On April 27, 1980, Pete Maravich scored four points for the Boston Celtics in a 105 to 94 loss against the Philadelphia 76ers. The loss proved to be Boston’s fourth in nine days to Philadelphia and cemented their ouster from the 1980 Eastern Conference Finals. Maravich’s season was over and it was easily the worst of his 10-year career averaging just 13.7 points a game. It soon became clear that more than Maravich’s season was finished. His career was also at an end. The Celtics didn’t re-sign Maravich for the following campaign and Pete was gone from the NBA for good.
10 years earlier in 1970, Maravich was welcomed to the NBA with the finest red carpet treatment.
“Pistol Pete” was drafted 3rd overall by the Atlanta Hawks. It was a wise move for the NBA’s only southern outpost to draft the supremely gifted guard from Louisiana State University. During his three varsity seasons as an LSU Tiger, Maravich had averaged 44 points per game. No one expected that kind of average in the NBA, but the Pistol quickly made himself comfortable in the pro league.
As a rookie in 1970-71, he averaged 23 points and 4.5 assists. In his sophomore season, he assumed greater ball-handling duties so his points dropped to 19 while his assists burgeoned to six per game. Then in the 1972-73 season both roles coalesced under Hawks coach Cotton Fitzsimmons who implored Maravich and his running mate Lou Hudson to work off one another with free-lance, jazz-like ease.
Pistol shot up to 26 points a game, and averaged a career-high 7 assists. Meanwhile Sweet Lou averaged 27 points creating one of the great scoring duos in NBA history. As Hudson lined up saccharine jumper after saccharine jumper, Maravich handled the basketball like a yo-yo on a string.
Pistol juked, faked, and fooled opponents night after night with his flamboyant dribbling. His passes were pure magic as the ball seemed to teleport through defenders to hit seemingly un-open men. His court vision was unsurpassed. His ability to weave in and out of defenses for fancy layups truly remarkable. His long-range jump shooting hadn’t deteriorated in the least bit since his collegiate days.
But for all of his talent and grace, Maravich’s greatest success on a team was with the Boston Celtics in 1980. In 1971 and 1972, the Hawks made the playoffs, but had done so with subpar 36-win seasons. The 1973 Hawks are the best club he played a significant role on winning 46 games. Nonetheless, they were bounced after one playoff round. Maravich wouldn’t see the postseason again until his short time with the Celtics in 1980. The rest of his career is marked by underwhelming records largely because of one fateful trade.
In May 1974, the newly-formed New Orleans Jazz traded two players, two first round picks (one used to take David Thompson), two second round picks (one used to take Alex English), and a third round pick all for Pete Maravich.
As great as Maravich was, that kind of trade is a death sentence to success. The Jazz as an expansion club had no reserve of talent to aid the newly-arrived Maravich. The draft was their only sure way to build a club in the days before unrestricted free agency and they had given away much of their draft picks. When the Jazz did sign a free agent, Gail Goodrich, they had to pay compensation to his old club, the Los Angeles Lakers. New Orleans forked over yet another first round pick (used to pick Magic Johnson) for the aging Goodrich who tore his Achilles after joining the Jazz.
Add to all of that chicanery the general ethos of Jazz ownership that the best way to put fans in the seats was for hometown favorite Maravich to score early, often, and always, and the team was headed for disaster.
During his five seasons in New Orleans, it is truly a testament to Maravich that the Jazz somehow had mediocre campaigns of 38, 35 and 39 wins sandwiched between horrific seasons of 23 and 26 wins. He was twice selected to the All-NBA 1st Team and in 1977 led the league in points per game. The New Orleans experiment had failed, though, and for the 1979-80 season they moved to Utah. That setup Pete’s departure for Boston and his ultimate departure from the NBA.
Despite the woeful way his career unfolded, Maravich is still fondly remembered for the way he entertained while on the court. Few players have ever played with the flair and style he exhibited. From the floppy hair and socks, to his cool-handed and slick passes, to a jersey that simply said “Pistol”, Maravich was one of a kind and a joyous pleasure to watch.
Years Played: 1970 – 1980
2x All-NBA 1st Team (1976-’77)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1973, 1978)
5x All-Star (1973-’74, 1977-’79)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1971)
NBA - 658 Games
24.2 PPG, 5.4 APG, 4.2 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 44.1% FG, 82.0% FT
PPG Leader (1977), MPG Leader (1977)
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1970-71 through 1979-80 season)
3rd Points, 6th PPG
4th FGs Made
4th FTs Made, 27th FT%
9th Assists, 12th APG
25th Steals, 26th SPG
22nd Games Played, 14th Minutes Played