Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich by Mark KriegelHe was the sad-eyed wizard of the hardwood, wearing floppy socks and scraggly hair upon his head, the prodigy child of his father, Press Maravich. To a generation he was known as Pistol Pete, a soulful magician with a leathery, orange globe ricocheting from the tips of his fingers to the tips of his toes, the all-time leading scorer in NCAA history—a legend.

Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, a biography, is far greater in depth than simply the story of a boy who grew into a man, etching his place in basketball and cultural lore; brick by literary brick, Mark Kriegel (Namath) molds with words the foundation and family dynamic of a first-generation Serbian immigrant household in America (The Maraviches) and its rise from the flame-orange hued Attawayan landscape of Bessemer furnaces and black soot in the steel town of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. It is the story of a father’s dream for his son, their journey, and the creation, collapse, and reconstruction of a family shrouded in the adumbrated consequences of that dream: always on the move, never a permanent home, depression, alcoholism, suicide.

Through a review of film during his college playing days as a 6’5″ guard for LSU, it has been noted that, had the 3-point line existed back then, Pistol Pete would have tallied 13 three-point shots made each game, taking his 44.2 points per game average to 57; and despite his injury plagued professional career in the NBA, Pete Maravich would still be the youngest player ever inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. But at what cost?

Howbeit showered with fame and fortune, within the shadows of the “Pistol” lurked a less magical and human “Pete,” rummaging through his skeleton’s closet and the -isms of which he practiced throughout his life (Hinduism, vegetarianism, and yes, even extraterrestrialism) in search of a spiritual escape from the world and its expectations, a man of flesh and bone, after all, with a tormented umbra burning white-hot for relief and redemption. As he awakened from sleep one night, his body shivering in a cold sweat, the Pistol, the boy so nicknamed for the gun-slinging mimicry of his hands when preparing to shoot the basketball, was transformed by the voice of God: “Be strong and lift thine own heart.” He raised his long, skinny fingers and wept, pleading God save him.

Soon after, Pete would be faced with the news of his father’s terminal cancer and, would, in less than a year’s time, collapse while playing a pickup game of basketball at church from a rare congenital heart defect. This is his story.

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Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich by Mark Kriegel, pp. 393 (Free Press, 2007) available at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon.com new and used beginning at $1.07. If you have children, I also recommend the kid-friendly movie rented for me by my mom and dad when I was a very young boy, “Pistol: The Birth of a Legend,” co-written by Maravich himself, which chronicles his 8th grade basketball season playing varsity for Daniel High in Clemson, South Carolina—also available on Amazon beginning at $2.29.

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JEFFREY PILLOW is a contributing writer for The Nervous Breakdown and Hoops Addict. He lives in Charlottesville with his wife, daughter, and dog -- three separate entities. A certified basketball junkie, he also loves cheddar cheese and poorly crafted science fiction thriller films involving cold-blooded animals and bad acting. SEE Shark Attack 3: Megalodon. His work has appeared on Yahoo! Sports, USA Today, and 16 Blocks magazine et al. Visit him online at www.jeffreypillow.com.

5 responses to “Sad-Eyed Wizard”

  1. Pete DeLorean says:

    I have to read this book. Pete was my childhood basketball hero. I remember seeing him play here in Phoenix when he was with the Jazz and hearing some idiot in the front row yell “Shoot Pete Shoot!” as soon as he received the inbounds pass.

    Those who reduce him to a ball hog overlook his shimmering ball handling skills. In later years I remember a certain confusion hearing about his spiritual and dietary tangents. Thanks for the heads up!

    • What a treasure for you to have witnessed him play. Only through tape and words do I know his story; and this story, in particular, is one of the best you’ll ever read. Admittedly, until I read this, I did not much care for Kriegel’s writing, though I only knew his writing, at the time, as a FoxSports.com columnist. (He likes to rant in that column) But this book is chock full of fantastic writing, through stories and simply the way he sculpts the narrative with the English language. This book and WHEN MARCH WENT MAD by Seth Davis are the two single best basketball books I’ve ever read.

  2. One of my top five favorite ballers of all time. When I was a kid, my coach used to always say “Pete Maravich used to practice dribbling while riding a bike!” I tried it, and failed. No wonder i didn’t average 44.2….good stuff.

    • That’s funny you say that Sean. I first heard about Pistol Pete from my little league coach, who, in turn, told my parents to rent the movie PISTOL: THE BIRTH OF A LEGEND. My obsession with basketball never looked back after I watched that movie. I believe I slept with my arms hugging my basketball every night for a solid year. Reading this biography by Kriegel sort of made me relive those youthful moments. I remembered how obsessed and passionate I was about the sport.

      • Pete DeLorean says:

        Pistol: Birth of a legend. I have to see it. It is on dvd?

        Once on CBS Sports basketball game televised in the seventies, at halftime they had Pete on some court somewhere else and he was demonstrating his two-handed bounce exercise between the legs. I did that exercise for years later.

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