Friday, October 24, 2014

A trip down memory lane with Pistol Pete

Yesterday, on the Sports Illustrated website, I spent an enjoyable time reading about my second sports hero, "Pistol" Pete Maravich.

I say "second" because as a young baseball player I was all about Yankee great, Mickey Mantle.

It was in high school that Pistol Pete captivated me.  His look, with the long hair and the floppy socks was just so cool and so much different than every other college or pro basketball player.

Think of all the great basketball players of the last 35 years or so - Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James.  None of these guys can compare with Pistol Pete.

Maravich is college basketball's all time leading scorer.  In three years he averaged almost 45 points a game (and this is without the three point line that basketball players enjoy today).  Anytime Maravich crossed the half-court line, he was in shooting range.  His ability to get off a shot at any place and at any angle on the court was amazing.

He was also maybe the greatest ball handler in the history of the game.  His teammates had to be ready at all times on the court because Maravich could pass the ball behind his back, through his legs, or without looking at the one he was passing to - it was just amazing.

His pro career was mostly frustrating.  He was saddled with expectations that no other player (with the exception of LeBron) had ever faced.  His teams usually didn't win and Maravich usually received the blame.  He was accused of hogging the ball, being selfish, only interested in scoring points and nothing else.

It was a sad day for me when Pistol Pete retired from the NBA.

Whenever his teams came to Phoenix I was sure to have a ticket to watch him play.

Once, when the New Orleans Jazz came to town, five of his teammates were hurt in an auto accident.  The Jazz played with only seven players that night.  Everyone thought the Suns would take down a short handed team.

Maravich played the entire game, scored 50 points (yes, that's 5-0, 50) and the Jazz beat the Suns.  It was so exciting to see my hero play such a fantastic game.

After his retirement, word came that Maravich had become a Christian.  He became quite vocal about trusting in Jesus for salvation and eternal life.  Maravich would go anywhere and speak to anyone about the difference Jesus had made in his life.

In fact, Maravich had gone to Southern California in January 1988 to make an appearance on the "Focus on the Family" radio program.  The host, Dr. James Dobson, had invited Maravich to join him and some others in a pick-up basketball game prior to going to the recording studio to tape the program.  And to their surprise, Maravich said "yes" to the invitation.

They had just finished a game when Dobson asked Maravich, "How are you feeling?"  Maravich responded, "I feel great!"  Moment later, Maravich fell in a heap onto the floor.  While one person performed CPR, another called 911 and the rest of the players began praying.  Maravich never regained consciousness.

Oh, by the way, on the day that Maravich died, he was wearing a t-shirt.  It said, "Looking unto Jesus" (from Hebrews, chapter 12).  One day I expect to meet Maravich - in heaven.  It's a wonderful thought -  to be looking unto Jesus with Pistol Pete Maravich, worshipping "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

Thanks for the memories, Pistol Pete!