Vidakovich column: Pistol Pete’s last shot
When he walked into the gymnasium of the First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena, California on Jan. 5, 1988, Pete Maravich confessed to the pickup basketball crowd that had gathered for some morning games that he hadn’t played in months and that his game contained more rust than an antique store.
Maravich was in town to tape a Christian radio show for the Focus on the Family Ministry and all the players who had dropped by that morning — including former UCLA great Ralph Drollinger — were just happy to be on the hardwood with the legendary college and NBA star. They could have cared less that “Pistol Pete” was well past his prime.
The last shot that Maravich dropped through the hoop that day turned out to be the last shot he would ever make. During a college career at Louisiana State University, Pete scored baskets at will, amassing a three-year scoring average of 44.2 points per game. Maravich is still the leading scorer in college basketball history and he went on to lead the NBA in scoring one season, and was named to the professional league’s all-star team multiple times.
Following a serious knee injury that cut short his brilliant career, Maravich had struggled mightily to find a purpose in his post-basketball life. After losing his father to prostate cancer, and a desperate personal search that took him through depression and a battle with alcoholism, Maravich arrived at Christianity.
Immersing himself in the solace of religion, he had become a popular speaker for church groups and religious gatherings throughout the country.
On his last morning of life, with a basketball in his hand, Pistol Pete dribbled to the left side of the key, and as he had done countless times from the days of growing up in the steel city of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, to having the basketball arena named in his honor at LSU, Maravich lofted a soft shot off the glass for a score.
In one moment Pete was joking with the church group that he hadn’t even meant to bank the shot, and then seconds later Maravich fell to the floor and would never get up. At the age of 40, congenital heart failure had taken the life of one of basketball’s all-time greats.
When early January rolls around each year, I think of the night I walked into my parent’s home and before I could even get completely through the front door, my dad told me that Pistol Pete had passed away. I had just come home from coaching my junior varsity basketball team at Glenwood High School.
Growing up, I idolized Pistol Pete Maravich. I ate, slept and drank basketball, and I watched Maravich turn the game into theater. He was indeed a magician on the basketball court and I tried, without much success, to pattern my game around the example that he set.
Though I know it is just misguided stubbornness toward one boy’s hero in life, I will continue to insist that Maravich was the greatest to ever play the game of basketball. It is safe to say, though, that he was easily among the most entertaining players that ever laced up the sneakers. His behind the back passes and between the legs dribbles were emulated on playground courts everywhere that young hopefuls dreamed of someday having the same showtime repertoire as Maravich.
It’s only fitting that in the end, Pistol Pete took his last breath on a basketball court in a church. They were the two sanctuaries where he felt most at peace.
Mike Vidakovich grew up in Glenwood Springs where he coaches youth basketball and writes freelance for the Post Independent.
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