I guess I love the game of basketball more than anything else in the world. From the beginning it was like an addiction with me, I played it so much. Forty-seven weeks out of the year. Four to five hours a day. I never really was interested in other sports or in anything else, either. For a while I ran some track. But I could never see running around in a circle for a long time and just getting tired. Really it was all basketball. The fact that my father, Press, was coaching the game probably had the most to do with it. I mean, if he had put a football in my hand I would have wanted to be a football player, or if he had been a plumber, maybe I would have been tough with a wrench. I don't know.
I will admit my dad taught me a lot way back when I was a little skinny kid, and he has continued to teach me everything he knows at LSU. But then again, I get the reds about that on occasion. I mean I really get the reds. Some people all along have said, well, Pete Maravich scores all those points and makes All-America all right, but he's had his father along and it's easier that way. That's just so ridiculous, I can't even believe it. Those people can just go to their damn rooms. That's like having me sit in a chair and having someone go over an English novel with me and tell me everything that's in it and then say: I "Well there it is, you know it all now."
Yeah, right. I know it all. I don't have to go out and read the novel, do I, because I know everything about it. That's about as stupid as saying I learned all there was to know about basketball from my father, so all I had to do was wait until college and then go out and play the game.
Dad taught me everything, sure, and all I had to do was practice. But that's it, that's the hard part. Practice. And I did practice. Man, I practiced.
Even very early while growing up and playing every day, I felt I would have a future in basketball, if only for the fact that I did practice and work so hard at it. I would seclude myself in a gym at the YMCA, or go out in the backyard, playing alone most of the time, and say to myself, "Well look now, from what I've seen around me, the people in the pros and in college must have worked hard or they wouldn't have earned a scholarship and they wouldn't have been able to make a living at this game. Well, they aren't working any harder than me, because I'm out here four and five hours a day." And I was.
I first started playing around with a basketball when I was 7 and it was just a toy, like my bicycle and fire engines and my toy guns—yeah, I guess they were pistols.
In those days we lived about two miles from town and I'd walk there all the time, dribbling a basketball most of the way, to work out at the Y and go to the movies. Whenever I went to the movies I'd take my ball with me and be sure to get an end seat so I could dribble in the aisle while the movies were on. There were only a few people in the theater then. Clemson, S.C. isn't the biggest metropolis in the world, you know. It isn't Atlanta. These people in the theater were old and tired, and they looked like they'd been sitting there for three years. They didn't mind my dribbling—the floor was carpeted and I had a rubber ball—and I never got thrown out for it or anything.
Later, about the fourth or fifth grade, I was still timid and shy around people—like a lot of kids my age—and I would practice in the gym all by myself. When you're in the gym alone, you know, you can do anything you want, because nobody is there to stop you. I began finagling with the ball in there, fooling around with it and doing funny things. I would get bored with just shooting straight to the basket or dribbling around in circles. So I practiced different stuff with ball handling and dribbling, stuff that was exciting to me and much more fun. I would throw it off the wall and try to make a basket. I'd bounce it off the floor and up to the rim. I'd throw it over the rafters and try to bank it, stuff like that.
Then I'd try passing against the wall, first throwing the ball behind my back, then through my legs and around my neck, aiming for a spot on the wall. Usually I made all kinds of difficult shots that seemed impossible to the rest of the kids when I would go tell them about it. Then, of course, when they'd come to see me do the stuff, I'd never make it. The ball just would not go in. I wasn't choking or anything, I don't think. (You don't choke at 11 years old, do you?) But I did get awfully uptight when the other guys would watch me try.
As I grew up I continued to work on my drills—I didn't have a name for them then—and even began to use the funny passes in games and other competitive situations. In high school I had five different coaches in five years, and they never gave me much hassle about my stuff because they knew I'd play like this whether they liked it or not. I always put it to them this way: if I can get the ball to a man with a pass behind my back as well as I can with a regular chest pass, what's the difference? They didn't really appreciate that, but they let me do it anyway.
For one thing, I used to always take hook shots from 15 and 20 feet away in junior high. It was easier for me to get the ball up there that way. I also shot from the hip, because I wasn't strong enough to get the ball high on my chest or over my shoulder. I was about 4'11" then, maybe 85 pounds, really a spaghetti, and I fired it one-handed, from the hip. I think that's when somebody first called me Pistol. Anyway, I would throw those hook shots and also some two-handed sets from 35 feet (which was my most accurate shot of all), and the coaches would go just about crazy.
The other tricks were just something for me to do, something to fool around with because I was always playing with guys older than me. When I was 10 and 11, I'd be playing against guys 15 and 16. I'd dribble through my legs and throw the ball around my back and everything. I'd get the biggest kick out of it—I could hardly stand it. I'd go crazy. I'd love doing different things to an opponent. All of this was really just preliminary hacking around.
Two incidents, one in junior high school, the other in high school, really shaped my whole outlook on the game. The first came when I was in seventh grade and went out in front of a crowd for the first time. It was a junior varsity game in Clemson and there were only about 87, 88 people in a small gym, but I got such a feeling in my stomach, it was amazing. I just wanted to do everything and be everything in front of that crowd. I wanted to put on such a show. I don't even remember what happened in the game; I just remember the feeling.
Three years later when I was in high school and had more confidence, I began throwing wilder passes and connecting with them. The crowds were getting bigger then, and once I had the people behind me, I wanted to do more and more with the ball. I remember one game I threw a behind-the-back bounce pass on the move through a guy's legs! I mean, man, you understand? A behind-the-back through his legs! Oh, whoa! I remember I was coming down on a three-on-one break, and my man was over-playing me to the left and giving me the open teammate on the right. But that was too easy a pass. We were going to get two anyway, so it didn't make any difference. As my man was sliding and I was dribbling, I noticed his legs moving in and out, in and out. Still on the move, I saw the right moment and threw the ball when his legs were out—behind my back, now, not a straight pass—and I put it right through him to a teammate on the left. He converted for the basket. The crowd, boy. The crowd, I want to tell you, they went berserk. I couldn't believe it. My man looked like somebody stepped on his head I think right then, show time was born in Pete Maravich.
The audience—the spectators, the fans, the people who watch on television, all of the crowds—has always been one of the most important parts of basketball to me. Without the fans, you don't have a game, any game. I mean, what are you playing for if not the fans?
I guess there are several tons of ham in me—that must be obvious—and I recognized early that basketball, more than any other team game, gives a guy the opportunity to be a showman. I've always wondered why in football a quarterback couldn't learn to flip a behind-the-back pitch-out to one of his running backs, or in baseball a pitcher try to fool a batter with a behind-the-back fastball. But you know there isn't anybody who's about to do that. The skills involved in basketball are different. You can do more stuff, more antics. And one guy has much more leeway to put on a show. That really is what basketball is for me—an entertainment, a chance to express myself. It's what I've chosen to do in my life, it's my thing.
The people at LSU and in Baton Rouge, where I play, and all over the Southeastern Conference know that when Pete Maravich comes out on the court it's show time. Sure I come out to win the game. That's always No. 1. But I also want to put on a performance that the fans will enjoy. I never go into a game thinking, "Oh, here's another 40 minutes to kill. I'll just go out, run around and then head back to the shower."
There's one misconception I'd like to clear up. When most people hear the name Maravich, all they think of is a skinny kid who shoots all the time. Well, I do shoot a lot [1,022 times as a sophomore, 976 times last year]. But, and this may sound funny, shooting is not really my game. Passing is. Passing and ball handling and dribbling—that is the most exciting part of my game, the most devastating part, the part that people come out to see, the part I like to talk about.
Shooting in basketball is very unimaginative, really. Almost boring. There is so little margin for error in shooting, so very little chance to be flashy. I have the same shots most other players have—the jump, the one-hand push, the set, the hook. I do have a hesitation jump shot. I picked that up by watching stars like Elgin Baylor, only I have to use more positions in the air, because I never seem to get free with just one or two moves.
But passing is what I like to do best. I've said many times that I don't think our team could have put people in the stands at LSU if we had just won a lot of games, or if I had just scored a lot of points. I think it was something else. I think it was the style, the passing.
At the end of my sophomore year I played in the East-West All-Star Game in Indianapolis and won the Star of Stars award. It certainly wasn't for my shooting. I only scored 16 points, but I had 11 or 12 assists that were right out of the show. From the coaches' and writers' standpoint, these seemed to be the highlight of the game. I know that's what the fans liked best. That award meant much more to me than either of the national scoring championships I won. Any time you win over guys that are all All-Americas, it has to be the best. And it was all passing.
I like the word "show time" when describing my style, simply because it sometimes keeps people from using another word—"hot dog." I hate that, hot dog. The word has bad connotations, so, of course, that is what people always yell at me on the road. I guess when a person has all that ham in him, he is a hot dog. But I don't like it.
Anyway, people who criticize my hot-dogging—showmanship—are just way behind in the game. Anybody who calls a guy a hot dog just because he puts the ball behind his back or between his legs is a complete dummy. People who yell that are so far behind in basketball it's pitiful. Basketball is almost in the 21st century, it's moving so fast. All that common stuff—dribbling down straight, chest pass, bounce pass, fundamental stuff like that—that's going out of basketball. It's getting better, faster. Pretty soon you'll see 6'8" guards and 7'5" centers. They're going to have to raise the basket soon, change the backboards. My dad always has had this idea to make the backboards angular, concave, so that when you shot the ball, it wouldn't necessarily come straight off the board. This would take some of the advantage away from the big man.
Anyway, these people who razz me for my style are behind the times. It's like anything else, I guess. They're giving me the business—the oooooos and the whistles and handkerchiefs and things—because I'm doing something that they can't do. Actually, I love the whistles and all the rest. That kind of stuff is great for the game.
But all this is beside the point. I play the way I do because that is the way I've always played. It's my style. I do it for the benefit of the team, for our fans and for myself. I don't throw a behind-the-back pass just to hot dog it. I throw it to meet a situation. I throw it to excite the crowd. I bet at least 90% of the people want to see my show. You can't tell me just 10% want it. Like I say, if I have a choice whether to do the show or throw the straight pass, and we're going to get the basket either way, I'm going to do the show.
I still practice all those drills that I worked on alone in the gym back in Clemson. When I visit sports clinics and camps in the summer, some of the older kids think I'm crazy, doing all my stuff. But the younger ones are fascinated. The drills are more that just for show. They stimulate my quickness and reaction, and they have made it possible to develop my passing skills. All of these drills are on a movie my dad made. It was called Homework Basketball, and it was a funny movie.
I guess the first thing I learned to do as a kid was spin the basketball on my fingertips. I start with my index finger, then go down my hand, spinning the ball on each finger. I do a quick change in one variation where it looks like I'm spinning it on all five fingers at once. That's really sharp. When I started spinning, I'd spin the ball for as long as anybody wanted me to. I'd make bets on how long. I had it spinning one time for about 50 minutes straight. I had a full nail, a half-inch nail, all worn down, and the whole thing was bleeding.
Now I can spin the ball down under my arm, go inside out and come all the way around keeping it going. Outside-in is even harder. Another variation is spinning the ball, then flicking it behind my back and catching it on one finger, still maintaining the spin. I used to use this drill in our team warmups before games, just to get loose. I stopped that. If we lost, people would say, why don't you stick to your spinning? I don't need that baloney.
Another drill is the ricochet. To do this one, I stand with my feet spread shoulder-width apart, take the ball with both hands, throw it between my legs at a 45° angle and catch it behind my back. Then I throw it from back to front the same way. I keep going back and forth, back and forth—for reaction, not quickness.
My variation for this is the bullet ricochet. I slam the ball as hard as I can from way above my head and try to catch it behind me. You really can't see my hands move on this one, they're going so fast. People have sat there and said, honestly, truthfully, that they had no vision of my hands moving. They were a blur. It is that terrific WHAM when I bring the ball down that makes the whole thing so fast. This is a very dangerous drill, actually. I don't think I have to elaborate on how much it hurts if you catch yourself in the crotch off the bounce. I knew one kid who did the bullet ricochet once and ended up in the hospital.
The pretzel is another hand-reaction drill. I place my left hand behind my left leg and my right hand in front of and between my legs. I lean over for this one. I hold the ball with my right hand, and the object is to change hands with the ball, moving my hands in a figure-eight fashion around my legs. I go back and forth, back and forth with the ball as fast as I can. The trick is to keep the ball stationary, keep it in place right there in front of my body and between my legs. I can do this almost faster than the eye can see, I think. I'll do this drill in arenas where we haven't played before. The fans wonder what the hell I'm doing bending over and throwing the ball between my legs. They'll find out in the game.
The walking pretzel and dribbling pretzel are pretty much self-explanatory. Also, I do the skipping pretzel on occasion. On the first of these I just take the ball and move it between my legs in figure-eight fashion while I'm walking and then running. Then I dribble it through my legs while skipping and running. This, of course, is what I wind up doing when the game begins. The hardest thing for me to practice is running down the court full speed while dribbling between my legs.
The seesaw drill is just another variation of the pretzel. Instead of moving the ball sideways and around my legs, I move it up and down. I bend over of my hands behind me this time. The object is to throw ball up slightly, quickly moving my hands around to my front where I can catch the ball. I throw it up again, and catch it from the back. Throw it again, catch it from the front. Back, front. Back, front. Actually, I don't really catch it. I just touch it and flick it.
I don't have a name for the drill where I throw the ball up from in front and catch it behind my back. I jam my fingers on this one a lot, anyway. The ball goes so high. I start with throws of five and six feet and go up to 25 and 30 feet. Recently I've begun to see how many times I can slap my knees before getting my hands in back to catch the ball. I throw the ball against the ceiling as hard as I can for quickness. The object here is to whip my hands behind me only after the ball has disappeared behind my head. If I just lay my hands back there while the ball is on the way up, I'm cheating. I have to wait until I can't see it anymore before getting ready to catch it. This may not sound hard, but when you're slapping your knees 25 times in a matter of a few seconds, then throwing your hands behind you to catch the impact of the ball, your arms feel at least like 25-pound lead weights.
Punching the bag is an exercise drill I learned from watching professional boxers work out. I use it for strengthening my fingertips and my hand quickness. I get down on my knees and start dribbling from about 12 inches off the floor, first with one hand, then the other. The object is to dribble as low as I can without letting the ball stop. I go to about one-eighth of an inch off the ground, punching it rat-tat-tat-tat, like a machine gun. Really killing it. The ball is going so fast I can't even hear it hit the floor.
My last drill is the body drill, which is simply moving the ball as quickly as I can around my neck, then down around my body, around my legs, knees and ankles. Then I go in and out, figure eight, dribbling sometimes, flipping sometimes. Finally, I should be all loosened up. Of all of these drills, though, I've always felt that if a man can spin the ball, he can do almost anything. The main purpose here is to give me more confidence in handling the basketball. Most of the guys on the LSU team do spins before every practice, and my dad still has an exercise where he lets each of us go up and down the court doing anything we want with the ball. I guess you might call it the liberation drill.
Whatever ability I have in passing comes from extensive work on these drills. There are three basic elements in passing—fingertip control, backspin and follow-through—and before I could learn any of the show-time passes, I had to develop the four fundamental passes everyone uses—the chest pass, bounce pass, overhead and baseball pass. You know, that common stuff. The show passes only came after I had mastered the common stuff.
I don't remember when I first tried to figure out how to make a behind-the-back pass work. I know I didn't cheat in learning how. I didn't turn to the side and throw the ball behind my back. Anybody 4 years old can pick up something and throw it behind his back like that. I tried to throw the ball past my defender, facing him the whole time, so that it would be a lot easier to pass like that in tight situations. I'd practice 25 a day, then practice 25 more as I took one step back. Now, I throw these as an afterthought.
Most of the show—and the passing I mention here—comes on the fast break. That is what I really love, blasting down the middle on a three-on-one or a three-on-two. Sometimes when we start out and I see the play developing, I just want to shout out, "Hey, here we go. Hey, everybody, watch this." In some instances it is better to throw a behind-the-back on the bounce rather than an ordinary behind-the-back. In a game against Tulane two years ago—I threw a behind-the-back pass on the bounce and the ball hit my left foot and bounced to my teammate on the right instead of the one on the left. The ball hit him square in the hands and he didn't know what to do, so he put it in the basket. Nobody knew what happened, not even the referee, which is fortunate, since it is illegal to kick a basketball in a game. People asked me after the game how I did that. I said, "What?" Sort of innocently. It was just a mistake, but the legends grow.
The between-the-legs bounce pass is directly from the pretzel drill. The object is to take the ball with either hand and throw it to my opposite side, only between my legs. I'm going full speed and I throw it so fast that, once I've let go, my hand hits off my leg and flies out straight, so it looks like I'm handing off to the defense. Many times the fans don't realize I've put it through my legs. The pass goes so fast and their vision might be blocked by the referee, or they might have a bad angle. At Mississippi State last year I pulled one of these, and I know the crowd didn't know it. Silence. I'd done the same thing a few nights earlier at Mississippi and the people went crazy.
In tight, crowded situations—for instance when I'm driving the baseline—I use the behind-the-neck pass. I use this when I'm engulfed by two or three men and, say, the center drops off to take me. I can't bounce the ball or throw it straight from the front. Too many people. I just start the ball off on the right side and whip it left behind my neck. It's easier really than a behind-the-back pass. The wrist pass may be the most deceptive of all. Driving straight at a defender after the final dribble, I extend my arms to the fullest and, just as he reaches for the ball, flick my wrists left or right, depending on where the open man is. I've developed spin on the ball so that I can hit a teammate just about every time on the dead run. But I have to extend my arms all the way. If I don't, it won't fool anybody. If I do, the defender goes for it every time and all he catches is air.
I once put this pass on a referee after he blew a call. I was really mad, so I went up to him and threw the ball right at his face. As he was falling back about 20 feet and knocking over some chairs, the ball whizzed on its backspin right back to me. It was hilarious. The ref gave me the quickest technical in history, of course, but I didn't mind. The fans loved it.
Probably the hardest pass for me to throw is an around-the-body pass. This differs from the behind-the-back pass by a full 180°. With the behind-the-back, I might start the ball on my right side and throw it behind my back to the left. With an around-the-body, I'll start on the right, move the ball in front of my body to the left, then around my back to the right so that it ends up over on the right. This is all in one motion, of course. I've only done this about three or four times a season, but it's wild.
All of these passes have variations, of course, such as faking the behind-the-back and then coming around with a straight shovel pass. Or faking a front-shovel reverse pass in the air and nicking it backward to a teammate. (That's the old Globetrotter trick where a Globie goes to hand the ball to a man, then at the last moment flicks it backward and shakes hands with the man.) I use this pass when I'm going for the basket in the air and am about to get stuffed. That happens a lot. There are few things good ballplayers like better than to stuff a fancy shot back down your throat.
Probably most of the criticism of my show stems from the fact that I put it on no matter what—whether the game is a rout either way or if it is close. I don't let the criticism bother me. I've always had enough confidence in my passing and playmaking to use both in tight situations. The only difference is the reaction of the crowd. In a laugher game, I'll get a few sounds. In a close game, the people will take the damn roof off.
I remember last year, in the finals of the All-College Tournament in Oklahoma City. We were playing Duquesne—a fine team. We were the Cinderella team of the tournament, but the Dukes were pulling away from us in the last five minutes. Nobody went home, but it looked like curtains. Anyway, we fought back, and I hit a couple to pull us tighter. We were down by one with about a minute left when I drove the lane. I thought it was open at the time, but here came one of those two big Nelson brothers out of nowhere. I mean those guys are huge and they're tough. Anyway, here he came, so I gave him a pump in the air and thought I was home free for sure. But, oh no. All of a sudden the other Nelson came flying at me and had me perfectly stuffed. I mean perfect, a pigeon. I thought I was a goner. Well, I didn't yell out, "It's show time," or anything, but all I could do was give a couple of more pumps, bring the ball in tight to my chest, then flip it as I was going down onto the floor. The ball hit the side of the board and banked in. I couldn't believe it. The noise blew me out and we won the game. That was just an example of going to the show when it was necessary. Believe me, I didn't pull a zippety flip to entertain the Nelsons.
At Auburn, when I was a sophomore, they were really hooting me, which I loved. Everytime I'd shoot during warmups and miss, they'd ooooh and aahhhhhh. Everytime I made a shot, they'd go "yea yea." I missed about three in a row, and everybody was laughing and yukking it up. I said to myself, O.K., let's see what they do with this one. I got one of our guards to give me a ball, and everybody else stopped shooting. I went under the basket and started making layups. The crowd went "yea yea yea." I did that about 20 or 30 times, and they got softer and softer until they just quit because their throats were sore. That shut them up for a while. Of course, in the game they started right back.
At Mississippi State the crowd is always wanting a ball so they can pass it up the rows to the top of the gym. That's a big kick for them, I guess. They asked me for a ball one time and I just looked at them for a while, then turned around and flipped it over my head way up in the stands. They laughed like crazy. I loved it.
Probably the biggest show, though, came in our final game of the season last year at Georgia. It gave us a .500 season, for one thing, but it was so exciting nobody could believe it. At halftime we were down by four points, but they opened it up quickly to go 15 points ahead. We put on a rush, though, and tied them at the end. I remember I was going for my season scoring record and needed about 49 points, but I had such a miserable first half, it was pitiful. In the first overtime they had a two point lead and the ball with 12 seconds left, but a Georgia man came down and shot. Why he shot I'll never know, but I got the rebound, dribbled the length and scored to tie again. In the second overtime we blew them out. In the last minute and a half I got the ball and was feeling so great I decided to start a dribbling exhibition. Between the legs, around my back, through defenders' legs, everything. I went outside, sideline, all over. Finally I dribbled underneath, then went all the way back out again without putting the ball up. By this time the crowd was berserk. Fourteen thousand people berserk, and this was on the road. But now the Georgia players were mad. They had fire in their eyes. They all came after me, and I thought they were going to kill me. I started dribbling to midcourt, then to my bench. I wanted out. About two feet from the bench I looked up and there were four seconds to go, so I threw a hook shot from about 35 feet. Just as the buzzer sounded, the ball went in, my 58th point. It didn't touch anything. Just oxygen.
Well, 14,000 just sat there stunned. I was stunned, too. I had walked over to sit down when I looked back and saw the shot. Damn, it went in. Then the place exploded. It was like we had won the national championship. I'll tell you one thing, they didn't take any films of that game, but I don't mind. When I'm 70 years old and telling my grandchildren about the shot, I imagine the distance will match my age.
Some people have said that my act isn't good for the game because I'm trying to embarrass other players. That isn't true. I don't go out there to embarrass anyone. On the other hand, I don't feel sorry for a guy when he looks like a clown and gets wiped out on a play. What would people have me do? Say, "Look, Jack, I'm sorry you fell down. I won't do it ever again"?
I'm especially not sorry for those guys who are always talking to me and goading me when they play defense. I won't mention any names, but before one game last year a guy came out on the radio and said he'd hold me to seven points. I believe the way he said it was he'd, "jam the Pistol." He jammed me, all right, all the way out of the game. I went for 45 and fouled him out just after the half. Now that was just stupid of him, saying something like that. If I've got to stick the ball in my pants and jump through the hoop myself to win, I'll do it.
Last spring I went through a weight training program that has really helped me. I weighed 172 at the end of the season, but now I'm up to 205 and feel like a tight end. I'll probably lose five or 10 pounds before the season begins, but still I don't think I'm skinny anymore. One reporter once said I looked like I needed a body transplant. Well, my body-transplant days are over. I think the added weight has made me quicker, as well as stronger. I know I can jump higher now.
The LSU team may not be a title contender, but we have some tall sophomores who could make us very strong. We're all looking forward to the season, even though our schedule is tougher than it's ever been. We play teams like Oregon State and Southern Cal early in the year at Baton Rouge, then take a Western trip to UCLA and to the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii. I will be on the beach in Hawaii.
I love to go on the road, by the way. I much prefer playing away than at home. At home, the same people are watching you who have seen it all before. On the road, you have new places and you're playing to people who don't know about the show. I can do things that they haven't seen before, and maybe make basketball fans out of people who didn't care much for the game.
Aside from the Hawaii trip, I'm looking forward to two things this year. The first is trying again to get into a postseason tournament (the NIT has wanted us the past two years, but we just haven't won enough games), and the second is to break Oscar Robertson's three-year scoring record of 2,973. I've got 2,286. If I stay healthy, maybe I can go for that late in the season.
Whatever happens—whatever the criticism or the whistles or handkerchiefs or even shouts of "hot dog"—I'm going to go out shooting and passing in my own way. I can't change now. It's the only style I have, even if it is one long show. After all, everybody loves a show.