door behind him and considered himself in the mirror. He had his father's eyes. That's what everyone said. The boy looked through himself, and he knew: My daddy's dead.

Pete's older son, eight-year-old Jaeson, knew something was amiss when a teacher found him in the school cafeteria. "You need to go home now," she said. The living room was crowded with grown-ups by the time Jaeson arrived. His mother, who had been crying in the corner, got up as he came through the door. She hugged him tight. "I knew it was going to be real bad," he says.

She told him; then he went to his room. He felt nothing. He pulled up the blinds and stared out the window. Five minutes passed. Or was it 10? He does not know. "When I finally figured out that he wasn't coming back, I started to cry," he says.

The next day, in an act that stretched the limits of an eight-year-old's capacity for bravery and observance, Jaeson practiced with his rec league team, the Little Pistols.

In 1996, to celebrate its first 50 years, the NBA enlisted a panel to name the 50 greatest players in its history. A half century had passed since Press Maravich played for the Pittsburgh Ironmen. The NBA, under commissioner David Stern, was now held up as the ideal professional sports enterprise. Stern's model, as he often stated, wasn't another league but rather the savagely synergistic Disney Corp. Instead of selling Mickey, Minnie and Snow White, the NBA was marketing the greatest athletes in team sports, most of them Americans of African descent.

It was Pete Maravich, however, who had anticipated what the game would become: a hip-hop ballet, a rapper's delight, and a cause for great celebration in the corporate suite. Pistol Pete anticipated the high-concept ballplayer. This was the star identifiable merely as Magic or Charles or, most of all, Michael, an athlete who could be reconstituted in a variety of media, who could play as easily with animated characters as he could on the street.

Of those 50 greatest, Pete was the only one who would have fared better in the contemporary game than when he actually played. This much was now accepted as gospel: Pete had been well ahead of his time. "If he was playing today," said Walt Frazier, one of the chosen 50, "he'd be the most popular player in the league."

He was also the only one of the 50 not still alive. In his place Jaeson and Josh attended the 1997 All-Star game in Cleveland, where they accepted the honor on their father's behalf. As they awaited their introductions in the tunnel at Gund Arena, the game's greatest fawned over the brothers Maravich. Isiah Thomas told them how much he had learned from watching their father. Magic Johnson, whose championship Los Angeles Lakers teams had appropriated the term Showtime, felt a need to correct the record.

"Your pops," he gushed, "he was the original. He was the real Showtime."

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