Tip-Off Timer: Pistol Pete Lived to 40, Died As Greatest Showman
He was the greatest showman in the history of basketball, the standard by which every flashy-looking hot shot in the last 40 years could be measured against. And not a one has measured up -- never really come close.
Pistol Pete Maravich stood alone in his glory, a virtuoso in a team sport, an artist who made the game so compelling, so captivating, so incredibly wonderful that you never turned away when he had the ball.
Maravich never won big in basketball, but he never stopped believing in the beauty of the game.
He died too young at age 40, yet doctors marveled afterward that he lived as long as he did, leaving basketball a much-more special game by the way he played it. And not many living stars can say that today.
Maravich died in 1988 of an undetected heart defect, moments after playing a casual game of pick-up basketball with friends and acquaintances at a church gymnasium. He was born without one of the two artery systems that supply the heart with blood, an affliction that often kills before a boy becomes a man.
Thanks goodness, he lived long enough to make us all smile.
Maravich was an icon, a hero to a generation of baby boomers, a white star in a black sport. If you were a suburban kid playing basketball in the late '60s or early '70s, you wanted to be just like Pistol Pete. A whole generation of young boys started wearing droopy socks and shaggy locks because Pistol Pete always did.
He remains the most prolific scorer in college basketball history, averaging 43.8, 44.2 and 44.5 points per game in his three varsity seasons (1967-70) at LSU. Every basket he scored was a spectacle. Many were long range, yet this was before the 3-point shot.
He was a magician, a wizard with the ball, keeping it on a string. His between-the-legs, behind-the-back, around-the-neck passes, his circus shots from every possible angle, could electrify a crowd. He never saw a shot he didn't like, and he never, ever hesitated to take one.
He came into the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks, given the richest contract in league history. Throughout his basketball career, he never had the supporting cast that could win, so he carried the burden himself, knowing he was expected to entertain as well as score prolifically .
And he did. He spent 10 years in the league, played in five All-Star Games and averaged 24.2 points. Too often, though, he was injured. His wispy body couldn't withstand the pounding. Only once, his rookie season, did he manage to play 80 games.
He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987 -- less than a year before he collapsed and died. It was an honor well deserved.