The Floppy Socked Mopped TopIt has become a cliche to say that someone is ahead of his time but Pistol Pete Maravich really did come along just a bit too early to be fully appreciated--the same passes that earned Earvin Johnson the nickname "Magic" often bounced off of the hands of Maravich's teammates and led some misguided people to term Maravich a "hot dog." Magic Johnson proved that you can entertain the fans and be a winner but just a decade earlier critics carped that Maravich was all show and no substance.
Maravich never won an NBA championship and he retired before the league really became a fixture on national television but he was one of my favorite players when I was a kid and I was deeply saddened when he died of a heart attack on January 5, 1988 at just 40 years of age (barely two months after I turned 16). I had always been fascinated by the fact that Julius Erving--my all-time favorite player--and Pete Maravich were briefly teammates with the Atlanta Hawks during the 1972-73 preseason and in 2004 I had the privilege to speak with Erving about that special time and learn that he considered it "one of the joys of my life to play with Pete." That interview, which became the basis for a Basketball Digest article and was later quoted in the book Maravich, was--to borrow Erving's poetic, heartfelt words that poured from his lips the instant that I asked him the question about Maravich--definitely one of the joys of my life.
Maravich's premature death seemed even more tragic considering how misunderstood he was and after his passing I thought a lot about how to best pay tribute to his life and legend. On this date 22 years ago, I wrote this poem:
Graceful as Baryshnikov,
Oh, how you handled the ball.
Smooth as a rolling river,
Quick as lightning,
Oh, how you shot the ball.
The Messiah from Aliquippa,
Transplanted to Creole Country,
Smashed the Big O's records,
But never got a shot at the Big One.
Soared with the Hawks,
Despite snipers and poachers,
And the blind cynics who tarnished your name.
Went back to Creole Country,
Your mother died by her own hand, consumed by demons inside,
But you played sweet Jazz in '77,
And again in '78,
But lasting happiness was not your fate.
Kidnapped from Creole Country
To a faraway place
And rotted on the bench like deadwood (what a wasteful disgrace).
Landed in Beantown,
The tattered, cynical, disillusioned Messiah.
Your J was now rusty,
Your legs were jello,
And the scavengers had long since battered, broken and shattered your heart--
And you pumped firewater through what little was left of it.
Ten years flashed by
Like a behind the back pass
With not even one shot at the gold,
Nary a trip down the yellow brick road.
You retired, a broken and discarded scoring machine
And the Beantown Boys put another banner in the rafters,
A cruel and ironic reminder of what would never be.
A Herculean talent,
You were misunderstood by lesser men,
Who now, enlightened by you, cheer for the Magic Show.
Now, like Hercules, you have gone to the gods--
Perhaps they'll understand Showtime.
Pistol Pete--I miss you and wish you the peace, contentment and championship ring you found so elusive on Earth.
posted by David Friedman @ 7:44 AM