Before Magic Johnson made Showtime mainstream, and well before the AND1 Mixtape Tour turned suburban kids into streetball fans, there was 'Pistol' Pete Maravich. The 6'5" guard revolutionized the game with his visionary passing and imaginative playstyle.
Maravich rewrote the record books at LSU, averaging 44.2 points per game. Not bad, considering there was no 3-point line or shot clock. The southern star declared for the 1970 NBA Draft and was selected by the Atlanta Hawks with the third overall pick.
The Hawks had historically been a strong franchise. They lost in the 1970 Western Division Finals to Jerry West and the Los Angeles Lakers. However, it had been three years since relocating from St. Louis to Atlanta, and they were struggling to sell tickets. So in February of 1970, they acquired the lottery pick through a trade with the San Francisco Warriors.
As Clayton Trutor documents in his book Loserville: How Professional Sports Remade Atlanta and How Atlanta Remade Professional Sports, the Hawks faced obstacles since moving to Atlanta. There were several other new professional sports teams that moved to Atlanta around the same time, it's a city full of transplants with loyalties to other teams, and their arena was lacking.
Sadly, as part of the times, the Hawks organization thought a white player like Maravich would pique interest in the city. The move backfired. Maravich didn't fit well within the team's framework, and his teammates were unwelcoming. Neither guard Lou Hudson nor star center Walt Bellamy were fans of Maravich's flamboyant style or his $1.9 million contract.
The Hawks went from championship contender in the Western Division to bottom-dweller in the Central Division. The team finished below .500 in three of Maravich's four seasons in Atlanta.
Eventually, on May 20, 1974, the Hawks dealt Maravich to the New Orleans Jazz for two players and four draft picks. At the time, the Jazz were an expansion franchise and needed a popular player to generate excitement in the city. Given Maravich's upbringing and time at LSU, it was a natural fit.
The clear winner of the trade was Maravich. At 27 years old, the All-Star guard was still in the prime of his career. Maravich was voted to four more All-Star games, two All-NBA appearances, and was the 1977 NBA scoring champion.
Maravich ended his career in 1980 with the Boston Celtics. His post-basketball life was fascinating yet cut tragically short in 1988 due to an undetected congenital heart defect. Maravich was just 40 years old.
Like most polarizing figures, Maravich has become more popular since his passing. The NBA is quick to embrace his legacy, as he was named a top 50 player in 1997 and a top 75 player in 2022. Both the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans retired Maravich's number 7, while the Hawks retired his number 44.
Maravich would be 75 years old if he were still alive today. Luckily, thanks to his family and the basketball community, his legacy will live on forever. Next time you see someone throw a behind-the-back pass, be sure to thank Maravich for bringing it into the game.
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