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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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At Campbell, Pete bet Wake Forest's All-America big man, Len Chappell, that he could make 24 of 25 free throws, with 20 of them hitting nothing but the net. He collected his winnings in Pepsis. In getting the better of Chappell, Pete had done something the rest of the ACC could not. It wasn't the only time, either. "I remember we played H-O-R-S-E for an hour," says Chappell. "He shot me out of the gym."

"He was the hardest-working athlete I've ever been around," says Lefty Driesell, then the coach at Davidson. "It'd be 110 degrees, and he'd be dribbling or throwing the ball against a cement wall hours at a time."

"Pete," Driesell told him, "you're working too hard."

"I'm gonna be a millionaire, coach," Pete replied. The boy kept going, throwing all those fancy passes against the wall.

"I ain't never seen Oscar Robertson throw nothing but a plain old chest pass," said Driesell.

"They don't pay you a million to throw a plain old chest pass."

While still at Clemson, Press developed ulcers. Basketball was literally bleeding him. His physician prescribed tranquilizers and advised Press not to take the game home with him.

"How can I do that?" Press asked. The real cure, at least to his way of thinking, was Pete. This Pistol had the magic bullet: a cure for all his regrets. Pete was Press's ticket to basketball heaven. Still, some couldn't help but wonder whether Pete would become a kind of human sacrifice. As John Wooden had warned Press, "You're putting too much pressure on one boy."

By 1965 Press had become the head coach at a bona fide basketball school, North Carolina State. There, he guided an undermanned Wolfpack team to an ACC championship and a ticket to the NCAA tournament, where its first opponent would be Princeton, a team made famous by its star, Bill Bradley. A first team All-America, Bradley had won a gold medal in Rome, where he was captain of the U.S. Olympic team, and a Rhodes scholarship. The AP, UPI and Basketball Writers Association would all name him college basketball's player of the year. In three varsity seasons he had averaged more than 30 points a game. But even more significant was the manner in which he scored. "We knew," recalls '65 Wolfpack star Pete Coker, "that a different style was being created in places like New York, Washington and Philly." A new game was developing; segregation could no longer keep it secret. But Bradley represented a triumph, however perishable, of the old style.

Here, then, was a Great White Hope. And more. Bradley personified the ideal collegiate athlete. His game was modest, practiced, even Protestant. Not only did he belong to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, but he also taught Sunday school. Bradley, for whom khakis and white shirts were a standard-issue uniform, had made an art of conformity. "We were mesmerized by [him]," says Les Robinson, one of Press's seniors, recalling the Wolfpack's deflating rout by the Ivy Leaguers, 66--48, including 27 points from Bradley. "Press showed me film of the game the next day.... We weren't guarding him like we guarded other guys. That's what killed Press, that we were in awe of him."

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