He 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.
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.