No One Can Cap The Pistol: Twilight for Pete Maravich, hoops' most talented loser
In honor of Sports Illustrated's 60th anniversary, SI.com is republishing 60 of the best stories ever to run in the magazine. Today's selection is "No One Can Cap The Pistol," by Curry Kirpatrick. It originally appeared in the Dec. 4, 1978 issue.
Way down in New Orleans, his knee is giving him fits, but when he's popping, nobody's as exciting as Pete Maravich
"This man has been quicker and faster than Jerry West or Oscar Robertson. He gets the ball up the floor better. He shoots as well. Raw-talentwise, he's the greatest who ever played. The difference comes down to style. He will be a loser, always, no matter what he does. That's his legacy. It never looked easy being Pete Maravich." --LOU HUDSON, LOS ANGELES LAKERS
And, of course, it never has been. Even as we live and breathe and yawn through the National Basketball Association's endless nights and days, Pete Maravich is out there, pounding the ball up the court. The shirt is flying, the arms waving. The hair is straggly, the eyes all aglaze. Pete Maravich is working. He is playing. Ultimately he is surviving, too, grinding away at his craft as he desperately tries to live up to a reputation he created long ago.
Maravich scans the court, looking for openings, maybe even for a teammate. He switches hands on the dribble, going behind the back, between the legs. The ball is a yo-yo. He twists and turns. He contorts his face and body. Now he is in the air. Now beginning, as Hot Rod Hundley screams into the radio mike, "a gentle push ... a mild arc ... and the cowhide globe hits home. Oh my God. Unbelievable. I don't believe it. Once again, the Magic Man. The Pistol. Pistolllllllll Pete!"
Pistol Pete. For those who measure the passage of time in pop culture images, it may be difficult to realize that Pete Maravich of the flappy hair and the floppy socks and the outrageous shots and passes and turnovers and point totals; he of the childlike abandon and imagination and sheer, fundamental joy in the game; he who made basketball so much fun for so many of us, is 30 years old. And it ain't no fun anymore.
If Pete Maravich is not the unique athlete of his time, he is close, and certainly he is one of the more misunderstood and controversial. His teammate on the New Orleans Jazz. Rich Kelley, calls him "an American phenomenon, a stepchild of the human imagination." More simply, Maravich has always seemed to be misplaced: an individualist in a team environment; a perfectionist but not a purist; the white boy in the (now 75%) black man's game; the people's choice who feels that the people are against him.
Above everything else, Maravich has been an entertainer, the one-and-only, the star; a man who long ago chose style over substance as the best way to go. Cary Grant was like this and, more recently. Burt Reynolds, who made a few magazine covers himself. In another realm, Edward, Duke of Windsor, made a career out of style. Would the Duke have been able to rule? Can Cary and Burt act? Does anybody care?
The essence--and curse--of Pete Maravich is that he always has known the answers; too often he has shown that he knows. Honestly now, does it matter what team Pete Maravich plays for, or for that matter whether it wins or loses? Just so he performs. Just so he does another gig. Just soPistol Pete shakes and bakes and makes the others quake. Just so the Pistol does it.
Grant him his need to be in the spot-light, to be the showstopper, to do it night after strenuous night, and one can sense what an awful burden Maravich has placed on himself. How relieved he must have been to return to his game this autumn after sitting out most of the final 11 weeks of last season with a knee injury; how dismal must have been his hours of idleness then. For, if the truth be known, Pete Maravich is nothing so much as he is Emma, the aging ballerina of the film The Turning Point, who finally must admit. "All I'm doing offstage is waiting to get back on."
On the occasion of Maravich's return to center stage following surgery on his right knee, his supporting cast was the same that put together a 26-24 record last winter with the Pistol in the lineup and a 13-19 record without him. Sadly enough, the Jazz, which usually rushes off to a quick start, stumbled out of the blocks in October and seems to be playing out the string toward another sub-.500 record. Only this time Maravich, whose psyche is even more fragile than his body, has been encumbered, as much mentally as physically, by the effects of the damaged knee. Before he was injured last year, the 6' 5" Maravich was leading the NBA in scoring with 28 points a game. This season he is not even among the top 10 with 23.3. His shooting percentage (.408) is down from his career average of .441, but his free-throw percentage (.851) is way up. He is behind his normal pace in assists, steals--and turnovers.
The injury, which he incurred last January, was at first diagnosed as a stretching of the anterior cruciate ligament. Later, doctors found that a lateral meniscus cartilage was torn as well, which dictated an operation. Meanwhile, Maravich struggled to strengthen the knee in his own way. The delay set him back for two months. When the season opened, Maravich was still trying to rehabilitate the knee at the same time he was running and cutting and changing directions on it. For protection the Pistol chose the same evil-looking two-pound steel brace that Joe Namath wore--no basketball player had ever used the thing. This experiment immediately resulted in recurring problems in his lower back, which caused him to miss part of the exhibition schedule. Then, in November, Maravich lost 10 pounds when he came down with a bacterial infection that kept him in bed for five days and out of two regular-season games. Last week, the knee got to him again--ironically after a sparkling 33-point performance against Golden State. Tendinitis, a new ailment for him, had developed around his kneecap. He would miss at least two more games and face a classic sort of dilemma: the generally weakened state of his knee demands strengthening exercise; tendinitis, on the other hand, requires complete rest.
As a result of all this, the real Pistol Pete has been seen only for brief, shining moments. Maravich hasn't been able to drive to the basket much nor has he been effectively penetrating. He can't spring off the knee for his jump shot nor can he go high for layups. Maravich's quickness and lateral mobility have been severely limited; he is practically a statue on defense. Moreover, the Pistol's entire game, so dependent on slashing inventiveness, has suffered terribly. "Sometimes I do the things on the court I want to do and I think I'll be O.K.," says Maravich. "Then I can't do them. I stop. It is very frustrating. It's a bad, bad feeling."
Still Pistol Pete runs. He handles the ball and shoots those unconscious grenades. And he has played all those minutes; one night, when he was just out of bed after a week-long bout with the flu. Jazz Coach Elgin Baylor had him on the floor for 46 minutes after Jim McElroy injured himself two minutes into the game. There have even been moments--fewer and farther between--when he whirled the ball around his back or between his knees and whipped some indescribable pass some unfathomable distance. Those were the flashes that people came to see. It was Showtime and he was the Magic Man; once again Pistol Pete became the most exciting act in the game. More often, however, this season--Maravich's ninth in the NBA--has been a glaring exposition (somewhat clouded, because of his injury) of what one New Orleans player says has always been wrong with the Jazz: "We can't escape Pete when he's on the floor. He's so much a part of us that when he plays bad we all play bad."
The guys who figure the odds in Vegas put it another way, in effect stating the bottom line on Pete Maravich: Never bet on the Jazz ... but never bet against them.
This explains something else. In basketball, as in other sports, certain media favorites automatically become "the franchise." This usually is applied to a large, dominating center. This usage is incorrect. There is only one franchise unto himself in all of sport. He is Pete Maravich. There are 21 teams in the NBA and one Pete Maravich.
A league executive says, "Bill Walton used to think of himself as a Trail Blazer. Kareem thinks of himself as a Laker. Doctor J thinks of himself as a 76er. But Pete Maravich knows he's bigger than the Jazz. Pete thinks he's Smokey Robinson and the rest of the Jazz are the Miracles. The problem is that he's right."
Nobody ever questioned the obvious gifts of an Ernie Banks or an O. J. Simpson, despite the fact that their teams, like Maravich's, never won anything when they played for them. In his own sphere of basketball, Maravich's historical rivals at guard--West and Robertson--similarly were regarded as geniuses and held blameless even though they never played on a pro championship team until they joined forces with powerful centers late in their careers.
But Pistol Pete? In seven seasons in the NBA and most of an eighth, Maravich has, at one time or another, led the league in scoring, led all guards in rebounding and made the All-Star team four times. But he has played on only one team that won more games than it lost. And in Maravich's case--unlike West's or Robertson's--critics have in part blamed him. Much of the time, they say, he has disdained team play, avoided the defensive end and relentlessly pursued individual scoring statistics to the point where he now has figured out just how many cranks of his right arm he can get away with before it falls off.
Nevertheless, Maravich's native skills and marvelous creativity have made him a legend in the NBA. Marv Roberts, a veteran of the American Basketball Association, expressed this best at a game in Los Angeles two seasons ago, in the first year of the merger. At the time Maravich was scalding on all burners, throwing baskets in from everywhere as a wide-eyed Roberts sat on the Laker bench, witnessing for the first time this amazing player he had heard so much about but had never seen. Finally Roberts could contain himself no longer. As the Pistol concluded the quarter by razzling and dazzling and hurling in still another 25-footer. Roberts leaped from the bench, waved both arms at Maravich and shouted, "I sees ya, Pete! I sees ya!"
Probably no man in team sports has engendered such diverse verdicts from his peers as Maravich. Portland Coach Jack Ramsay: "Pete is the best. A great player, a great competitor. Of course he could play with us. He could adapt to whatever was necessary to win." Former Laker Pat Riley: "Maravich is the most overrated superstar who ever came down the pike. Every guard in the league wants to send a limo to pick Pete up at the airport and play against his soft defense. I not only don't think Pete could play any other way, I don't think he wants to." Detroit Center Bob Lanier: "He's a team player. Give Pistol another forward and a center and he'd be all-everything. He's the only player I'd pay money to see." Phoenix G.M. Jerry Colangelo: "His domination of the ball tends to be a distraction, pulling apart team effort and the attempt at unity." Cleveland Coach Bill Fitch: "We'd win the whole thing with Pete in the lineup."
Kelley, the New Orleans center, says, "To play with Pete, it is necessary to grant him a certain artist's eccentricity. His individualistic flair necessitates a certain disdain for teammates. When push comes to shove, with the game on the line, Pete perceives his role as the man who has to do it because he feels nobody else can."
Maravich has played this way since swaddling clothes, destined--or doomed, take your pick--to suffer all the terrible blessings a coach's son is heir to. "My father has the most brilliant coaching mind in the game," Pete says. The irony is that the old man never really bothered to coach Pete.
Press Maravich came out of the Pennsylvania coal mines and knew hard days riding the buses in the old pro leagues. He was a fine, disciplined coach at Clemson and North Carolina State, though virtually unknown. But when his kid reached adolescence, all the books went out the window. Surely Press saw in his fabulously talented, tricks-laden offspring a future headliner in the big time. From the schoolyards of Clemson and Raleigh to the bayous of Baton Rouge, Press would work with his son under the hoop out in the backyard like some latter-day Geppetto and he would tell everybody, "I've got a kid better than any of 'em."
Sure enough. In 1967 Pinocchio was ready. In three years at Louisiana State, where hardly anyone but Bob Pettit had ever heard of the game. Pete Maravich did things with the basketball that no one had seen or even thought of before.
He spun the ball on his fingers, bounced it off his head, passed it every which way. And he shot. Oh, how he shot! He shot 50 times and scored 48 points in his first varsity game. He went for 66 against Tulane one year, 69 against Alabama the next. In 27 games he scored 50 points or more. Against St. John's in a, tournament in Hawaii he scored 41 points in the second half (after which the mostly black St. John's team rushed onto the court to embrace him). Maravich developed a nightly warmup routine of spectacular dribbling, ball handling and shooting drills that packed arenas. He led the country in scoring for three years, at the end of which he had 3,667 points and a 44.2 average. The Pistol was called "the first white Globetrotter." As a senior he co-wrote a story for this magazine entitled I Want To Put on a Show. In the history of college basketball there had been other marvelously talented players--Wilt, Russ, the Cooz; Elgin, Big O. West--but at the top of his game, when he was popping and cooking and putting on that show, nobody--absolutely nobody, notime, nowhere--approached Pete Maravich.
After college, as the subject of a bidding war between the Carolina Cougars of the ABA and the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA, Maravich commandsed contracts worth a king's ransom. The Cougars' offer consisted of close to $5 million in cash as well as parts in three Hollywood movies for Universal. Instead, Pete took his pistols to the NBA.
As a rookie in Atlanta, Maravich was subjected to hostility, taunts and reverse racism from some of the Hawks' black veterans, who resented his enormous salary and the fact that he was being promoted as the whole show. They tried to drive their new teammate out of the NBA.
Perhaps as a result, Maravich contracted Bell's palsy--the right side of his face was paralyzed for three weeks, his eyes had to be taped shut so he could sleep and he was sometimes unable to eat.
Lenny Wilkens, now coach of the Seattle SuperSonics, says, "A lot of guys who might have been good cracked under such circumstances. Pete kept his wits. He hung in there. He survived."
That experience undoubtedly steeled Maravich for another crisis that occurred last season only a few months after what appeared to be the crossroads event of his career.
The cornerstone of the New Orleans Jazz since he was obtained from Atlanta in 1974 for players, draft choices and most of the wrought iron in Le Vieux Carre. Maravich had led the team to a three-year record of 96-150 when his contract came up for renewal in the summer of 1977. "I'd play on the moon to win a championship," Maravich said then. Because the other players on the Jazz were conspicuously earthlings, everyone naturally assumed he would play out his option year in New Orleans, become a free agent and sign with the Alderaan Darth Vaders or some such. Instead, Maravich came to terms with the new Jazz general manager. Lew Schaffel, signing up for five more years for approximately $3 million.
Pete should have been sitting on top of New Orleans, if not the world. He had long since recovered from his mother's suicide in 1974. He had married Jackie Elliser, a dazzling redhead he had dated since college. The couple had settled into a quiet, private life in their lake-side home in suburban Metairie. The rest of his family was near--Press back in basketball as a Jazz scout, his sister Diana Maria blossoming into a teen-age charmer, older half-brother Ronnie bartending at Moran's Riverside Restaurant where he was establishing his own legend as a boulevardier, the soi-disant "mayor of the French Quarter."
On the court Elgin Baylor had taken over as coach from Butch van Breda Kolff, who not only used to bench Maravich systematically but whose two-fisted roistering also stole some of Pete's thunder. With Baylor, a sweetheart of a guy, at the reins, Pete could just about run the team as he saw fit. But almost from the beginning of the 1977 season, Schaffel began sniping at Maravich's freewheeling brand of ball.
"Pete's basic paranoia surfaced here," says a man close to the Jazz. "He's afraid of medical science, of hurricanes, of somebody burning his house down, of sugar causing heart disease, things like that. If you're not totally on Pete's side, you're an enemy for life."
"I knew Schaffel didn't like Pete's game and was trying to trade him," says Maravich's fellow backcourt man Gail Goodrich, "but to think some of Pete's floor mistakes were on purpose or malicious or something was way off base. Pete's a good guy. He wants to win, desperately."
The anti-Maravich faction, led by Schaffel, wasn't buying. Besides being a gunner, a careless ball handler and a non-defender, Maravich, they said, was a prima donna. When teammate Truck Robinson began amassing some noteworthy points and rebound numbers, the Pistol had stopped passing the ball to him. Other incidents reinforced his critics' beliefs that Maravich provided no leadership, hogged the spotlight and sulked and pouted when things didn't go his way.
There was the night in New York when Maravich, in a funk over Robinson's remark that the Jazz "didn't have enough ball movement," refused to shoot in the fourth quarter as the Jazz lost to the Knicks by three points. In the next game, against Seattle, Maravich took only five shots (he made four) in a 127-116 Jazz victory.
"This is the way management wants me to play," Maravich said. "I shot like Dave Twardzik does. He leads the league in percentage. Anyway, I didn't pass up any good shots." This astounding revelation, taken to its logical conclusion, would mean that Maravich throws up about 20 nonsensical rocks on an average night.
Other Pistolian announcements hadn't sat well with the Jazz front office. On several occasions Maravich blasted his teammates in the newspapers. "Gimme a Jabbar or a Baylor," he said after one defeat. "It takes a team to win, and we only had a few guys who wanted to play tonight." Maravich had also been quoted as saying, "We are not a good team. We don't have the personnel to be winners," Later he denied the remark, possibly because when he checked the stat sheets he saw who was in the process of shooting 23 for 81 in three consecutive losses.
Moreover, the Pistol had gotten into it at courtside with a Jazz season-ticket-holder and Maravich-worshipper named Henry Rosenblat. Rosenblat sits next to his friend, Steve Brown, who won a contest the year New Orleans was awarded an NBA franchise. Brown named the New Orleans Jazz. But this night Maravich unashamedly bellowed to the crowd around Rosenblat and Brown, "I want everybody to hear this. This man [Rosenblat] is not a Jazz fan. He is a--."
After Schaffel let slip once too often his notion that Maravich was a loser no team could win with and a pretty bad guy besides, the Pistol reacted vehemently. He called the general manager "a lying, backstabbing son of a bitch who's been out to get me from the start." Then he said, "Schaffel doesn't know a basketball from a turkey bladder. We could make the playoffs if he'd take a vacation. Like, to Iraq."
This outburst came in the midst of a 10-game Jazz winning streak, a streak in which Maravich played the best pure basketball of his life. "Pete's progress was right on schedule," says Hundley, the Jazz broadcaster, of those games. "He was at his peak age-wise. He was shooting a better percentage, protecting the ball, working harder on defense. His passes were phenomenal. The guy was smoking everybody--probably out of anger at Schaffel. It was an obvious `I'll-show-you' deal, And the man was."
On the way to defending his scoring title, Maravich also had made the NBA Top Ten in assists, steals and free-throw percentage. Then, on Jan. 31 against Buffalo, in the ninth game of the streak and the 49th of the season, the Pistol went into the air for a three-quarter-court, between-the-legs impossible monster pass and came down on the Superdome floor all wrong. The inside of his right knee was a mess. Subsequently Maravich missed 23 games, tried to return for three, then missed the Jazz' last seven contests.
Schaffel was finished as soon as the season ended, but his reign was merely the latest in a series of front-office fiascos that have been more responsible for the failures of the Jazz than the passes Maravich has thrown into Bourbon Street. The team's owners routinely ruined the team with hysterical trades and improbable drafts. The franchise is woefully disorganized top to bottom, with authority fragmented and hardly any "basketball people" in sight. As player personnel director and assistant coach--a startling combination right there--Bill Bertka is a good scout. Baylor, a dynamic, charismatic personality when he was the NBA's classic forward, is indecisive and out of his element as a head coach. Basically, he is a figurehead and apparently unable to provide leadership.
Jazz center play always has been erratic when not laughable. Although Goodrich, the guard for whom the club mortgaged its future by giving away two first-round drafts, looks like a juvenile with his Orphan Annie hairdo, he is the oldest player in the NBA. Meanwhile, Forward Aaron James continues to commit blunders such as catching his own jump balls, and in the last college draft the Jazz passed over Kentucky's Jack Givens, the MVP of the NCAA tournament, to pick a hardship case from San Francisco named James Hardy, who has lived up to his nickname, "Sad Sack."
Then there is the Truck. Robinson went public last summer with his disgust for the Jazz' "double standard." "I just want to be appreciated and be granted the same treatment Pete is granted," he said. For all Robinson's scoring ability, the 6' 7" forward usually concentrates on rebounding, in which he led the league last year partly because he hangs back guarding the defensive board while opponents, realizing his priorities, invariably begin their offense on Robinson's side, where there is no pressure.
With "the Pistol and the Power" (as Maravich and Robinson are called on the Jazz' posters) alternately throwing up garbage, and with Goodrich scurrying around trying to find a ball of his own to shoot, the Jazz sometimes play like a crew of plastered steamboatmen who have wandered over from an all-nighter at the Absinthe House.
"I get along with Pete," says Robinson, "but does he get along with me? How can he feel I'm taking the glory when he wanted me so bad? He ain't never had a guy get the ball the way I do. Aw, he knows I get upset when it's a four-on-one fast break and he pulls up from 25 and fires. But that's just Pete. Sometimes it's tough to play with a guy who gets on us for not having any talent and for making mistakes. Now, we don't get on him for shooting 35 times with 10 turnovers, do we?"
"Big deal," says Maravich. "I play 42 minutes a game. Look. I was having my best year when I was hurt. We might have won the division if I had kept going. Then this year my bad back has thrown my shot off. But it's coming. Everybody complains I shoot too much. I shoot 22 times a game. They complain about my percentage. What guards shoot 50%? What did West shoot [.474, career]? What did Havlicek shoot [.439]? What about Oscar [.485] or Elgin [.431]? I don't know. We don't have a lot of shooters here. Do people think Walter Payton and O. J. Simpson get all their yards by blocking? What is this? Leadership? What's a leader? What do I have to do, go out and murder? We get beat at Phoenix once by 43 and it was my fault. I've never been only a shooter, or a scorer. I do other things. For four and a half seasons I've done everything I possibly could to help this team. They ain't got no complaints. But, then, I'm the white boy making the most money, so it's my fault.
"Basketball used to be so much fun," Maravich says. "Now I don't sleep for a week at a time. There's a reason I never smile out there anymore. This is the coldest, flesh-peddlingest business around. Other people miss practice and you never hear anything. If I did, the front office would be down at the AP office typing the release. Everybody would hear about it, just because I'm Pistol Pete."
But who is that? The Pistol Pete who came into the league as a vivacious, wise-cracking white prince with the wonderful world of advertisements, endorsements and ancillary rights at his feet doesn't even have a sneaker contract anymore. He once did a national spot for Vitalis, and for a time he endorsed Pepsi-Cola, but his condemnation of soft drinks as being harmful to children wiped out that. Once known as a fun-loving midnight rider, the Pistol now refuses to touch anything more serious than natural fruit juices or Perrier. Pistol Pete, who exposes every nerve and emotion on the court and entertains thousands as no other basketball player of his generation, offstage is a recluse who is seldom seen around New Orleans and never in other cities, where he hides in his hotel room, dreaming of civilization in another galaxy.
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 free-wheeling 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 tradeapproval 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.
Maravich says he was "insulted, embarrassed and humiliated" by the front-office chaos last season. "But I still went out and played," he says. "Maybe I would be happier somewhere else. In Philly I could knock in 20 a game off my nose and be happy, those guys are so great. I'd never be double-teamed there. We'd be wailing, the Doctor and me. But I'm not going anywhere. It's an incredible statement that I don't want to play with a winner. It's idiotic, stupid. The reason I signed here was that management promised to get some players we could contend with. Fine. I wasn't guaranteed a championship if I left and went to L.A. with Kareem. Check out how the Lakers did last year.
"Management has all the cards," says the Pistol. "They get the people and I work with what we get. At least I don't bitch and moan and demand to be traded. You think it's a bundle of laughs playing with a team that wins 35 every year? I still think this is a playoff team. I love New Orleans. I've spent a lot of my life in Louisiana. I don't just collect my pay-check and quit. I try hard. It hurts me to lose. It hurts to be part of a loser. But I will never believe the Jazz loses because of Pete Maravich."
Ignoring the bright lights and famous restaurants of New Orleans, Maravich and his wife are dedicated loners who venture into the French Quarter less than once a month. In the off-season they zoom off in their Porsche to a high-rise condominium in Clearwater, Fla., where the Pistol can get even farther away from anyone under the age of 90 who might bother him. Where--yes--Pete Maravich can be invisible.
Jackie is pregnant now, with the baby due in April. Mostly the Maraviches stay in splendid isolation at their home along a levee on Lake Pontchartrain. Burglar alarms are everywhere, and as if they aren't enough to keep the world at bay, there are electronic sensor pads under all the doors and windows. Jackie cooks organically fed turkeys and chickens and fresh vegetables. She serves raw milk. Pete eats everything but the furniture to satisfy his voracious appetite.
"We don't have many friends," admits the Pistol. "Our families are enough."
It is Rod Hundley who tells the quint-essential--if apocryphal--Pistol Pete story, combining the harsh reality of the Maravich pro career with the breezy insouciance that was his as a collegian.
The coach comes into the locker room at halftime 30 points behind and tells his players he wants them to pretend the first half never happened. To pretend they're ahead by 30. The coach especially wants Pete Maravich to pretend he hasn't missed a shot, pretend he hasn't blown a pass, pretend he hasn't made a mistake. The team roars out of the locker room. An hour later the coach walks away. His team has lost by 45. Maravich, having gone for another spectacular bundle, calls out to him, "Hey, coach, pretend we won."
"That's funny," says Pistol Pete. "But it never happened."
"Got to use it. Could have happened," says Hundley.
We all sees ya, Pete Maravich, but it never looked easy writing about you.