Friday, February 09, 2007

Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich

This is a new biography of Pete Maravich that just came out last week.

Basketball is a team sport, but Maravich was the consumate individual player. He was the greatest one-on-five player ever. In one way, that's faint praise, but what he could do with a basketball and how he could score was astonishing. He averaged 44 points a game in college--for three years. Without a three-point line.

If you have no idea about what Pete Maravich could do on a basketball court, head over to YouTube and prepare to be amazed. As an example, I've only seen one person throw a behind-the-back-between-the-legs pass. Pete, obviously. I didn't even think it was possible. And in every one of those YouTube clips, you'll see things that are absolutely jaw-dropping.

One of Maravich's most famous games (there were many) came against Georgia at the end of his junior year in 1969. Pete scored 24 of LSU's last 29 points in regulation and brought the Tigers back from a 15-point deficit. The game went to double overtime and Maravich wound up with 58 points. At the end of the game, the fans stormed out of the stands and carried him off the court.

The GEORGIA fans. It was a road game for LSU.

There are all kinds of uncomfortable questions that you have to consider when you're thinking about Pete Maravich--most notably, his father and the issue of race in the South in the 1960's--but there is no question at all that he was a legend.

And there's certainly a connection between Press Maravich (his father) and Emperor Qin Shi Huangi (the terracotta army): it reminds us of the single-minded, obsessive behavior that can produce remarkable results--but at a terrible cost. Qin Shi Huangi's obsession was to create an army to protect him in the afterlife, and his tomb (which took 700,000 workers 38 years to complete) was an example of his both incredibly single-minded and self-serving behavior.

Press might have been one of the single worst examples of a "Little League father" in history, and his obsession produced a basketball machine. Pete, though, was rarely happy in spite of his great ability. I don't absolutely know this to be true, but I'm guessing that obsession rarely has a happy ending. And for every father who's obsessive and single-minded and their sons become wonders, there are a thousand fathers or more who try to do the same thing and destroy their sons in the process.

This is a very interesting read, and it's not sugar-coated. It's compelling and sometimes thrilling and often disturbing. If you're a sports fan, it's an excellent read, and even if you're not, it's a cautionary tale about fathers and their sons.

Here's the Amazon link if you're interested. And if you get a chance, definitely go over to YouTube--the videos are stunning.

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