Friday, February 23, 2007

"Maravich" in the Livingston Parish News

Pee Wee Day: Maravich book brings back memories of showtime

PETE'S PALACE - This time forty years ago on a football farm in Tigertown, a basketball seed suddenly sprouted out of the turf.

Back then, freshmen were not eligible to participate on the varsity squad, so all eyes were focused on the LSU Baby Bengals basketball team.

Actually, all eyes were zeroed in on one particular player, a skinny 6-foot-5 mop-top phenomenon, who was about to change basketball forever at LSU.
Pete Maravich took Louisiana by storm during the 1966-67 season and proceeded to cultivate a new fan base that spread far beyond Baton Rouge.

Four decades later and 19 years following his untimely death at age 40, the "Pistol" remains firmly planted in the hearts of his fans, whom he inspired both on and off the court.

Bringing "Showtime" to a cow barn, which laid down a hardwood on top of the dirt floor to house basketball for four months a year, Pistol Pete dazzled the crowds with an array of basketball skills that one could only see before when the Harlem Globetrotters came to town.

Three years later, Maravich had become the NCAA all-time leading scorer, while at the same time, leading the Tigers to their first post-season action in 15 years.

Far from a fluke, Maravich went on to have a very successful professional basketball career, where he was a multiple All-Star selection and scoring leader. Following his retirement in 1980, Maravich was named one of the "NBA's 50 Greatest Players" of all time. He was also enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Many books have been written on Maravich, beginning with a pair while he was still at LSU. Maravich himself joined in with an autobiography entitled "Heir to a Dream," which paralleled his entire of life in basketball with his father Peter "Press" Maravich, who was also his coach during his tenure at LSU.

But none of the books come close to documenting his incredible story of trials and tribulations like the current "Maravich," written by Wayne Federman and Marshall Terrill. What even authenticates the book to the utmost, is the fact it's the first book written with collaboration of Maravich's widow, Jackie.

Not to be confused with yet another current book on the racks, "Pistol," by Mark Kreiegel, the 400-plus page "Maravich" is practically a play-by-play of his life. Not only is the book packed with incredible detail and statistics, but the eight-year project by the authors unveil some stunning facts that even a diehard Pistol Pete fan like myself never knew, including one mystery never revealed before.

Even though they interviewed some 300 people who, in some way or another, crossed paths with Maravich, I'm living proof that the number of lives Maravich actually touched, is countless.

I was fortunate enough to be at the ideal age, 11-13-years-old during his playing days at LSU. I stood in line for hours to buy one of those "standing-room-only" general admission tickets for the student section. I was fortunate enough to have mid-court tickets for the night he broke Oscar Robertson's all-time scoring record and I can still watch myself on the highlight reel dashing on the court with a friend moments after he made the milestone bucket.

But I must confess, I also snuck into the sold-out home finale his senior year against Kentucky. But well-worth the risk.

Although I still treasure the autographs and memorabilia I've collected over his entire career, the memories of watching Maravich play are still etched in my mind to this day.

"Pete would always make the comment, 'when you die, they forget about you. You're last week's news,'" said Jackie Maravich McLachian.

How wrong he was.

Pete's "Homework Basketball" video series, which he filmed at the Albany High School gym in four days back in the late 1980's is still widely sold to help youngsters learn the fundamentals of the game.

And Pete's basketball camp at Clearwater Christian College in Florida is thriving as well.

Or just type "Pete Maravich" into the ebay search engine and one will finds trading cards, replica jerseys and various other memorabilia up for auction day-in and day-out ... and garnering top dollars.

Fans won't need a computer to get a signed copy of "Maravich," however, as Jackie, her and Pete's two sons, Jaeson and Josh, along with author Marshall Terrill, will all be on hand at none other than the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Saturday afternoon to sign copies of the book prior to and at halftime of the LSU-Florida game.

Both Jaeson and Josh played roundball at St. Paul's in their hometown of Covington, with both trying their hand at college basketball as well. Josh followed in his father's footsteps as a member of the Tiger squad from 2002-2005.

The two were just eight and five years old when their father died of a heart condition while playing a pickup game of basketball at the First Church of Nazarene in Pasadena, Calif.

Although the average fan may have known of Maravich's struggles on the court, battling both injuries and acceptance as a pro player, those were overshadowed by his many off-the-court struggles in life.

Just days before the beginning of his first season with the New Orleans Jazz, Maravich had to deal with the suicide of his mother.

Maravich gave his life to the Lord a little more than five years prior to his death and proceeded to coach his father into reborn Christianity. Press Maravich died of cancer just months prior to Pete's death.

"What was surprising was that as fun as he was to watch, there was the dichotomy that he was tortured and unhappy in his personal life because of so many factors," said co-author Terrill. "He was the highest paid player in pro sports, but he didn't get respect by his teammates. He was an all-star, but he never played on a winning team. He was so expressive on the court, but was a very private person.

"I think any baby boomer who loved basketball gravitated to the 'Pistol,'" said Terrill. His game was not only innovative, but fun to watch. Every kid on the playground wanted to be "Pistol Pete."

Me included.

(P.S. - If you're not able to attend the LSU-Florida game on Saturday to obtain an autograph copy of "Maravich", Jackie Maravich is finalizing dates to sign books at various Livingston Parish libraries in March.)

Sam Muffoletto is a sportswriter for the News and long-time newspaper and radio figure on sports in the Baton Rouge area.

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