Monday, January 31, 2011

January 31, 1970: Pistol Pete

BATON ROUGE, La. - He was a man ahead of his time, an athlete seemingly plucked from the future and dropped into the past to give basketball fans of the late 60s a glimpse of what the future would hold. He was the son of a coach, the kind of gym rat that you always read about or see in fictional, inspiration basketball movies. Pete Maravich's life seems fictional, but everything, including all the ungodly numbers he put up in college, was true.

Given the nickname "Pistol" and coached by a father named Press, Maravich walked onto the campus of Louisiana State in the fall of 1966 and joined the freshman basketball team. In his first game, he scored 50 points. LSU fans drooled at what was to come. But they had to wait a year, as freshmen weren't eligible for varsity play back then. So Pistol starred in relative obscurity, averagine 43.6 points a game against other overmatched freshmen while biding his time before he could join the big boys.

The next year, he was ready, entering the starting lineup as a sophomore and never looking back. His college career was consistently brilliant, as he averaged 43.8, 44.2, and 44.5 points a game in his three seasons with the Tigers. It wasn't just the scoring, though, that made Pistol so memorable. It was the passing, which made him look like Magic Johnson when Magic was still a young boy named Earvin. It was the dribbling, putting the ball behind his back and through his legs and around his waist - anything to confuse his opponents, to put on a show.

Overall, it was the flare. Sure, Pistol's NCAA-record 3,667 career points would be reason enough to remember him, but the showmanship is what put him over the top, what turned a great scorer into a legend.

On January 31, 1970, Pistol climbed into the NCAA record books, scoring 53 points to reach 2,987 for his career, allowing him to pass Oscar Robertson as the NCAA's all time leading scorer. What was especially impressive about the record was the Maravich broke it with 13 games still to play in the regular season, and he would pad nearly 700 more points onto his total to make the record all but unbreakable.

I say all but unbreakable, because Pistol has been caught. A guy by the name of John Pierce passed him in the 80s while playing for Lipscomb. But while Lipscomb is currently a Division I school, they weren't back then; in fact, they were only NAIA back then. So does it count as the record? That's debatable.

What isn't debatable is how Pistol was stuck in the wrong era. While Pierce had four years to get as many points as he could, Pistol only had three because of the freshman elibility rules in place. Also, Pistol played before there was a three-point line, meaning he got all his points two at a time. A man who followed Pistol's entire career at LSU charted every game he played, then figured out what his career average would have been if there had been a three-point line. The results were shocking: Maravich's career mark of 44 points a game would have jumped to 57 points a game, based solely on adding an imaginary three-point line to the court in all the games he played. That mark of 3,667 points would have become 4,731. And that's if you assume he wouldn't have taken a few more shots from beyond the arc knowing he'd get the extra point.

No matter how you look at it, Maravich was one of a kind. The numbers he put up at LSU were so staggering that they're almost hard to comprehend. And while he didn't put up the same kinds of numbers in the NBA, he still played with the same flair, still had the same showmanship he always had in college.

As the years pass and we get further away from Pete Maravich's career, knowledge of his greatness and importance to basketball is starting to fade. But nobody who ever saw Pistol Pete play basketball will ever forget him. He was truly a man ahead of his time.

No comments:

Post a Comment