California Literary Review

An Interview With “Pistol Pete” Maravich Biographer Mark Kriegel

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June 13th, 2007 at 4:33 pm

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Mark Kriegel

Mark Kriegel discusses his new book Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich

It seems impossible to separate Pete Maravich’s life from that of his father, Press. Tell us about Press’s life and his relationship to his son.
Press grew up in Aliquippa, Pa., next to the Jones & Laughlin steel mill. The fire from the Bessemer furnaces made it difficult to tell day from night. Press was not exactly the most-likely-to-succeed type. He was warehoused in what today would be called a special-ed class. He was told that his best hope would be to one day walk through the dark tunnel that led into the mill.
But in 1929, a missionary (really, now, a novelist couldn’t make it up this perfectly) gave him a basketball. His whole life changed as a result. The game brought out his considerable physical prowess, also his charisma. The glum-faced kid from the “Special Opportunity” class became the town hero.
From that point, Press associates basketball with salvation. It is this confusion that informs the story of both father and son.
The game becomes Press’s God. He gave everything he had to basketball – including his son.
Pete is an expression of his father’s vanity, ambition, his genius and his excesses.
Usually a player adopts an unorthodox style because he never had the opportunity to learn proper techniques. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with Pete whose father was a basketball coach. How did Pete develop his unique style?
Press developed about 40 or so “Homework Basketball” exercises for his son. Most of them were dexterity drills to be performed with the ball. He would have Pete perform these routines – Showtime, they called it – blindfolded or with gloves to impair his touch. He even had Pete dribble from a moving car.
But most important was Pete’s natural genius – what Press would call “basketball genes.” One of the components of genius, I would argue, is an unnaturally high tolerance for practice. Pete could stay on the court longer than other kids. Much longer. The spectacular style you see on the old highlight reels isn’t just talent; it’s also a result of repetition, relentlessly hard work.
How was Pete treated by the players and coaches upon his entry into NBA?
The coach, Richie Guerin, tried his best to make Pete’s transition a harmonious one. There was, however, a limit to what the guy could do.
Pete was a rich, white rookie playing on a predominantly black team of underpaid veterans. There was a natural jealousy problem. But there was a basketball problem, too. The Hawks were a good squad whose players preferred a deliberate style. They liked to walk the ball up the floor. Pete, on the other hand, needed to run.
None of this was made any easier by the fact that they were playing in Atlanta, a college football town in the Deep South.
While reading your book I kept thinking of parallels to Eric Lindros, the hockey player currently with the Dallas Stars. They both often played as if they carried the weight of the world on their shoulders. Both reportedly grew up with domineering fathers. Their pro careers never consistently lived up to the hype and were interrupted with frequent injuries and illnesses. Is this a recurring story in sports? Are we starting to understand the negative effects that overwhelming pressure can have on athletes?
I don’t know if we are becoming more sensitive to this kind of pressure. It’s natural for fathers to look upon sons as extensions of themselves. That’s why every so often you get a Pete Maravich or a Todd Marinovich or an Eric Lindros or a Jimmy Piersall. And as women’s sports continue to grow, I think you’ll see more daughters go though what those guys endured.
Pete’s mother was a severely depressed woman whose life ended in suicide. Did you come away with any opinions on the degree to which Pete’s demons may have been genetic?
They very well may have been. Perhaps the combination of the right psychiatrist with the correct drugs could have provided some relief. Then again, Pete did achieve some real peace when he found God after his career was over. As one of his former teammates told me: “Whatever gets you through to the other side.”
How and when did Pete die and what has happened to his family since his death?
There are two artery systems that feed the heart. Pete was born without one of them. Most people born like this don’t live past 20. Pete was 40 when he dropped dead while playing a pickup game in a church in Pasadena.
It’s been tough for the family. Living in Louisiana, his two sons have had to grow up with a kind of ghost.
The affection people feel for Pete Maravich seems only to have grown long after his playing days. How do you explain that?
People who saw him play don’t forget. Kids who’ve heard about him want to know more.
There’s something about the things he could do with a basketball that continues to resonate with basketball fans. It cuts across generations. I mean, check out the clips on You Tube. Just look at the guy.
  • chuck

    I saw him play all 3 years at LSU.
    totally unreal with the ball in his hands. nobody like him.

  • Rick Penrod

    Mark-
    What a truly amazing book on Pistol Pete. I just loved the book and have read it twice and am on the third go around. Alot of new information about Pete that are not in past books on him. I have several pictures taken with Pete in and out of his Jazz uniform. If you would like a picture I can mail it to you. They were taken between 1976-1979. Again, great book- compliments to you!
    Rick Penrod
    Columbus, Ohio

  • http://www.google.com Joshua Ross

    I have alot of respect for pete because ever since i read the story i was amazed by what he lived his life.

  • Donn Johnson

    Mr. Kriegel,

    Thanks for the hard work you put into the writing the book. It was a very emotional read for me personally. The guy really carried a burden and, in the end, deserved more respect.

    Is there any way to purchase a copy of the photo you had in the book showing Mr. Maravich sitting in front of his locker after his final loss to Kentucky? This is a very powerful photo. I would like to obtain an enlarged copy for framing if at all possible.

    Thank you and God bless you.

    Sincerely,

    Donn Johnson

  • Russ Stokes

    I just finished reading the book. When I was younger I was a bit of a basketball nut and remembered when the sports news started to talk about a skinny kid that was scoring 44 pts a game. I had the opportunity to see a game between New Orleans and the Baltimore Bullets. I was totally amazed at what the “Pistol” could do. Too bad he never went to the ABA, I think he would have averaged 50 pts a game and the fans would have loved him and his skills would not have been suppressed by “old school coaches”.

    Something else that struck me while reading the book is the similarity between Pete having found peace by turning to God, like Eric Clapton tells in his autobiography. Must be something to it.

    Sincerely,

    Russ Stokes

  • JImmy Weiler

    Phenom! The Player, The Book & Finally, Pete the person!

  • Alan

    Pete Maravich was the greatest college basketball player that ever lived. His career scoring record which has lasted almost 40 years, will never be broken. Why? If a college player today played 30 games a year, scored 30 points and game and played all four years (which won’t happen since they will turn pro), the player will still be 67 points short.

    And in my mind that player would also have an (*) since there was no three point line when Pete played and video show at least another 400 points could have easily been added with the existance of a 3 point line.

    While he never won a championship, in the end Pete found God and inner peace, which was greater than any trophy.

  • michael keating

    Sorry to see college ball has changed,it seems every player now takes the ball in for a layup and try`s for a fowl! What has happened to passing to a teamate or shooting from the outside it is a boring selfish game, carrying the ball or scooping to put it through their legs don`t they get it, dribbling the proper way gives you more freedom with the ball. Pete was a magician he could do it all and proved that it`s not a black game it`s a practice game till you drop game. Look at him shooting from everywhere ,changing his shot in mid air with lean back delay to fake his man out,bringing the ball behind his back layup and and changing in midair left to right hand impossible no, practice practice.If he played on a NY, Boston,LA team he would have been invincable.

  • Brian Lively

    What an amazing reveal of Press, Pete and the entire Maravich family. While I knew of Pete’s basketball exploits, I had no idea of all the background you brought forth. Your exquiste writing and detail told the incredible story with such imagery that I could hardly put the book down. You honored Pete’s memory with your own tremendously dedicated work. The heartfelt acknowledgments detailed the extent you went to in order to bring this story alive.
    While, there were many dark moments, I found myself waiting to cheer the next high point. The highest being Pete’s finding Christ and letting God use him in his final years. I pray that Jackie and the boys are at peace now, realizing that Pete is with his maker and that God has a plan for them too.
    I am going to share and recommend this book to my friends & family, not the least is my Men’s Group. Thank you for bringing it to us!

  • george c

    Pete Maravich was the greatest basketball player to ever play. What is greater than that however is that he found his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

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