By Mike Wise
Sunday, February 17, 2008
A couple of years ago, a New Orleans Hornets executive heard about two young men who wanted to see an NBA game. So Willis Reed, who knew the family a bit, did the proper thing: He left tickets for Josh and Jaeson Maravich.
Pistol Pete's boys, taking in a game with the Captain. That's about as historical as hoop gets down here, where the game teaches everyone an instant altruism: In Louisiana, black or white -- old or young -- once you have the bayou and basketball in common, few barriers remain.
"There was such a mystique around their father," Reed said yesterday of Maravich. "I so loved to watch him play. Wouldn't it be great to have a Maravich in our sport now? Those saggy socks. That hair. The showmanship."
The memory of Maravich is to be feted this All-Star Weekend on Sunday morning at the ninth annual NBA Legends brunch, where Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Reed and others will put their hands together for Jackie Maravich, her sons and the creative basketball genius who died suddenly of a heart defect more than two decades ago.
"I remember Pete tellin' me, 'When you die, people forget you,' " said Jackie Maravich, whom Pete widowed in 1988. "I mean, he's more alive today than ever. He kind of reminds me of Elvis Presley, the way people see him now. He had such an impact on and off the court."
Maravich now has been honored posthumously almost more than he was in his 40 years. If he had a supernova's burst of brilliance, his life story has an infinite quality to it. Mark Kriegel's rich 2007 biography, "Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich," now is out in paperback.
Josh, now 25, helps his mother run the company that still markets Pete's instructional videos to catalog companies and has operated a basketball camp for the past 24 years. Jaeson, 29, works as a personal trainer, of course specializing in basketball, at a high-end health club here.
Jackie still lives in the same 2 1/2 -story Victorian home she and her husband raised their two boys in 20-odd years ago in Covington, La., about 45 miles north of New Orleans.
The boys' last stint in the public eye came more than 11 years ago, when their father was named as one of the NBA's top 50 players of all time. In 1996, Pistol Pete was the only player on the team not alive. The boys were just 5 and 8 years old when Maravich passed away.
"To see and hear my kids talk about their dad, hear so many things from so many different people, it makes you proud," Jackie said. "You always think what could have been but that's not what God had planned."
With the NBA and its corporate partners descending on Pistol Pete's old playground this weekend, the spotlight has shone on not only the legend of Maravich, but also on a state's rich basketball treasures.
The bayou indeed takes its ball seriously. Shaquille O'Neal, Reed and Joe Dumars were named to the state's all-century college team -- make that the all-century second team.
Yes, not even a Louisiana State freak-of-nature phenomenon or two small-college legends -- who each won a pair of NBA championship rings -- could crack a starting five of Maravich, Bob Pettit, Robert Parish, Karl Malone and that Ragin' Cajun, Dwight "Bo" Lamar. The three-time all-American at Southwestern Louisiana averaged 31.2 points per game between 1969 and '73.
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. Calvin Natt. Andrew Toney. Bob Love. Larry Wright, the former Washington Bullet.
And then there are the kids who moved away, such as Antawn Jamison, the Wizards forward making his second all-star appearance in four years. Jamison was 13 when his father, a construction worker, moved the family from Shreveport, La., to Charlotte after Hurricane Hugo unfortunately created all kinds of building jobs in North Carolina.
"To come back after Katrina and fix up homes like we did yesterday, to see that kind of devastation again, is a little surreal," Jamison said.
Bill Russell left Monroe, La., when he was 8 years old, because his father, who moved the family to Oakland, Calif., did not want his children to grow up in, at the time, an intense environment of racism.
Some of the state's biggest basketball names remember better players who never made it to the NBA -- such as Benny Anders, a star on Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler's University of Houston "Phi Slamma Jamma" teams.
"He was unreal," Malone said this afternoon, watching the East all-stars practice in downtown New Orleans. "I never believed why he didn't make it."
"You want to know a great player?" Jamison asked rhetorically. "Snapper. I never knew his real name, but he lived right next door to me. About six years older, probably 15 or 16. Had this nice jump shot. Ruled the playground. I could never beat Snapper."
On the litany of Louisiana hoop legends go.
"You got to put Bob Hopkins in there," Aaron James said of the former Grambling great. "Oh, you got to put Aaron James in there, too."
James was a tremendous small forward at Grambling and played five seasons with the New Orleans Jazz. He still calls his late, great teammate "Peter" because at the end of his life, the born-again Maravich embraced his biblical name.
"I still remember Peter when I was a rookie with the Jazz and we lived in the same area," James said. "I had this old Volkswagen Beetle and he had a Porsche Carrera. After practice, he would tell me, 'Hey rook, get your car.' He would give me a five-minute head start. I'd be gunnin' it and all of a sudden you just hear this woop. He would fly past. We called him 'Speed Racer.' "
Maravich scored 3,667 points in his fabled college career at LSU -- he averaged an unfathomable 44.2 points per game -- and became the most improvisational, freewheeling player the NBA had known until his retirement in 1980.
His passes were thought to be apparitions at the time, but they have nothing on Maravich's growing aura today.
Aaron James and Jackie Maravich speak often, keeping the bond alive. In earnest, Pistol Pete's former teammate says, "He might not be here, but he is still here -- you know what I mean?"