Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Comic chronicles tragic showman "Maravich"

Q+A: Wayne Federman

Comic chronicles the tragic showman, 'Pistol' Pete Maravich

Book: "Maravich" by Wayne Federman and Marshall Terrill with Jackie Maravich (SportClassic Books, 2006)

Unless you're a Harlem Globetrotter fan, basketball and comedy usually don't mix.

It's odd then, that a stand-up comedian would co-author a biography of Hall of Famer "Pistol" Pete Maravich, sometimes a clown on the college and pro basketball courts, but a tragic figure in life.

Wayne Federman, 47, is a comedian and actor who has appeared onstage in Los Angeles at places such as the Improv and the Laugh Factory; on television in such series as "The Larry Sander s Show" and such movies as "Jack Frost" in 1998 and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" in 2005.

He and co-author Marshall Terrill have written perhaps the definitive book on Maravich, who died of a heart attack in 1988 at the age of 40. Aiding in the book were Maravich's widow, Jackie, and sons Jaeson and Joshua.

Federman will be in town this week , performing his stand-up routine at Harrah's Improv, coinciding with the NBA All-Star game activities .

During a recent telephone interview with the Sun from his home in Los Angeles, Federman discussed the remarkable book about the remarkable Maravich.

I'm a basketball fan. When I was a kid I was a Dr. J fan - that was sort of my era. In 1987 Pete Maravich released these instructional videotapes on basketball and they were just fascinating. Ever since then, I became more and more interested in the guy and I started researching him, especially his NBA career. Then Marshall Terrill, who had started writing the book, took me on as a co-author.

How did the two of you hook up?

He contacted me through the Internet. I had put up this little site because I had started collecting Pete Maravich videos and I had a couple of basketball games he wanted.

All of this collecting you were doing, was it with the intent of writing a book?

No. It was totally a hobby, but I have a knack for research and I started speaking to this guy, and the next thing I know he tells me I know more about Pete Maravich than anyone he has spoken to and he's been writing this book for half a year and would I like to be his co-author. I go, no, I'm trying to get an audition for "Mad About You" or something. But my girlfriend convinced me and so I say, "OK, let's give this a try."

I wrote it with the idea of making it into a movie. I just thought it would always make a great sports movie in a nontraditional way. It's not like "Hoosiers," where at the last second they win the game; it's a much more nuanced and sad and thrilling story. There's just a lot to the story.

Do you still have hopes of turning it into a movie?

Yes. Definitely. Very much so. I've been contacted by several producers. We are putting together something right now, and, let's just keep our fingers crossed, but it's looking very positive.

How exciting would that be to see your book come to life?

It's such a compelling story. Tragic. Thrilling. All the things I like in a movie. I don't know if you know this, but when Pete died, an autopsy was performed because he dropped dead of a heart attack at 40, after setting all these records that still stand till this day - and they find out he never had a left coronary artery and shouldn't have lived to the age of 20 and shouldn't have been allowed to play any sport, not even badminton; maybe he could have been on the chess team.

Was he aware of this?

No. He knew something was wrong with his heart. It kept him out of Vietnam, which we uncovered in the book. He had no idea it was lethal. No idea. I talked to team doctors from the Hawks and the Jazz and the Celtics, all the team doctors, and I asked, "Did you give him stress tests?" and they're like, "Yeah. He passed with no problem." I go like, "Wow, that's pretty amazing." I talked to a cardiologist who said you don't know you have this condition till it's too late. Now, they inject dye into your vein and take a better picture of your heart. If they had the technology back then, they said it could have been detected - but with just the stethoscope and EKG, no. He was a pro basketball player. It's ridiculous.

When did you first get interested in Maravich?

Like I said, in '87. He died the very next year. My interest was further piqued in '96, when he was selected one of the NBA's 50 great players. I wondered why. He never won a championship. I thought his pro career was a bit of a washout compared to his college career, where he averaged over 44 points a game. So then I looked into his pro career and it was pretty spectacular, but like everything involved with Pete Maravich, there's always a sadness or a touch of tragedy to it. His mom ended up killing herself just after he got traded to New Orleans. He blew out his knee just as the team is about to make the playoffs. Every step of the way - at times it was hard to write, you just feel bad for him, yet all anyone remembers of him are these fantastic Globetrotter moves in a real game; it's like this ultimate showman and the price that was paid for that.

Jackie Maravich remained silent about the tragedy for 20 years. Why did she now decide to talk about it and help you with the book?

First of all the kids were too young. She didn't want to have that all around them when they were trying to grow up. And two, Jackie Maravich is a very private person.

Why was the timing right for this book?

Three things. The kids were older, going to college, and she thought they could handle it. Second, an unauthorized book written several years earlier, she didn't like. And three, she was looking for an author who would write a comprehensive, fair and balanced book about his life. I stepped in at the right time.

How has the book been doing since its December release?

If possible, it's doing too well. The first printing of 10,000 sold out in 3 1/2 weeks. Since Christmas it's been nearly impossible to buy the book. The second printing should be hitting the stores about now.

Why did you choose to write this book?

Pete was such a unique guy in the history of the game. He was not really accepted by the team when he went to the Hawks - don't forget, there was a bidding war for him between the NBA and ABA, before the leagues merged. He got like five times as much money as the highest paid veteran player on the team. They resented the heck out of him immediately. And on top of that he started getting endorsement deals with Vitalis, Pro-Keds and basketballs; and all those endorsement deals were worth more than anyone else's contract on the team.

A lot of jealousy?

And for good reason. They say, "Hey, we built up the Hawks, we have had to struggle to get an extra $10,000 a year and this kid comes in and gets $250,000." At the time he signed a five-year, $1.8 million contract, which was the highest in any sport at the time.

Are there more books in your future or are you going to stick to comedy?

I don't know. I can't imagine what it would be. The amount of work I put into this - I was in way beyond what I thought I was capable of. There's nothing on the horizon, but then I never thought I would write a book in the first place.
Jerry Fink can be reached at 259-4058 or at jerry@lasvegassun.com.

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