Pete Maravich and Some Wild Fruit Salad

After a frustrating October 1970, Pete Maravich struggled into November. So did his Atlanta Hawks. As the Philadelphia Daily News’ Jack Kiser quipped in early November about the wayward Hawks and their loud new uniforms:

They’re dressed up like some wild fruit salad, but don’t let the uniform fool you. The Atlanta Hawks are more swat than swish. 

Behind the gaudy garb of plum and lime and honeydew is hidden the most physical team in the NBA. Walt Bellamy, Bill Bridges, and Jim Davis give you a 710-pound frontline. And Lou Hudson, Walt Hazzard, and Pete Maravich have height and weight advantages over any guard corps around. 

Very muscular men, all. Unfortunately for Atlanta, some of the muscle resides between the ears. (Kiser J, 76ers Outsmart Erring Hawks, Philadelphia Daily News, November 7, 1970)

After the game, Maravich held forth with the press like the NBA equivalent of a young rock star, venting his frustration with the first month of the season and refusing to accept a gratuitous compliment. 

“I didn’t do anything,” he rebuffed a reporter. “What’d I do? I’m not trying to blow smoke, but I’m just not playing good basketball . . . The transition bit has been blown up out of proportion. . . I was loose out there. I wish I’d been tight. I wouldn’t have been falling all over my feet out there.

“But I’m not the type ballplayer I was in college,” he continued. “Now I’m just playing 26 minutes a game with a bunch of great shooters. Why should I work my ass off for the good shot when I can just throw it over to Lou [Hudson] or someone like that.”

“How about the criticism?” a reporter asked.

“No, man, that doesn’t bother me .  . . (Heisler M, Cunningham’s 38 Leads 76ers to 118-112 Victory Over Hawks, Philadelphia Inquirer, November 7, 1970; Cafone P, The Ambition of Pistol Pete is ‘Something,’ Camden Post-Courier, November 7, 1970)

Maravich and the Hawks trundled onward, eventually hitting the NBA road. Buffalo. Boston. Los Angeles. Portland. That’s when Maravich finally found his first glimmers of inner peace. Or, as he said, “I climbed over the hill out of the valley of disgust.” It happened when Coach Richie Guerin pulled Maravich from a game for a rest. Satisfied with The Pistol’s performance, Guerin reached over and patted him on the head with approval. “And that did it,” Maravich said. “It really meant everything in the world to me.” (Cunningham G, ‘Richie, Has Handled Me Just Right,’ Says Pete, Atlanta Constitution, November 30, 1970)

In the days that followed, Kiser and his fellow NBA beat reporters took note of the improved play of the Hawks and their flashy rookie. Here’s Kiser’s revised take on Maravich and his team during the Philadelphia 76ers’ visit to Atlanta in late November:

Pete Maravich, he of the flopping socks and flopping hair and flipping arm, finally has joined the Atlanta Hawks. And the Atlanta Hawks have joined the National Basketball Association’s chase. 

The poor little rich boy from LSU, a complete bust as a pro player for his first 10-12 games, all of a sudden has become a valuable part of the Hawks’ offense and both are prospering. He poured in 27 of his 32  Points in the last half here last night as Atlanta raced away from the ailing 76ers, 125-1:15, and he did it the way a true pro should. Teaming up with Walt Hazzard and Lou Hudson in the fastest break this side of Joe Caldwell, he was the key factor in a third quarter sprint that left the 76ers gasping for breath . . .

The grumbles and gripes and cold shoulders are gone. Everybody is slapping palms and backs and butts, and even Maravich is grinning once in a while.

“It takes time for things to happen,” explained Hazzard, who wound up with 28 points and eight assists while working as a perfect mate for Maravich. “You don’t just go out there and have everything fall into place. You’ve got to get used to one another. And some players have to mature.”

Hazzard didn’t spell out any names, but the message was obvious. “I think I’ve grown up some,” Maravich said softly. “I am learning what you can do and what you should do in certain situations. That’s part of it, and the fact that my shots have started falling is part of it.”

Maravich, making $400,000 or more a year, was shooting a chilling 32 percent six games ago. Since then, he has brought his percentage up to 14.2 and has popped in 32, 23, and 32 points in his last three games . . .

The fans accepted Maravich long before his teammates did. And last night, they gave him three standing ovations in addition to all those Rebel yells they gave the team during every break in the action.  

“I think,” Guerin said with a look to the heavens, “we have things falling into place. We needed Pete, and he needed us.” (Kiser J, Hawks Run, Gun in Romp, Philadelphia Daily News, November 23, 1970)

But Guerin’s relationship with Maravich remained fragile. For example, late in the evening of November 23, the Hawks rolled into New York for back-to-back games against the Knicks. Dick Young, the noted columnist with the New York Daily News, was lurking somewhere and went to press with this vivid account of the conversation:

Richie Guerin walked into the lobby of the City Squire Inn the night before the Knick game and spotted Pete Maravich. It was 11:00 o’clock, and there was still time. 

“Let’s go in and have a beer,” said Richie Guerin.

The coach of the Atlanta Hawks and the problem star walked into the softly-lighted room and chose a table in the back, away from the crowd. They talked about how cold it was getting, gave their order to the pert waitress in the jockey costume, and talked about the Knicks. Richie Guerin told him he’d be playing Walt Frazier. The kid nodded. “Good,” he said, and he said to himself, that’s not why we’re sitting here. 

“I want you to understand what I’m trying to do with you,” said Richie Guerin.

Ah, here it comes, Pete Maravich said to himself. 

Richie Guerin spoke of the coach-player relationship, the coach-star relationship, the coach-morale relationship, and the difference between college and pro basketball in all these things. Pete Maravich listened, intently at times, absently at times. His large eyes looked out from under the dirty-blond bangs and focused on the back of the coach’s collar, where curly black hair hung full. He drifted down to the brass buttons on the coach’s dark-blue, double-breasted blazer and to the trousers, the plaid trousers that clung skin-tight at the thighs, and flared at the bottom. He looks sincere, Pete Maravich said to himself. He sounds sincere. I think I can tell him. 

“I hated you the other night,” Pete Maravich heard himself saying aloud. “I went home and punched a hole in the wall. That’s how much I hated you. But I’m starting to understand. I think I realize what you’re trying to do for me.” (Young D, Young Ideas, Cincinnati Enquirer, November 29, 1970)

The next night, Maravich awoke for 40 points against the Knicks, netting 18 in the fourth quarter and digging the Hawks out of a 20-point hole to lose a close one. The following night, with 19,500 Pistol-curious ready to rock Madison Square Garden, Maravich shot blanks in tallying just nine points. And so it went. In the final Maravich rookie post, I’ll run a profile of the Pistol, which appeared in Sport Magazine in March 1971. It captures well the ups and downs of the remainder of Pistol Pete’s rookie campaign.

One thought on “Pete Maravich and Some Wild Fruit Salad

  1. Thanks for informing the younger generation what pressures Pete faced as a highly paid rookie back in 1970-71


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