2290) Pistol Pete

Years later, shock still lingers over Pete Maravich's death | The ...

     Pete Maravich was born in 1947.  His dad was an intense, successful basketball coach.  From the time Pete could walk, his father saw to it he had a basketball in his hands.  Pete dribbled, passed, and shot baskets all the time.  Friends never saw him without his basketball.  His regular drill before bed was to hit one hundred consecutive free throws.

     His dad taught him everything about basketball, and Pete loved it.  He did not study, he did not date, and if he went to a movie with his friends he would sit by the aisle and dribble his basketball until the people around him complained and he got thrown out of the theater.  The only thing Pete Maravich did was practice basketball.  He and his dad lived for that alone.

     Pete got to be very good at basketball.  He was still small and scrawny in the eighth grade, but he could dribble and shoot better than anyone in the school.  He beat out seniors for a starting spot on the varsity team, and as an eighth grader became a star and team leader.

     Then he grew another foot, and at 6’6” he was unstoppable.  Maravich dominated every game he played throughout high school and college.  He could do it all—dribble, pass, and shoot from anywhere—and to all that he added a flair and a showmanship that made him a joy to watch.  The crowds loved him.  He would pass behind his back, behind his head, and between the legs of opposing players, usually without even looking.  His teammates never knew when the ball was coming.  One said, “If Pete was looking at you, you knew he wasn’t going to pass it to you; but any other time, look out.”  And he could shoot.  He still hold the all-time NCAA record for scoring.  He averaged 44 points a game throughout his college career!  The number two player in the record book had a 34 point average!

     He became known as “Pistol Pete” and he loved to please the crowds.  The crowds flocked to see him, and from the time he was fourteen years old he was a fan favorite.  As a freshman at Louisiana State University he was not yet eligible for the “A” team, so he played for one year on the “B” team.  In that year the stadium was packed for the “B” games to see Pistol Pete play, and then the crowd would thin out for the “A” game.  When he got to the “A” team every single game sold out wherever he went, home or away.

     Pete did not study very hard in high school.  When teachers complained, he said he did not have time because he had to play basketball.  Pete told them he wasn’t going to need Math, Science, English, or History anyway, because he was going to become a millionaire playing basketball.  That sounded ridiculous in the early 1960’s because no one in sports was making that kind of money then.

     But Pete Maravich did make that kind of money, signing a four year, one and a half million dollar contract right out of college.  In the pros he did not dominate the game like the high school and college, but did have a brilliant career and was usually in the NBA All-Star game.  He had his ups and downs as a professional, but was still and showman and still drew large crowds.

     At the age of thirty-one Pistol Pete injured his knee.  He came back for a couple more mediocre years, and then retired from what was most important in his life.  Maravich had lived for basketball for his entire life, and now it was over.  There would be no more games and no more crowds to please.

   Pete was still a multi-millionaire with a loving wife and two healthy sons, but he came to feel like he had no more reason to live.  He became severely depressed and began to withdraw from everyone and everything.  Finally, he was going nowhere and seeing no one—at one point he did not leave his house for two years.  He had lived his entire life for basketball, and now with that gone, there was nothing left.

     And then Pete Maravich became a Christian.  He never took time for that before, but now he started reading his Bible and listening to people who told him about Jesus.  He came out of his depression and felt like living again.  He again became a loving husband and father, he traveled around the nation with Fellowship of Christian athletes speaking about his life and conversion and faith, and he started a basketball camp to teach elementary school boys about basketball and about Jesus.  His friends could not believe how this wreck of a man could turn his life around so fast and so dramatically.  He had become one of the strongest, emotionally solid, and contented people they knew.  The change was tremendous.

     And then Pete Maravich died, suddenly of a heart attack, on January 5, 1988.  He was playing a three-on-three pickup game of basketball.

     For thirty years Pete Maravich lived for basketball alone.  His commitment and devotion to the game gained more than enough money, fame, and pleasure—for a little while.  But then when his basketball career came to an end none of those other things even mattered any more.  But after two years of despair and struggle, he reached out for a hope and a promise that would endure.  His faith in Christ prepared him for that eternal home that he would soon inherit.

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I lived my life one way for thirty five years– FOR ME.  And then the focus came in on what I really was.

–Pete Maravich

A few years before his death, Maravich said, “I want to be remembered as a Christian, a person that serves Jesus to the utmost, not as a basketball player.”

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In a 1974 interview with the Beaver County Times Maravich said: “I don’t want to play 10 years in the NBA and die of a heart attack at age 40.”

He played pro ball for 10 years, from 1970 to 1980, and died of a heart attack at the age of 40.

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Job 8:11-15  —  Can papyrus grow tall where there is no marsh?
    Can reeds thrive without water?
While still growing and uncut,
    they wither more quickly than grass.
Such is the destiny of all who forget God;
    so perishes the hope of the godless.
What they trust in is fragile;
    what they rely on is a spider’s web.
They lean on the web, but it gives way;
    they cling to it, but it does not hold.

Job 11:13…16-18  — If you devote your heart to (the Lord),… you will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by and stretch out your hands to him.  Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning.  You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety.

Isaiah 4:;23b  —   “You will know that I am the Lord; and those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”

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Dear Lord, help us to get our perspective right so that we may see what matters most, and put our faith, trust, and hope in you alone.  Amen.

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