The Man and his Soul
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Now, a quarter-century after his untimely death, those who knew and loved Maravich reflect on what could have been if the basketball superstar-turned-devoted community figure had lived a full life, or even been alive today.
“When Pete Maravich turned his life over to Jesus Christ, he became a markedly different human being,” says Bud Johnson, a former LSU sports information director who now works for the university alumni association. “His all-consuming attachment to his sport left little room for a well balanced life. His laser-like focus suddenly was directed toward Christianity and spreading the word.
“He transferred his ability to concentrate on writing lyrical prayers, making talks to young people and giving his time and money to those less fortunate than himself,” Johnson adds. “He could call up the scriptures as effortlessly as he did making a behind-the-back pass.”
Smith recalls coaching youth basketball players with Maravich in Covington, where the former basketball superstar had settled after retirement, and seeing him interact with the youngsters on the court. Smith says that while Maravich would playfully show flashes of his hoops skills, dribbling the ball between his legs and joshing with the kids, his devotion to making the youths’ lives better was abundantly evident.
“He’d be out there with the kids horsing around,” Smith says. “He’d be out there doing drills with them, and you could just tell he loved it.”
But Maravich’s story began several decades before in Aliquippa, Pa., where he was born in 1947, the son of famed basketball coach Peter “Press” Maravich, who quickly began teaching his offspring the fundamentals of the hardwood game.
The younger Maravich then spent hours practicing what would become the staples of his college and pro careers – trick plays, behind-the-back passes and head fakes. After successful prep careers at Daniel High School in South Carolina and two North Carolina schools, Broughton High and Edwards Military Institute, it was during his high-school years that he picked up his celebrated nickname, “Pistol,” from his proclivity for launching a shot from his side, as if drawing a revolver.
After Press Maravich became the varsity coach at LSU, he offered Pete a spot in the Tiger basketball program. The younger Maravich immediately became a star, first for the LSU freshman team, then for the varsity squad, racking up record numbers of points and posting game scoring totals in the dozens.
By the time Pete graduated from LSU in 1970, he had tallied an NCAA-record 3,667 career points by averaging a whopping 44.2 per game over a three-year varsity career, also a college standard. That is in addition to a slew of other game, season and career marks, many of which still stand; three straight first-team All-America selections; and several player-of-the-year accolades in 1970.
In addition, he helped turn around a moribund LSU program that went 3-20 in the season before he arrived on campus, guiding the Tigers to a 20-8 record during his senior campaign.
Maravich’s legend only grew from there. The Atlanta Hawks took him with the third overall pick in the 1970 NBA draft. His first two pro seasons were somewhat rocky, but during his third year with the Hawks, the Pistol exploded, averaging 26.1 points and 6.9 assists per game, numbers that improved in ’73-’74.
That performance, as well as the creation of an expansion NBA franchise in New Orleans, spurred Maravich to return to the Pelican State in 1974, where he became the centerpiece of the newly created New Orleans Jazz.
“Once a disciple of basketball in football country, Pete spread the word of Christ to every audience he could find. His basketball camp for young boys concentrated on spirituality, nutrition, making life changes and adjustments and then basketball.”