The mention of Pistol Pete Maravich brings memories flooding back to Jazz President Frank Layden. The dark mop of hair. The floppy socks. The spontaneous passes. "And the abandon," says Layden. "He played with such abandon."
Maravich, who died three years ago this week, became news once again last Saturday when U.S. International's Kevin Bradshaw broke the Pistol's 21-year-old college record for points in a game. Bradshaw's 72 points eclipsed Maravich's record of 69."If he was here, he'd look at the record and say, 'I had it for 20 years and life goes on,"' says Layden.
Maravich died on Jan. 5, 1988, at age 40, after suffering a heart attack during a pickup game. And with him died a poignant reminder that for all its dollars, basketball is still a game of joy.
The last years of Maravich's life may have been his happiest. He had retired from basketball and become a born again Christian. Layden says he wanted Maravich to become part of the Jazz organization, perhaps as an assistant coach, but Maravich opted to direct his efforts toward his newfound faith.
When Maravich returned to Utah in December 1985, to have his uniform retired, he appeared happier than he had in years. "That's when he seemed the happiest to me," says Dave Fredman. "He seemed more relaxed with himself and with his life after he found his religion."
Fredman, now a Jazz assistant coach/scout, was the team's public relations director in 1975. Although Maravich always treated Fredman well, he was constantly burdened by the weight of his reputation.
"He was a troubled person," says Fredman. "For whatever reason. He didn't seem to mind the pressure of the game, but he had the pressures of the franchise on his back."Says Layden, "Wherever he played, - in high school, in college, with the Hawks, with the Jazz - he carried the weight of organization. He was the first franchse player. He was the fanchise. It's funny, but even when the Jazz were not very good - and even when he was here (in Utah) and had been hurt, and we had (Adrian) Dantley - even when he was not playing, Pete was the center of everyone's thoughts. Wherever we went, reporters wanted talk to him. At clinics at practice, he was the star."
Maravich's career declined rapidly after an injury. The injury came while throwing a typically spectacular between-the-legs pass that went 60 feet downcourt to a teammate for a layup.
He was waived by the Jazz Jan. 18, 1980 and picked up briefly by Boston before retiring. He averaged 24.2 points over 10 seasons.
Maravich averaged an almost unbelievable 44 points a game in four years at Louisiana State. "You don't get a lot of guys who become that famous in college anymore," says Layden.
After four years in Atlanta he was traded to New Orleans, becoming the first player in Jazz franchise history.
Today, basketball clinics include passing and dribbling drills that they call the "Maravich drills," - ones he invented along his way to becoming a legend.
"You watch today's game, the things some of the NBA players do reminds me of Pete," says Fredman. "He was so much ahead of his time."
Says Layden, "In pro basketball winning is important, but it's also show business. I saw the Celtics recently, and there was one great pass by Larry Bird and the place went wild. Pete did that all the time. People would jump to their feet all time. Pete was the ultimate showman."