Books Who says all basketball bios are alike?

January 24, 2000

A GOOD MAN: THE PETE NEWELL STORY
By Bruce Jenkins, Frog Ltd., $27.50

FOREVER SHOWTIME: THE CHECKERED LIFE OF PISTOL PETE MARAVICH
By Phil Berger, Taylor Publishing Co., $23.95

THE BOB LOVE STORY
By Robert Earl Love with Mel Watkins
Contemporary Books, $24.95

When Pete Maravich was six years old, his stage-managing father,
Press, already had him executing sophisticated ball-handling
drills. When future NBA All-Star Bob Love was six, he was living
hand-to-mouth in rural Louisiana and developing the terrible
stutter that would dog him for three decades. When Pete Newell
was six, he was a child actor in Hollywood, taking direction from
Erich von Stroheim, who called him a dummkopf. Obviously these
are three vastly different stories.

If you have time for only one, make it Jenkins's page-turning
biography of Newell, whose seminal role in hoops history remains
unfamiliar to generations that followed, despite the NBA Big
Man's Camp he runs each summer. "In all of sport, I think Pete is
the least-known outstanding figure there is," says Bob Knight.
According to Jenkins, Knight spoke with "profound reverence" of
Newell and calls Newell "absolutely the premier coach that we
have ever turned out in this country."

Newell's college coaching career spanned 1946 to '60. He coached
the gold-medal-winning 1960 U.S. Olympic team that included Oscar
Robertson, Jerry West and Jerry Lucas. Later, as general manager
of the Los Angeles Lakers, he spurned Maravich ("I didn't think
you could win with him, and I was right," Newell said) in favor
of Rudy Tomjanovich and pulled off the trade that brought Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar from Milwaukee to L.A.

Exhausted by the pressure of college coaching, Newell retired at
age 45, one year after winning the 1959 NCAA championship with an
undermanned Cal team. His last college game speaks to his legacy:
He lost the '60 NCAA title game to Fred Taylor's star-studded
Ohio State squad, which played a defense that Newell had taught
to Taylor the previous year. And to think none of this might have
happened had Newell not lost the featured role in Charlie
Chaplin's The Kid to Jackie Coogan.

Berger's biography of Maravich, who died of a congenital heart
defect in 1988 at age 40, a few years after finding peace as a
born-again Christian, is darker. The elder Maravich was a pistol,
too, and Berger does his best work in reporting the twisted
dynamic between father and son. Though Press, Pete's coach at LSU
from 1967 to '70, let his superstar son do almost anything on the
court, he often swore at him and even slapped his face during
timeouts. Father and son also shared an agonizing bond in dealing
with Pete's mentally unstable mother, Helen, who committed
suicide in 1974.

As star-crossed as Maravich's life was, the tale told by Love is,
in spots, just as tragic. Paralyzed with fear by his stuttering,
Love tells of the night he was practically dragged to the stage
at a banquet in Chicago and, with his son looking on, froze at
the podium and said nothing for three minutes until he sat down,
overcome by shame. Thank goodness for happy endings. Love, who
played 11 seasons in the NBA and is now the Chicago Bulls'
director of community relations (Michael Jordan wrote the
introduction to the book), overcame his stuttering with years of
therapy and writes in the final chapter, "I wouldn't trade places
with anybody in the world." It would've been nice if Maravich had
lived long enough to be able to say that. I'm pretty sure that
Newell, still going strong at 84, would say it now.

COLOR PHOTO: FROG LTD. COLOR PHOTO: TAYLOR PUBLISHING CO. COLOR PHOTO: CONTEMPORARY BOOKS

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