LSU games had become a complicated proposition. Officials had to rethink the
game as it pertained to the league's new sensation. "One thing you didn't
want to do was foul [Pete] out of the game," says Charlie Bloodworth, a
veteran SEC official. "Pete put more people in the seats than
Fan mail arrived
at the LSU athletic department by the sackful. Practices became targets of
opportunity for groupies and autograph seekers. Pete's practice socks were
pilfered from the trainer's laundry bags. That's when Pete started washing them
himself. Those socks were talismans; teenage boys began to abuse their own
white hosiery until it was acceptably gray and droopy. And this was in football
country. Reporters from Georgia and Mississippi who had never even been to a
basketball game started making themselves seen. Suddenly, games in places like
Oxford and Athens and Tuscaloosa were selling out.
Even the opposing
players couldn't take their eyes off Pete. "You were never supposed to look
at your opponent during warmups," says Johnny Arthurs, then a high-scoring
forward for Tulane. "But there we were: watching Pete put on a
recalls watching game film of Pete: "[He] had a move where he got out on
the break and dribbled between his legs and then behind his back. We made the
coach replay it again and again and again because no one believed he actually
Every so often an
amazed Bud Johnson would ask, "Hey, Pete, how come I never saw you practice
"Oh, yes, I
have," Pete would say. "Many times."
For Press these
moments of basketball genius were the sacred seconds, a synthesis of conceptual
art and performance art. As he told Time during that 1967--68 season, "I
get to the point where I don't coach him. I just watch."
In Pete's first
season of varsity ball, LSU improved from 3--23 to 14--12 while violating the
game's every orthodoxy, not to mention the very principles that had made
Press--proponent of ensemble basketball, erstwhile defensive guru--a great
coach in the first place. Though Pete had long arms and great anticipation, the
physical tools of a great defender, he couldn't be bothered with defense.
"Pete had to work so damn hard on offense," says starting guard Rich
Hickman, "he used defense to rest."