Pistol Pete: Just a Simple Man with Simple Ideals, 1974

[While working on a recent post about Pete Maravich and his trade to New Orleans, I happened upon this little-known Pistol interview that ran on August 14, 1974 in the Fort Myers (Fla.) News-Press, or shortly after he was shipped out of Atlanta. Maravich was in the Florida beach community of Rotonda, south of Sarasota, to participate in the made-for-television Superstars competition, which aired on ABC for much of the 1970s through the mid-1980s. (Maravich, though nursing a hamstring pull and limited to the least physically taxing events, beat John Havlicek in the bowling competition.)

What makes the interview blog-worthy all these years later is just how candid the Pistol was with journalist Ken Picking, who must have had quite a gift for gab to draw out Maravich. Want to know how the Pistol felt about the 1974 trade, the NBA, and professional sports, read the words of this “simple man with simple ideals.”]

An innovative millionaire is held captive in a glasshouse, custom-made for an assault by the envious armed with lies, insults, and criticism. By occupation and choice, he has been placed there. But as each stone is hurled, a little more of the thrill is shattered. 

Negativism has soured Pete Maravich. 

It has changed a light-hearted, trusting body into a man full of skepticism and doubt. “Pistol” still dribbles the basketball with the same dexterity, and his socks still droop to the shoelaces, but for a different cause. What was once his love is now simply his business. 

There is just a touch of big-time in Maravich, amazing considering seven years of fame and four years of riches. He wears a gleaming gold medallion from Caesars Palace in Las Vegas around his skinny neck and sports a huge ring inscribed “Pistol” on his bony finger. Still, contrary to his buildup, Maravich is a simple man with simple ideals from Aliquippa, Pa. He is a 26-year-old millionaire bachelor, but without a speck of Namath, Frazier, or Revson in him.  

“Since I turned pro four years ago, I’ve learned a lot about people,” said Maravich, who was a part-time participant in Rotonda’s Superstars competition due to a hamstring muscle pull sustained at one of his basketball camps. “There is so much negativism today. I’m trying to get away from it all. I don’t worry about yesterday or tomorrow. Just today. If all there is to talk about is negative things, I won’t talk.”

There are many underlying reasons for Maravich’s attitude, and he won’t talk about them. They are all negative. The “Pistol,” despite being one of the National Basketball Association’s most-prolific scorers the past two seasons, has been charged time and again of being the infection that has made the Atlanta Hawks a sick basketball franchise. He has been called selfish, a player who fails to conform for the good of the team. It has been written many times, “The Atlanta Hawks will never win with Pete Maravich.” Late last season, Pete had a blow up with coach Cotton Fitzsimmons. 

And in the offseason, Maravich was traded to the NBA’s expansion franchise, the New Orleans Jazz. The trade did not upset Pete, he just says, “My business has taken me to New Orleans.”

“Basketball isn’t fun for me anymore,” said Maravich, who set the college basketball world on fire from 1968-70 at Louisiana State University, where he led the nation in scoring three straight years. “When you are with the winning team, basketball is fun. But when you’re not, it is just your business. I don’t think I’ll ever be with a winning basketball team, and I will always be blamed for it not being one.”

Maravich knocking ’em out of the park in the 1974 Superstars competition.

This is what eats at Maravich’s brain. “Pistol” basketball is different, he calls it “futuristic.” “People call me a hot dog for dribbling between my legs or passing behind my back,” he said. “But the way basketball is changing, by 1990 any player who doesn’t do that will be a hot dog. The old chest pass will soon be obsolete. 

“I’m not a loser. I’ve always been a winner,” he said firmly. “People only write and say what they want about me. I have had more assists in my first four years in the NBA than either Havlicek or West did, but you won’t hear that. My style of ball is made for team ball. But no one wants to believe that. If I was with the Knicks or Celtics, they’d win championships because they have a winning team. I’ve never been on a team like that before. One person doesn’t keep a team from being a winner, yet all I hear is that I’m the reason for the Hawks not doing well.”

He straightened up in his chair and shifted his dark glasses. He caught himself getting a little negative and that ignited “Pistol’s Theory on Negativism.”

“I can’t handle the negativism of today,” he says. “I don’t read the paper anymore, and I used to read it from front to back. All the good things are in the back, and all the bad things are on the front. 

“And in my case, a reporter comes looking for me to find something bad,” he said. “They don’t come at Pete Maravich for a positive story, they want something negative. I can’t see a reporter, who has never had sweat on his brow from playing basketball, criticizing me. Some reporters have only one goal: to knock professional athletes. And it should be just the opposite. I’ve been run down enough to know.”

Maravich’s desire to become an NBA player started at a pure age, 12 years old. “When I was 12, I met Hal Greer (guard for the Philadelphia 76ers) and told him I’d be guarding him in 10 years,” Pete said. “In my rookie season, Hal came up to me and said, ‘Well, Pistol, you did it.’”

From high school, Maravich vaulted into the national spotlight at LSU along with his father and coach, Press Maravich. Pistol astounded the country with his offensive feats, such as scoring 63 points in one game and leading both teams in assists. Each year, he shattered his own national scoring record. 

“I only went to college to get to the NBA,” Maravich said. “I never graduated. I went to LSU to play basketball. I knew I was going to be a pro basketball player, and I didn’t feel a college education was that much for me. For guys who want to be doctors or lawyers, college is fine, but not for me. I know a guy who has a Ph.D., and he is tending bar for $1,000 a week. I just want to play ball.”

And after finishing his four-year stay at LSU, Pete realized his dream when the Hawks drafted him in the first round. But his four years were full of physical and mental frustration. Many said the Hawks had too many stars in Maravich, center Walt Bellamy, and forward Lou Hudson. 

“Since being in the pros, my attitude toward people has changed, but not my personal attitude,” he said. “I’m still the same guy I always was, but I’m skeptical of others. I’ve been stabbed in the back and lied to so many times it has been unbelievable. I’ve seen this cutthroat and flesh-swapping business as it is.”

Maravich realizes where he stands. He understands that he is in the public eye and must accept the request of autographs and interviews. It is part of the business, as he would say. But then there is a private side, a part of life Pete seldom gets a chance to experience. 

“I want to Clearwater for a few days to relax,” he said. “I checked in at the Holiday Inn, and they immediately asked if they could let it be known I was there. I said, ‘I guess it would be OK.’ They had it on their marquee out front and suddenly I had to stay in my room for three days to relax.

“People have come up to me while I’m eating and ask for autographs, and one reporter even busted in on me while I was on the toilet for an interview,” he said. “That sounds funny, but really, I tell them if they will just wait a few minutes, I’ll do what they ask, but they expect immediate action then are insulted if you don’t attend to them right away. There are a few times in a man’s life that are private. Like eating and going to the bathroom. People don’t understand that and call you a hot dog or cocky or a bum. That’s what gripes me.”

Then Maravich hears the standard reply, ”You make so much money, you should be able to handle it.” Maravich signed his rookie contract with the Hawks for a reported $1.9 million over five years. But he scoffs the remark off. 

“Hell, they are just envious and resent me making more than they do in what they term a game,” he said. “Basketball is an 11-month job for me, and that one month isn’t much of a vacation. It takes years and years of work to get to the NBA and make the money they are talking about. But they don’t realize that. In the ‘40s and ‘50s, people gave actors like Gable and the rest flack for making all the money. Now, people give pro athletes hell for it. The world is built on jealousy and envy.”

“Pistol” was almost talked out. He admitted to being basically a quiet guy who doesn’t care for the loud bachelor life many people put him in. “I don’t go out much,” he simply said. Only Pete Maravich knows about Pete Maravich’s private life. “If I don’t keep that to myself, what else do I have.”

“Pistol” Pete Maravich is open, honest, and cheerful. He wants to be a simple human being. Complexity is not his bag. Negativism has soured him; human nature may curdle him.

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