Pistol Pete (English)
The history of basketball is divided into different eras, just like the history of humanity. Among these, the Celtics-Lakers rivalry, which starts with Wilt Chamberlain — Bill Russel tussle and tops with Larry Bird — Magic Johnson clash, always comes first. Even though this historical rivalry went through some mutation through the years, it never stopped reflecting the opposition between Lakers’ mischievous show off style and Boston’s canonically stiff playing approach. I myself, grew up watching the Jordan period. Here I am talking about the years in which he dominated the game in every aspect and turned the game into an industry. And I can also proudly say that I found the opportunity to meet him in person, who had always been at the top of my ‘celebrities to meet’ list. I shook his hands and had a few words with him when I took part in his basketball camp. In fact, I could have won his shoes as a reward if only I made 2 out of 2 free throws when he passed me the ball, but naturally, I got too nervous.
When the age of Jordan ended, the years of candidates that were hoped to be the next Jordan had begun. It was followed by the era of the Spurs, where they exerted their domination over basketball with their system and teamwork. Today by means of internet and media, we can easily take a look back at the old days of basketball. This gives us the opportunity to get to know the heroes of the past from the archives and learn their stories.
In one of those stories I’ve witnessed, there was this guy looking up to see Wilt Chamberlain, who had scored the most points in a single game and therefore, caused a modification in the rulebook. Wilt was spreading fear to everyone with his gigantic size. The person that was looking up to face this giant was called Pete Maravich and he wasn’t showing any sign of intimidation. Nevertheless, he couldn’t keep himself from asking the question that was in the minds of everybody those days: “Could you just raise your arms for once? I want to see how tall they are.”
Wilt got really mad at this question and decided to put this pint-sized rookie at his place, which was not the basketball court, obviously. He must have thought that it was going to be really easy after seeing Pete’s first shot going beneath the backboard. But what he couldn’t foresee was, from then on, every shot Pete takes was about to skim his fingertips and go through.
Pete’s father Press and his training methods were undoubtedly one of the most important factors on how Pete Maravich’s basketball became so fascinating, entertaining and ahead of its time. The most featured thing in books about Pete was always how detail-orientated his dad was and how he trained him starting from childhood. But what actually drew my attention about Pete was; how his moves, ball control, dribbling, passes, shoots, and even his sprint style were like a novel, a book just being written at the time.
The reason behind Pete spending more time in the court than anyone during his college times at LSU was not only that his father Press Maravich was the coach of the team. He was also one of the most talented players that had come into the 60’s college basketball. He had become the most scorer player of the college basketball history and had broken records that would not ever be broken afterwards.
The first thing to say about Pistol is that he was a player ahead of his time by all means. Today, while we are enviously admiring Stephen Curry’s ball control, I am curious to know what kind of reactions he would have drawn in social media through the way he controls the ball as if it were a limb of his. Him passing the ball like a yo-yo toy, jumping and faking two or three times before shooting, and passing the ball like a bullet where you think it’s impossible to get through, wouldn’t have been received any differently in today’s basketball. His mind blowing shots, passes and moves he made while dribbling… They all seemed like a coincidence but in fact they were very well instinctive and natural for him.
There have been some players I look at as role models. I know no one would be surprised if I put Michael Jordan on top of that list. But the difference Pistol Pete made in his time, positioning himself apart from the others in a match and holding onto basketball and achieving success by never giving up and constantly trying, makes him a truly valuable model for me. In terms of characteristics, we might be different but Pistol was a player who liked winning and thus making a great effort. At first, I was a fan of Michael Jordan and Jason Williams, whom I had watched over and over again. But then I watch this guy who had done all those things 20–30 years before and that inspired a totally different admiration in me.
After college, Pete played for 10 years in NBA but towards the end of his career, because of the injuries, he just wasn’t the same player anymore. He still kept on showing his unique moves and stirring the audience but injuries, mostly the ones on his knees, restrained him from achieving the spot he could have, in his career. This also was probably the reason why he never added team rewards next to his personal achievements.
When retiring from basketball at the age of 33, he was leaving behind; a number of unbreakable records, a unique ability to score and a distinct excitement among the supporters. But he had two more legacies; LSU and New Orleans Jazz had both achieved a serious amount of average attendance during his time and that led building up new basketball arenas. Today, both those two temples of sport are referred to as ‘The House that Pistol Built’.
In his remaining days, he tried to hold onto his family and to sports while searching for new tastes other than alcohol, which had seriously affected him. At the age of 40, while doing his favorite thing; playing basketball on a street, he lost the battle of living to a cardiac valve failure. His heart had troubled him his whole life. He died in the hospital. The saddest part of that story was the words he said almost a minute before leaving this world: “I feel very good.”