It happened so suddenly. One minute he was enjoying playing basketball, telling a friend he felt
great. The next, he was sprawled on the floor, his body con vulsing in a seizure. An ambulance
whisked him to the hospital where doctors tried for fifty minutes to revive him. It was all in vain;
Peter Press Maravich, known to the world as “Pistol Pete,” slipped into eternity at 9:42 a.m. on
January 5, 1988 at the age of 40.
Pete was beloved by many, yet understood by few. He was a legend in his own time, one of the
greatest basketball players who ever lived, and probably the most colorful. The news of his sudden
death sent shock waves from coast to coast and brought back an avalanche of memories to his
many admirers, of whom I was chief. Few, if any, ever inspired me as he did. Pete left a deep and
lasting impression on me because of his commitment to excellence, his incredible intensity, and his
perseverance in the face of constant criticism and nagging problems.
The Amazing String Bean
I still vividly remember the first time I saw Pistol Pete play in person. I can see him now. It was
March of 1968. The coliseum at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee was packed to capacity. During
the warm up, I observed Maravich’s 6’5″ 170-pound frame, which resembled a cross between a
clarinet and a string bean, and I wondered if he could possibly live up to his lofty reputation. I
chuckled at the floppy socks that had slid to the bottom of his spindly legs. And of course, there
was his mop of shaggy hair.
But from the opening tip-off, the sophomore sensation from LSU quickly impressed me with his
behind-the-back dribbling, his long, feathery jump shots, and that amazing between-the-legs passing
that often caught his own teammates off guard. By the time the final buzzer sounded, he had poured
in a torrent of 44 points, his average–all in a losing effort!
While I was attending the University of Missouri, I read about Pete in the newspaper. He had just
become the top scorer in the history of college basketball and a three-time All-American. Then he
climaxed a brilliant amateur career by being selected Player of the Year in 1970.
In the pros, Pete soared to new heights. He led the league in scoring in 1977 with a 31.1 average.
His career spanned ten years, primarily with Atlanta and New Orleans, during which he became a
four-time all star and averaged 24.2 points per game. His highest point total for one game was 68,
but without a strong supporting cast it was difficult to win a title. The elusieness of a championship
disturbed him deeply.
A Misunderstood Genius
Criticism began to mount. Many thought he was a loser and questioned why he could not win at
least one championship. Pete was tormented. No matter what he did, or how hard he played,
people just didn’t understand this genius in sneakers. Though Pete played with a flair and intensity
never before seen, to his critics–and especially to himself–he was never good enough.
Meanwhile, his life seemed to be falling apart. His mother committed suicide, for which he felt
responsible. His social drinking became more frequent and intense. Worst of all, Pete had no inner
peace. Maybe a championship was all that was necessary. But season after season passed, and no
At last he had the opportunity to win that coveted crown. He was traded to Boston in 1980 for his
final season. His mind knew exactly what to do, but his tired body refused to cooperate. For once,
the Celtics didn’t win the title, and Pistol Pete was finished at 33.
Life Beyond the Court
Retirement was almost more than Pete could handle. Basketball had been his life, even his god, for
over 25 years. Searching for peace and fulfillment, he dabbled in astrology, mysticism, survivalism,
and UFOs. He even contemplated suicide as he raced his Porsche over a bridge at 140 mph.
Then in November of 1982, as Pete tried to sleep one night at his home in Metairie, Louisiana, the
weight of his sin against a holy God almost crushed him. What the Bible said about sin was true: “All
have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans3:23), and “the wages of sin is death”
At that moment the light of God’s mercy shone brightly in his heart, and he realized “God
demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans
5:8). Pete remembered the biblical promise, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved”
(Acts 16:31). Rolling off his bed and kneeling there, he repented of his sin and trusted Jesus Christ
to give him eternal life.
Before long, Pete was sharing his testimony with anyone who would listen. He spoke about the
emptiness of his former life without Christ, despite possessing all the material benefits a young man
could ever desire.
Not long before his death, he told his former coach, Richie Guerin, that his desire was to be
remembered as a good Christian, a good husband, and a good father. Speaking before 35,000
people at the Billy Graham Crusade in Columbia, South Carolina just a few months before his
death, he said, “Next week I’ll be inducted into the Hall of Fame. . . (but) I wouldn’t trade my
position in Christ for a thousand NBA championships, for a thousand Hall of Fame rings, or for a
hundred billion dollars.”
For those of us who loved and admired Pete, his place in sports history is quite secure. But more
important, his standing before a holy God is eternally secure. Pete Maravich was a winner whose
end was greater than his beginning, for he had come to know His great God and Savior, the Lord
Jesus Christ. After all, a relationship with Christ, not a championship, was what Pete really needed.
Though Pistol Pete died suddenly, he was prepared. What about you? Do you have peace with
God through the Lord Jesus Christ? Has He changed your life? If not, trust Him now for the
forgiveness of your sin, for “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans
Like Pete, I know that I am a sinner and that I need God’s forgiveness. I believe that Christ died in
my place to pay the penalty for my sin and that He rose from the dead. I now trust in Jesus Christ
alone as my Savior and receive His gift of eternal life.
If you have made this decision and desire help, please contact us through the methods mentioned at
the bottom of the page.
For a free sample of this gospel tract, call American Tract at 1-800-548-7228 .