Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich

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Pistol is more than the biography of a ballplayer. It's the stuff of classic novels: the story of a boy transformed by his father's dream—and the cost of that dream. Even as Pete Maravich became Pistol Pete—a basketball icon for baby boomers—all the Maraviches paid a price. Now acclaimed author Mark Kriegel has brilliantly captured the saga of an American family: its rise, its apparent ruin, and, finally, its redemption.

Almost four decades have passed since Maravich entered the...

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Pistol is more than the biography of a ballplayer. It's the stuff of classic novels: the story of a boy transformed by his father's dream—and the cost of that dream. Even as Pete Maravich became Pistol Pete—a basketball icon for baby boomers—all the Maraviches paid a price. Now acclaimed author Mark Kriegel has brilliantly captured the saga of an American family: its rise, its apparent ruin, and, finally, its redemption.

Almost four decades have passed since Maravich entered the national consciousness as basketball's boy wizard. No one had ever played the game like the kid with the floppy socks and shaggy hair. And all these years later, no one else ever has. The idea of Pistol Pete continues to resonate with young people today just as powerfully as it did with their fathers.

In averaging 44.2 points a game at Louisiana State University, he established records that will never be broken. But even more enduring than the numbers was the sense of ecstasy and artistry with which he played. With the ball in his hands, Maravich had a singular power to inspire awe, inflict embarrassment, or even tell a joke.

But he wasn't merely a mesmerizing showman. He was basketball's answer to Elvis, a white Southerner who sold Middle America on a black man's game. Like Elvis, he paid a terrible price, becoming a prisoner of his own fame.

Set largely in the South, Kriegel's Pistol, a tale of obsession and basketball, fathers and sons, merges several archetypal characters. Maravich was a child prodigy, a prodigal son, his father's ransom in a Faustian bargain, and a Great White Hope. But he was also a creature of contradictions: always the outsider but a virtuoso in a team sport, an exuberant showman who wouldn't look you in the eye, a vegetarian boozer, an athlete who lived like a rock star, a suicidal genius saved by Jesus Christ.

A renowned biographer—People magazine called him “a master”—Kriegel renders his subject with a style that is, by turns, heartbreaking, lyrical, and electric.

The narrative begins in 1929, the year a missionary gave Pete's father a basketball. Press Maravich had been a neglected child trapped in a hellish industrial town, but the game enabled him to blossom. It also caused him to confuse basketball with salvation. The intensity of Press's obsession initiates a journey across three generations of Maraviches. Pistol Pete, a ballplayer unlike any other, was a product of his father's vanity and vision. But that dream continues to exact a price on Pete's own sons. Now in their twenties—and fatherless for most of their lives—they have waged their own struggles with the game and its ghosts.

Pistol is an unforgettable biography. By telling one family's history, Kriegel has traced the history of the game and a large slice of the American narrative.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
"Pistol" Pete Maravich (1947-88) sported floppy socks and a bushy head of hair, but on a basketball court he could defy the laws of physics. Even before he reached college, his feats were legend. Long before the 3-point rule, he scored 3,667 points in his three varsity years at Southeastern Louisiana College, setting one of many NCAA records that he still holds. "Pistol" wasn't just a shooting phenom; his dribbling and passing skills were also unexcelled. In the NBA, he was a five-time All-Star, but his virtuosity grated against team-oriented systems. Off the court, Maravich was an eccentric, often reclusive outsider. After injury forced his retirement in 1980, he sank into alcoholism and depression. He had just settled peacefully into his conversion to evangelical Christianity when a heart attack struck him down while he was playing in a church pickup game. Mark Kriegel's biography places Maravich's bumpy journey and astonishing accomplishments in bold relief.
From the Publisher
"I grew up possessed by the legend of 'Pistol' Pete Maravich. I've marveled at the supernatural skills of Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Jerry West, Kobe Bryant — all of them were greater basketball players than the 'Pistol'. Yet none of them could touch the magical, otherworldly qualities he brought to the court, the genius and wizardry and breathtaking creativity. He could light up a crowd like a match set to gasoline. His game was lordly, inimitable and he should have been the greatest player to ever play the game. This great book by Mark Kriegel will explain why he was not. I never saw a greater or more electrifying basketball player and the 'Pistol's' is one of the saddest stories ever told. What a book!"
— Pat Conroy, bestselling author of My Losing Season and The Prince of Tides

"Pistol is a classic American tale wonderfully told. With deep research and a vivid narrative style, Mark Kriegel brings us the joy and sorrow of Pete Maravich, an inimitable basketball player who was both timeless and before his time, an original talent haunted by demons — his father's and his own."
— David Maraniss, author of Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero

"Pistol is not just a biography of a transcendent, doomed athlete; it is a mesmerizing tale of a striving, grasping American family as dramatic as myth, of a father and son as intertwined as Daedalus and Icarus. Kriegel has written the rarest of sports books: a fast-paced, through-the-night page-turner. This isn't a slam dunk, it's a tomahawk glass-shatterer. Pistol is nothing but sensational."
— Rick Telander, author of Heaven Is a Playground and senior sports columnist, Chicago Sun-Times

"Pistol Pete's moves on the basketball court defied the laws of physics. He did things you can't even film. He deserves a biographer with magic powers of his own, and he's found one in Mark Kriegel."
— Will Blythe, author of To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever

"This is the best sports book I've read in years. The research, the writing, the pace — it's All-Pro material."

— Terry Pluto, The Akron Beacon Journal

"Mark Kriegel has written the sport's bio equivalent of Maravich on a fast break: dazzling and smart, and, even at 381 pages, over before you knew it."

The Wall Street Journal

"Pistol skillfully pulls off the balancing act required of good sports biography. It plays large historical forces (segregation, the rise of televised sports) against the individual magic of its subject." — New York Magazine

"A remarkable book that is the best researched biography yet of this revolutionary basketball player." — The Raleigh News and Observer

"Like the best journalists, Kriegel has the ability to get out of the way and let a good story tell itself." — The Atlanta Journal Constitution

"Pistol is a beautifully written book that captures the soul and inner turmoil of this son and father." — The Tennessean

Publishers Weekly

As he did for another larger-than-life sports star whose achievements in his game were always shadowed by his demons outside of it, Kriegel (Namath) offers a rounded, insightful look at one of basketball's enigmatic icons. Kriegel presents Pete Maravich (1947–1988) as a "child prodigy, prodigal son, his father's ransom in a Faustian bargain." His father, Press Maravich, was the poor son of Serbian immigrants to Pennsylvania, a man obsessed with basketball as a means of personal and financial redemption. His rise as a coach loomed over Pete, who described himself as a boy as "a basketball android." A veteran sportswriter, Kriegel is more than up to the task of eliciting Pete's on-court greatness and describing basketball action in a fluid, dramatic fashion (Pete's deadeye shot earned him the nickname "Pistol"). But the book is more notable for how Kriegel evokes Press's support turning into suffocation, and the effect of the impossible expectations on Pete (he played for Louisiana State, then later for the New Orleans Jazz). In the end, Kriegel's portrait is a sad celebration of a gifted player whose collegiate legend never quite blossomed into professional greatness as he battled alcoholism, sought solace in religion and left a troubled legacy that's still felt by his children and those who knew him. (Feb.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal

This reviewer was a young child when "Pistol" Pete Maravich (1947–88) was performing his awe-inspiring exploits on the college hardwood. Reading Pistolwill surely bring back memories among his fans and, for younger readers who know too little of this man who predated rampant TV sports programming, this is also an essential read. His amazing 44.2 points per game—before the three-point era—at Louisiana State University is still an NCAA record. His nickname was owing to his unerring aim at the basket as well as in passing. Maravich's professional career (1970–80) with the Hawks, Jazz, and Celtics included five All-Star appearances and was followed by induction into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1987. Kriegel (former sports columnist, New York Daily News; Namath) not only provides a wonderful evocation of the basketball life of Maravich, but he also gives readers a delightfully written biography. Included are important stories about Maravich's relationship with his driven father, "Press" Maravich, a Serbian immigrant to the United States who lived to coach basketball (including his son at LSU), and the sad story of the athlete's decline. Readers of all ages, sports fans or not, will thoroughly appreciate this book. Highly recommended for all libraries.

By Daniel Lombardo, formerly with Jones Lib., Amherst, MA

—Tim Delaney
Kirkus Reviews
The bittersweet tale of Pistol Pete, one of basketball's most talented and tragic legends. Pete Maravich, born in 1947, was groomed from birth to be the best basketball player of all time. His father, Press, was his coach and taskmaster; the pair functioned as extensions of each other. Kriegel (Namath, 2004) begins by expounding at length on Press's hardscrabble youth, when basketball became his salvation and his life. Press imbued his son with every ounce of his ambition. It didn't take long for Pete, fanatical about perfecting every drill he was taught, to display an almost preternatural affinity for basketball. Pistol Pete integrated flawless fundamentals with showy moves. As his legend grew and he became the "great white hope" of the NBA, the weight of expectations crushed his free spirit, which was further battered by his mother's 1974 suicide. His thin frame began to break down, and old-school coaches who didn't appreciate Pete's talent lessened his competitive fire. He sought comfort in everything from alcohol to belief in extraterrestrials. Despite spurts of brilliance and a reputation as one of the most talented players of all time, he walked away from the NBA in 1980, after ten seasons, with no championship ring. He would find happiness in Jesus and his family until a heart attack during a pickup match ended his life at the age of 40. Kriegel occasionally lingers too long on Press, but his son emerges in this compelling, nuanced account as a man both talented and complex. Sure to send readers in search of the highlight reel.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743284981
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 2/5/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 200,370
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Kriegel

Mark Kriegel is the author of two critically acclaimed bestsellers, Namath: A Biography and Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich. He is a veteran columnist and a commentator for the NFL Network. He lives with his daughter, Holiday, in Santa Monica, California.

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Read an Excerpt

January 5, 1988.

They cannot see him, this slouched, ashen-faced man in their midst. To their oblivious eyes, he remains what he had been, unblemished by the years, much as he appeared on his first bubblegum card: a Beatlesque halo of hair, the fresh-faced, sad-eyed wizard cradling a grainy, leather orb.

One of the regulars, a certified public accountant, had retrieved this very artifact the night before. He found it in a shoebox, tucked away with an old train set and a wooden fort in a crawlspace in his parents' basement. He brought it to the gym this morning to have it signed, or perhaps, in some way, sanctified. The 1970 rookie card of Pete Maravich, to whom the Atlanta Hawks had just awarded the richest contract in professional sport, notes the outstanding facts: that Maravich had been coached by his father, under whose tutelage he became "the most prolific scorer in the history of college basketball."

Other salient statistics are provided in agate type: an average of 44.2 points a game, a total of 3,667 (this when nobody had scored 3,000). The records will never be broken. Still, they are woefully inadequate in measuring the contours of the Maravich myth.

Even the CPA, for whom arithmetic is a vocation, understands the limitation in mere numbers. There is no integer denoting magic or memory. "He was important to us," the accountant would say.

Maravich wasn't an archetype; he was several: child prodigy, prodigal son, his father's ransom in a Faustian bargain. He was a creature of contradictions, ever alone: the white hope of a black sport, a virtuoso stuck in an ensemble, an exuberant showman who couldn't look you in the eye, a vegetarian boozer, the athlete who lived like a rock star, a profligate, suicidal genius saved by Jesus Christ.

Still, it's his caricature that evokes unqualified affection in men of a certain age. Pistol Pete, they called him. The Pistol is another relic of the seventies, not unlike bongs or Bruce Lee flicks: the skinny kid who mesmerized the basketball world with Globetrotter moves, floppy socks, and great hair.

Pistol Pete was, in fact, his father's vision, built to the old man's exacting specifications. Press Maravich was a Serb. Ideas and language occurred to him in the mother tongue, and so one imagines him speaking to Pistol (yes, that's what he called him, too) as a father addressing his son in an old Serbian song: Cuj me sine oci moje, Cuvaj ono sto je tvoje...Listen to me, eyes of mine, guard that which is thine...

The game in progress is a dance in deference to this patrimony. The Pistol is an inheritance, not just for the Maraviches, but for all the American sons who play this American game. The squeak of sneakers against the floor produces an oddly chirping melody. Then there's another rhythm, the respiration of men well past their prime, an assortment of white guys: the accountant, insurance salesmen, financial planners, even a preacher or two. "Just a bunch of duffers," recalls one. "Fat old men," smirks another.

But they play as if Pistol Pete, or what's left of him, could summon the boys they once were. They acknowledge him with a superfluous flourish, vestigial teenage vanity — an extra behind-the-back pass or an unnecessary between-the-legs dribble. The preacher, a gentle-voiced man of great renown in evangelical circles, reveals a feverishly competitive nature. After hitting a shot, he is heard to bellow, "You get that on camera?"

The Parker Gymnasium at Pasadena's First Church of the Nazarene could pass for a good high school gym — a clean, cavernous space with arching wooden rafters and large windows. At dawn, fully energized halogen lamps give off a glow to the outside world, a beacon to spirits searching for a game. As a boy, Maravich would have considered this a kind of heaven. Now, it's a way station of sorts.

Pete begins wearily. He hasn't played in a long time and moves at one-quarter speed, if that. He does not jump; he shuffles. The ball seems like a shotput in his hands, his second attempt at the basket barely touching the front of the rim.

But gradually, as the pace of his breath melds with the others' and he starts to sweat, Pete Maravich recovers something in himself. "The glimpse of greatness was in his ballhandling," recalls the accountant. "Every once in a while the hands would flicker. There would just be some kind of dribble or something. You could see a little of it in his hands, the greatness. Just the quickness of the beat."

There was genius in that odd beat, the unexpected cadence, a measure of music. The Pistol's talent, now as then, was musical. He was as fluent as Mozart — his game rising to the level of language — but he was sold like Elvis, the white guy performing in a black idiom. And for a time, he was mad like Elvis, too.

Once, in an attempt to establish contact with extraterrestrial life, he painted a message on his roof: "Take me."

Deliver me, he meant.

Now the accountant tries to blow past Pete with a nifty spin move. Pete tells him not to believe his own hype.

The Pistol wears an easy grin. The men in this game are avid readers of the Bible. But perhaps the truth of this morning is to be found in the Koran: "Remember that the life of this world is but a sport and a pastime."

Pete banks one in.

That smile again. What a goof.

The game ends. Guys trudge off to the water fountain. Pete continues to shoot around.

And now, you wonder what he sees. Was it as he used to imagine? "The space will open up," he once said. "Beyond that will be heaven and when you go inside, then the space closes again and you are there...definitely a wonderful place...everyone you ever knew will be there."

Back on earth, the preacher asks Pete Maravich how he feels.

"I feel great," he says.

Soon the phone will ring in Covington, Louisiana. A five-year-old boy hears the maid let out a sharp piercing howl. Then big old Irma quickly ushers the boy and his brother into another room. The boy closes the door behind him and considers himself in the mirror. He has his father's eyes. That's what everyone says. Eyes of mine, guard that which is thine. Guard that which fathers give to their sons to give to their sons.

The boy looks through himself, and he knows:

"My daddy's dead."

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Kriegel

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Table of Contents



One: Special Opportunity

Two: Mr. Basketball

Three: Pro Ball

Four: The Cult of Press

Five: Country Gentlemen

Six: The Basketball Gene

Seven: The Devil in Ronnie Montini

Eight: "Pistol Pete"

Nine: Changing the Game

Ten: The Deep End

Eleven: King of the Cow Palace

Twelve: Showtime

Thirteen: One of Us

Fourteen: Marked Man

Fifteen: The Blackhawks

Sixteen: The Unbearable Whiteness of Being Pete

Seventeen: Take Me

Eighteen: Smothered

Nineteen: All That Jazz

Twenty: The Loser

Twenty-One: Take Me, Part 2

Twenty-Two: Amazing Grace

Twenty-Three: Patrimony




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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 23 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2007

    Genius work

    Mark Kriegel has done it again. First, it was 'Namath' and now 'Pistol.' He may be the best sports biographer of his time. Pistol is a fantastic book. I've read it twice already.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 29, 2013

    Very Thorough and In-depth research.

    I enjoyed this bio very much! From his fathers childhood to his own children and their beginnings, this book covers all of the influences that made Pete Maravich who he was, one of the most gifted basketball players ever!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2013

    Must read for hoop fans

    If you watch hoop you have heard of Pistol Pete Maravich. This is as much a story of his father's life as it is his since the two were so intertwined. Watching our sports heros is so less complicated than learning of their lives and the struggles they endured. Pistol Pete's true motivation was so wrapped up in his father's expectations that the two cannot be separated and quantified individually. The way he played changed the game forever. When we watch Magic Johnson, Chris Paul or Rickey Rubio we know that all their moves have been done before, bigger, better and faster by the Pistol. Great story, well told.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 20, 2013

    Glory and Sadness

    I was Pistol Pete's age and followed his career in the media. i had very little knowledge of his troubled youth and career. it's surprising how little we know about these icons during their heydays. it was sad for me to read about Pistol's troubles in college and in the NBA. I highly recommend this book for sport fans and especially for the fan who is interested in the man aside from his deeds reported in the box scores.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2011

    Good, bad and ugly

    Great biography of the troubled times of Pistol Pete. A behind the scenes look at both the legend and painful life of the Pistol. Pete fights the demons of alcohol, a pushy dad and an alcoholic mom to have a Hall of Fame career. This is a sports bio you must read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2011

    Slam Dunk

    This was one of the best andmost honest sports stories that I have ever read. The detail of Pete's family (dad) was brilliantly portrayed in this book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2010

    A thrilling sports biography

    This book was a fabulous read. It was very easy to read and very easy to get in to. I would recommend this book to anyone that likes reading sports biographies. This biography doesn't even compare to other sports biographies that I have read. I have read many great books but "Pistol" is the best. Kriegel is an incredible author. I highly recommend this book to anyone of all ages!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2007

    The Elvis of basketball

    ¿¿ like Elvis, he paid a terrible price, becoming a prisoner of his own fame.¿ Pistol is a book about Pete Maravich and how his father, Press, pushed his son into becoming an outstanding basketball player. This biography is about Press¿s life and how he grew up, about his high school and college and coaching days. Then as the book goes on, it starts talking about his son, Pete¿s life and how Press affected it. Pete was Press¿s pride and joy. He didn¿t care about anything besides Pete and his basketball career. Pete was a varsity player in eighth grade. Everyone came just to see Pete and his amazing moves on the court. After his father convinces him to go to LSU, (he would buy him a car) he becomes even more like a god. No one ever saw passes between the legs, and behind the back and it was very rare when they saw someone dunk it. His college years finally came to an end and he met the love of his life, Jackie, and he got drafted into the NBA. He was always on the run. Going everywhere with the team, but he never forgot about his family. Pete had two kids, Jaeson and Joshua. Pete was never going to force his kids to play ball, unless they wanted to. Pete¿s death had a massive effect on everyone, from his kids to his wife and everyone that knew him. His second son, Josh felt as though he had to walk on to LSU for his dad, and just like his dad, he played basketball there. Their last name had a lot of effect on their lives. They thought that just because he was Pete Maravich¿s son, people looked at them as good basketball players too. Jaeson and Josh did put up with a lot before and after their dad¿s death, because that last name `Maravich¿ got them everywhere, and they weren¿t proud of being their dad¿s sons. They wanted to be known as Jaeson Maravich, and Josh Maravich. They didn¿t want to be known as Pete Maravich¿s kids.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2007

    Pistol is a superb book

    Mark Kriegel have written a book about one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Pistol Pete Maravich, a troubled star who wanted to be the best basketball player who ever lived but one who put so much pressure on himself that his game often suffered. Kriegel meticulously documents the father-son relationship of love and conflict that made the 'Pistol' what he became - one of the most flamboyant players of all time. This is a great sports book and Kriegel is to be commended. Frank Scoblete: author of Golden Touch Dice Control Revolution! and Golden Touch Blackjack Revolution!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2012

    Very good book

    Enjoyed this book very much and learned quite a bit more than I ever knew about the Pistol....the author at times spent too much time on Petes father than he did Pete himself but it was well written and insightful nonetheless.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2007


    I Loved this book, cover to cover. I wish I wasn't finished. I am the ultimate Pete Maravich Fan....this told me stuff I don't know. Wow, what a life Press had. After Namath I thought Kriegel couldn't get any better. 'Pistol' is a great read. LOVED IT!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2007

    Absolutely great book

    Kriegel's 'Pistol' is extremely well written and concise. He doesn't miss a detail. Great exploration and research. Press finally is made real, not a caricature. I cannot say enough about this book. I read it compulsively for two days.

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    Posted August 12, 2009

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