Pete Maravich, his wife, Jackie, and their two children live 20 minutes from the Louisiana Superdome, his home court for four of his 10 pro basketball seasons. He might as well live 20 light-years away.
The baggy-socked, shaggy-locked renegade of the backcourt who led the NBA in scoring in 1976-77 and ended his career with a 24.2 average was once the toast of the town. Now Maravich, 36, is more like the ghost of the town, and he likes it that way. "I've been the worldly way. I know what it can do," he says. "Success buys more liquor, more drugs, more ladies. By being successful, we can destroy ourselves."
Pistol Pete is now Papa Pete, with a five-bedroom house in Metairie furnished with bleached pine pieces and Jackie's quilt collection.
"C'mon you guys, don't play with balls in the house," he says to Jaeson, 5, who's dribbling a ball half his size, and Joshua, 3, who's scampering under the table after a tennis ball. Despite the reprimand, Joshua tugs on his father's mustache and plants a wet kiss on his cheek. This is Leave It to Beaver, Louisiana-style, with Pete and Jackie as Ward and June.
Maravich doesn't frequent restaurants, bars or parties anymore. In fact, his only apparent extravagance is a house he's renovating 45 miles away in Covington. "I've always dreamed of raising the kids in a Victorian, gingerbread-type house in the country," he says. Maravich speaks lovingly of the front door of two-inch-thick mahogany, into which a verse of Scripture—COMMIT THY WORKS UNTO THE LORD—has been carved.
Religion now consumes Maravich the way basketball once did, and he prays as often as three times a day. He and his family eat vegetables, fruits and grains—just as mentioned in the Book of Genesis. Oh, his children will eat fish, and now and then Jackie will have a dish of ice cream. Not Pete. His staples are soy-burgers, vegetables, sprouted wheat bread and bottled spring water. And there have been times when he has forgone food; one fast lasted for 25 days. While on that fast, during which he consumed only freshly squeezed juices and his weight decreased 25 pounds to 170, Pete insisted on preparing the family meals. "I was testing myself," he says.
He passed that test and another, even more crucial one. Maravich has put his basketball career in perspective. "Back then my priorities were all wrong," he says. "I thought the only thing that was important was winning a championship. Since I was six, it was the only thing I dreamed about."
As a 5'1", 90-pound eighth-grader at Daniel (S.C.) High, he played on a team that lost in overtime in the state semifinals. While playing for his father, Press, at LSU from 1967-68 to 1969-70, Maravich set NCAA records for most points in a season (1,381) and career (3,667) and highest scoring average in a season (44.5) and career (44.2). Those marks still stand.
Maravich was the third pick in the 1970 draft and signed a $1.5 million, five-year deal with the Atlanta Hawks. Then things began to go sour. The Hawks pressured Maravich to play a team game, while the seats were packed with fans screaming for showtime, Maravich-style.
Complicating matters for him was the fact that the teams for which he played, Atlanta, New Orleans and Utah, were mediocre; an NBA championship was out of the question. Still, Maravich persisted in singlehandedly trying to shoot his teams into the playoffs. Failures of the Hawks and the Jazz frustrated and angered him. By September of 1980, after a brief final fling with the Celtics the previous season, he was so fed up that he quit.
He withdrew completely. He'd gun his Porsche to 130 mph. He'd drink too many beers. He was searching for something, but what? He got into reincarnation and survivalism. "He wanted to build a bomb shelter, the whole bit," Jackie says. "It relieved the symptoms, but it didn't relieve the cause," Pete says. "My pride was the cause."
Slightly more than a year later, the search was over. "I was in the bedroom," he says. "It was 5:30 in the morning, and I was lying there awake when a voice said to me, 'Be strong. Lift thine own heart.' I heard it! I woke Jackie and said, 'Did you hear that?' She thought I was crazy and went back to sleep. But I felt an unbelievable peace."
With that peace came his faith. When Joshua fell down a 16-foot air vent in the country house, Pete climbed into the hospital bed with his son, held him for 36 hours and prayed. "The doctors said it was a miracle that Joshua didn't lose his eye," he says. Six months after the mishap, no trace of the injury remains.
As Maravich's belief grew, the anger he directed at the game died. He had refused to pick up a basketball for three years, but now he runs a basketball camp with Press at Clearwater (Fla.) Christian College. Last January, in Denver, Maravich surfaced for an oldtimers' game. He played 18 minutes and scored 18 points.
At the Maravich household, it's getting late. Maravich is fidgeting with a pillow, propping it into place. He's extremely meticulous. "We have to be careful," Jackie says. "When we go to friends' houses, we start cleaning up."
Maravich says he has removed all basketball memorabilia from the house. But if he's so meticulous, how could he have overlooked the framed photo of a floppy-haired young man in a Jazz uniform, dribbling madly downcourt? The picture is brought to his attention. Maravich looks stunned to see someone he doesn't know anymore. "I should have gotten rid of it long ago," he says.