Pete Maravich was born in Aliquippa, a steel town in Beaver County in western Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. Maravich amazed his family and friends with his basketball abilities from an early age. He enjoyed a close but demanding father–son relationship that motivated him toward achievement and fame in the sport. Maravich's father, Petar "Press" Maravich, the son of Serbian immigrants and a former professional player-turned-coach, showed him the fundamentals starting when he was seven years old. Obsessively, Maravich spent hours practicing ball control tricks, passes, head fakes, and long-range shots.
In only three years playing on the varsity team (and under his father's coaching) at LSU, Maravich scored 3,667 points—1,138 of those in 1968, 1,148 in 1969, and 1,381 in 1970—while averaging 43.8, 44.2, and 44.5 points per game. For his collegiate career, the 6'5" (1.96 m) guard averaged 44.2 points per game in 83 contests and led the NCAA in scoring for each of his three seasons.
Maravich's long-standing collegiate scoring record is particularly notable when two other factors are taken into account:
First, because of the NCAA rules that prohibited him from taking part in varsity competition during his first year as a student, Maravich was prevented from adding to his career record for a full quarter of his time at LSU. During this first year, Maravich scored 741 points in freshman competition.
Second, Maravich played before the advent of the three-point line. This significant difference has raised speculation regarding just how much higher his records would be, given his long-range shooting ability and how such a component might have altered his play. Writing for ESPN.com, Bob Carter stated, "Though Maravich played before freshmen were eligible for the varsity and before the 3-point shot was established, he loved gunning from long range." It has been reported that former LSU coach Dale Brown charted every shot Maravich scored and concluded that if the three-pointers were counted, Maravich's average would have totaled 57 points per game.
More than 40 years later, many of his NCAA and LSU records still stand. Maravich was a three-time All-American. Though he never appeared in the NCAA tournament, Maravich played a key role in turning around a lackluster program that had posted a 3–20 record in the season prior to his arrival. Pete Maravich finished his college career in the 1970 National Invitation Tournament, where LSU finished fourth.
The Atlanta Hawks selected Maravich with the third pick in the first round of the 1970 NBA draft, where he played for coach Richie Guerin. He was not a natural fit in Atlanta, as the Hawks already boasted a top-notch scorer at the guard position in Lou Hudson. In fact, Pistol Pete's flamboyant style stood in stark contrast to the conservative play of Hudson and star center Walt Bellamy. And it did not help that many of the veteran players resented the $1.9 million contract that Maravich received from the team—a very large salary at that time.
Still, the rookie's talent was undeniable. Maravich appeared in 81 games and averaged 23.2 points per contest—good enough to earn NBA All-Rookie Team honors. And he managed to blend his style with his teammates, so much so that Hudson set a career high by scoring 26.8 points per game. But the team stumbled to a 36–46 record—12 wins fewer than in the previous season. Still, the Hawks qualified for the playoffs, where they lost to the New York Knicks in the first round.
Maravich struggled somewhat during his second season. His scoring average dipped to 19.3 points per game during the regular season, and the Hawks finished with another disappointing 36–46 record. Once again they qualified for the playoffs, and once again they were eliminated in the first round. However, Atlanta fought hard against the Boston Celtics, with Maravich averaging 27.7 points in the series.
It was a sign of things to come. Maravich erupted in his third season, averaging 26.1 points and dishing out 6.9 assists per game. With 2,063 points, he combined with Hudson (2,029 points) to become only the second set of teammates in league history to each score over 2,000 points in a single season. The Hawks soared to a 46–36 record, but again bowed out in the first round of the playoffs. However, the season was good enough to earn Maravich his first-ever appearance in the NBA All-Star Game, and also All-NBA Second Team honors.
The following season (1973–74) was his best yet—at least in terms of individual accomplishments. Maravich posted 27.7 points per game—second in the league behind Bob McAdoo—and earned his second appearance in the All-Star Game. However, Atlanta sank to a disappointing 35–47 record and missed the postseason entirely.
In the summer of 1974, an expansion franchise was preparing for its first season of competition in the NBA. The New Orleans Jazz were looking for something, or someone, to generate excitement among their new basketball fans. With his exciting style of play, "Pistol Pete" was the perfect man for the job. Of course, it helped that he already enjoyed celebrity status in Louisiana, thanks to his legendary accomplishments at LSU. To acquire Maravich, the Jazz traded two players and four draft picks to Atlanta.
Predictably, the expansion team struggled mightily in its first season. Maravich managed to score 21.5 points per game, but shot a career-worst 41.9 percent from the floor. The Jazz posted a 23-59 record, worst in the NBA.
Jazz management did their best to give Maravich a better supporting cast, and it worked—to an extent. The team posted a 38-44 record in its second season (1975–76) but did not qualify for postseason play, despite the dramatic improvement. Maravich struggled with injuries that limited him to just 62 games that season, but he averaged 25.9 points per contest and continued his crowd-pleasing antics. The entire league took notice of his extraordinary skills, electing him to the All-NBA First Team that year.
The following season (1976–77) was his best ever as a professional player. He led the league in scoring with an average of 31.1 points per game. He scored 40 points or more in 13 different games, including a 68-point masterpiece against the Knicks. At that time, it was the most points ever scored by a guard in a single game; in fact, only two players had scored more points in a game: Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. Baylor had a front-row seat for the performance, as he was head coach of the Jazz at that time.
Maravich earned his third All-Star Game appearance and was honored as All-NBA First Team for the second consecutive season. He was in the prime of his career, seemingly scoring at will and showing off his flashy dribbling and passing skills in arenas all across the country.
But that all changed the following season. Injuries to both knees forced him to miss 32 games during the 1977–78 season. Despite being robbed of some quickness and athleticism, he still managed to score 27.0 points per game, and he also added 6.7 assists per contest, his highest average as a member of the Jazz. Many of those assists went to a new teammate: Truck Robinson, who had joined the franchise as a free agent during the off-season. In his first year in New Orleans, he averaged 22.7 points and a league-best 15.7 rebounds per game. His presence prevented opponents from focusing their defensive efforts entirely on Maravich, and it lifted the Jazz to a 39–43 record—just short of making the club's first-ever appearance in the playoffs.
The good times did not last for long. Knee problems plagued Maravich for the rest of his career. He played in just 49 games during the 1978–79 season. He worked hard to overcome his injury troubles, scoring 22.6 points per game and earning his fifth (and final) All-Star appearance. But his scoring and passing abilities were severely impaired. The team struggled on the court, and faced serious financial trouble as well. Management became desperate to make some changes. The Jazz traded Robinson to the Phoenix Suns, receiving draft picks and some cash in return. But it was too late to save the franchise. In 1979, team owner Sam Battistone moved the Jazz to Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Utah Jazz began play in the 1979-80 season. Maravich moved with the team to Salt Lake City, but his knee problems were worse than ever. He appeared in 17 games early in the season, but his injuries prevented him from practicing much, and new coach Tom Nissalke had a strict rule that players who didn't practice were not allowed to play in games. Thus, Pistol Pete was parked on the bench for 24 straight games, much to the dismay of Utah fans and to Maravich himself. During that time, Adrian Dantley emerged as the team's franchise player.
The Jazz placed Maravich on waivers in January 1980. He signed with the Celtics, the top team in the league that year, led by rookie superstar Larry Bird. Maravich adjusted to a new role as part-time contributor, giving Boston a "hired gun" off the bench. He helped the team post a 61-21 record in the regular season, best in the league. And, for the first time since his early career in Atlanta, Maravich was able to participate in the NBA playoffs. He appeared in nine games during that postseason, but the Celtics were upended by Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference finals, four games to one.
Realizing that his knee problems would never go away, Maravich retired at the end of that season. It is noteworthy that the NBA instituted the 3-point shot just in time for Pistol Pete's last season in the league. He had always been famous for his long-range shooting, and his final year provided an official statistical gauge of his abilities. Between his limited playing time in Utah and Boston, he made 10 of 15 3-point shots, giving him a career 67% completion rate behind the arc.
After his injuries forced him to leave basketball in the fall of 1980, Maravich became a recluse for two years. Through it all, Maravich said he was searching "for life." He tried the practices of yoga and Hinduism, read Trappist monk Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain and took an interest in the field of ufology, the study of unidentified flying objects. He also explored vegetarianism and macrobiotics. Eventually, he embraced evangelicalChristianity. A few years before his death, Maravich said, "I want to be remembered as a Christian, a person that serves Him [Jesus] to the utmost, not as a basketball player."
On January 5, 1988, Maravich collapsed and died at age 40 of heart failure while playing in a pickup basketball game in the gym at a church in Pasadena, California, with a group that included James Dobson. Maravich had flown out from his home in Louisiana to tape a segment for Dobson's radio show that aired later that day. Dobson has said that Maravich's last words, less than a minute before he died, were "I feel great." An autopsy revealed the cause of death to be a rare congenital defect; he had been born with a missing left coronary artery, a vessel which supplies blood to the muscle fibers of the heart. His right coronary artery was grossly enlarged and had been compensating for the defect.
Maravich was survived by his wife, Jackie, and his two sons Jaeson, who was 8 years old, and Josh, aged 5. Only the previous year, Maravich had taken Jaeson to the 1987 NBA All-Star Game in Seattle, Washington, and introduced him to Michael Jordan.
Since Maravich's children were very young when he died, Jackie Maravich initially shielded them from unwanted media attention, not even allowing Jaeson and Josh to attend their father's funeral. However, a proclivity to basketball seemed to be an inherited trait. During a 2003 interview, Jaeson told USA Today that, when he was still only a toddler, "My dad passed me a (Nerf) basketball, and I've been hooked ever since... . My dad said I shot and missed, and I got mad and I kept shooting. He said his dad told him he did the same thing."
Despite some setbacks coping with their father's death and without the benefit his tutelage might have provided, each eventually was inspired to play high school and collegiate basketball—Josh at his father's alma mater, LSU.
On June 27, 2014, GovernorBobby Jindal proposed that LSU erect a statue of Maravich outside the Assembly Center which already bears the basketball star's name. Former coach Dale Brown opposes such a monument, but Maravich’s widow, Jackie McLachlan, said that she had been promised a statue after the passing of her husband. McLachlan said that she has noticed how fans struggle to get the Maravich name on the Assembly Center into a camera frame.
Maravich's untimely death and mystique have made memorabilia associated with him among the most highly prized of any basketball collectibles. Game-used Maravich jerseys bring more money at auction than similar items from anybody other than George Mikan, with the most common items selling for $10,000 and up and a game-used LSU jersey selling for $94,300 in a 2001 Grey Flannel auction. The signed game ball from his career-high 68 point night on February 25, 1977, sold for $131,450 in a 2009 Heritage auction.
In 1987, roughly a year before his death, Maravich co-authored an autobiography titled Heir to a Dream that devoted much focus to his life after retirement from basketball and his later devotion to Christianity.
In 1996, he was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History by a panel made up of NBA historians, players, and coaches. He was the only deceased player on the list. At the 1997 All-Star Game in Cleveland, he was represented by his two sons at halftime.
Five-time NBA All-Star (1973, 1974, 1977, 1978, 1979)
Led the league in scoring (31.1 ppg) in 1977, his career best
Scored a career-high 68 points against the New York Knicks on Feb. 25, 1977
#7 jersey retired by the Utah Jazz (1985)
#7 jersey retired by the Superdome (1988)
NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team (1996)
#7 jersey retired by the New Orleans Hornets (2002), even though he never played for them—one of only four players to have a number retired by a team they did not play for; Maravich did play professionally for the New Orleans Jazz, however, and has remained a greatly admired figure amongst New Orleans sports fans ever since.
Second pair of teammates in NBA history to score 2,000 or more points in a season: 2, Atlanta Hawks (1972–73)
Maravich: 2,063 Lou Hudson: 2,029
Third pair of teammates in NBA history to score 40 or more points in the same game: New Orleans Jazz vs. Denver Nuggets, 000000001977-04-10-0000April 10, 1977
Maravich: 45 Nate Williams: 41 David Thompson of the Denver Nuggets also scored 40 points in this game.
Ranks 4th in NBA history – Free throws made, none missed, game: 18–18, Pete Maravich, Atlanta Hawks vs. Buffalo Braves, 000000001973-11-28-0000November 28, 1973
Ranks 5th in NBA history – Free throws made, game: 23, Pete Maravich, New Orleans Jazz vs. New York Knicks, 000000001975-10-26-0000October 26, 1975 (2 OT)