As a kid, my buddy Rich Lederer loved Pete Maravich and Joe Willie Namath. They were his idols. In fact, he loved Namath so much he named his first son after him. There was something exceptional, something extra about both Pistol Pete and Broadway Joe (Mark Kreigel has written biographies of both of them). Come to think of it, Rich worshipped Nolan Ryan too.
So, here’s Maravich at his best:
Pistol Pete. For those who measure the passage of time in pop culture images, it may be difficult to realize that Pete Maravich of the flappy hair and the floppy socks and the outrageous shots and passes and turnovers and point totals; he of the childlike abandon and imagination and sheer, fundamental joy in the game; he who made basketball so much fun for so many of us, is 30 years old. And it ain’t no fun anymore.
If Pete Maravich is not the unique athlete of his time, he is close, and certainly he is one of the more misunderstood and controversial. His teammate on the New Orleans Jazz, Rich Kelley, calls him “an American phenomenon, a stepchild of the human imagination.” More simply, Maravich has always seemed to be misplaced: an individualist in a team environment; a perfectionist but not a purist; the white boy in the (now 75%) black man’s game; the people’s choice who feels that the people are against him.
Above everything else, Maravich has been an entertainer, the one-and-only, the star, a man who long ago chose style over substance as the best way to go. Cary Grant was like this and, more recently, Burt Reynolds, who made a few magazine covers himself. In another realm, Edward, Duke of Windsor, made a career out of style. Would the Duke have been able to rule? Can Cary and Burt act? Does anybody care?
The essence—and curse—of Pete Maravich is that he always has known the answers; too often he has shown that he knows. Honestly now, does it matter what team Pete Maravich plays for, or for that matter whether it wins or loses? Just so he performs. Just so he does another gig. Just so Pistol Pete shakes and bakes and makes the others quake. Just so the Pistol does it.