Beaty sat out his option in Los Angeles. The Stars failed to draw, and there were rumors that the team might not last out the season. Beaty began to wonder about his money—or, anyway, that is the information heard by Franklin Mieuli, the owner of the San Francisco Warriors. Mieuli had just lost his All-Star center, Nate Thurmond, because of a knee operation, and Thurmond was threatening to retire for good. Mieuli decided to try to get Beaty to jump back to the NBA, so he approached the Hawks about a deal for Beaty's rights. The deal was made on Feb. 2—San Francisco got the rights to Beaty for "a player or players to be named later." NBA Commissioner Walter Kennedy says it was understood, if not publicized, that Atlanta had the option of making that player the first Warrior draft pick.
Even if the fact had been made public, it would have caused no stir. San Francisco seemed to be headed for a finish that would have earned the sixth NBA pick; no one figured the team to end up second from the bottom. It probably would not have, either, if Mieuli had been able to lure Beaty away from L.A., but it was just about that time that merger talks began, and Beaty decided to call off negotiations.
It was also about this time, around the beginning of February, that Kent and Cousins were casually chatting one evening at the office. Cousins happened to mention what a beautiful ballplayer Maravich was. Kent mentioned how well he knew Press. Suddenly—and for the first time—both men thought of the San Francisco deal: Atlanta had the rights to the Warriors' first pick. It was a long shot, but with nothing to lose Kent flew to New Orleans and asked Press at least to keep the Hawks in mind.
San Francisco started falling in the standings and though there was no way the Warriors would get down below San Diego, Cousins and Kent began to realize they had a slim chance for Pete. In the NBA the two last-place teams flip a coin to determine first pick. The Eastern Division loser, Detroit, had no hope for Maravich. He did not want to play there. San Diego wanted a big man—Bob Lanier of St. Bonaventure—more than Maravich. If San Diego won the toss and picked Lanier, Detroit would have to take somebody besides Maravich. But Detroit won the toss and decided on Lanier.
Commissioner Kennedy called up San Diego and talked to Bob Breitbard, the Rockets' owner, who flew East to meet the Maraviches and their Pittsburgh attorneys, Lester Zittain and Arthur Herskovitz. The Rockets found out that the Maraviches were very interested. Gardner had become a nuisance to them by now. Indeed, Maravich was ready to sign with the Rockets, and he would have, but at the last minute—on Sunday afternoon, March 22—Breitbard phoned Kennedy and told him San Diego was passing up Maravich for Rudy Tomjanovich, a Michigan strongboy.
The Rockets did not pull out, as it has been surmised, because they felt they could not gamble on signing Maravich. In fact, when Lawyer Herskovitz showed up in Baton Rouge that Sunday the Maraviches were under the impression that he was being accompanied by San Diego officials and that the contract would be worked out with the Rockets. San Diego pulled out for a combination of reasons involving the amount of money Pete wanted and a morale problem on the team that might have been aggravated by Pete's presence.
While the Rockets were debating their choice, Bob Kent stayed on call, just in case the Rockets waived their chance at Pete. On Tuesday, March 17, at the NIT in New York, General Manager DeJardin of the Carolina Cougars spotted Kent and probably began to put a few things together. ""At least," Kent says, "Don might have figured that I was going to represent the NBA. I don't think anybody yet knew that we had that San Francisco draft choice."
The next day Carolina reinforcements were flown up to the NIT scene, and in another wild coincidence Pete visited an East Side bar and ran into ABA Commissioner Jack Dolph. They had a few pleasant drinks together. It was the high-water mark of the ABA.
As draft day approached, Jim Gardner was nervous and making threats. He told Hal Hayes of the Atlanta Constitution: "Tom Cousins will think Quantrill's Raiders were a bunch of amateurs if Atlanta lucks out and signs Pete Maravich. If we don't get the kid, we're going to take the money and call Lou Hudson or Walt Hazzard [Atlanta stars] or both of them. And they'll be ready to listen to us, too."
By Sunday, Pete was ready to sign with the NBA—presumably the Rockets. Then Breitbard phoned Kennedy, and Kennedy called the Hawks to tell them of their good fortune.