M. Milner's Reviews > Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich

Pistol by Mark Kriegel
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Jan 14, 12

bookshelves: great-sports-books, biographies
Read in August, 2007

There’s a line in Mark Kriegel’s book “Pistol” that does a good job of summarizing Pete Maravich’s life, and the book, quite nicely - “I don’t want to play 10 years in the NBA and die of a heart attack at 40.”

Instead, he died of a heart defect at 40, after playing in the NBA for almost 10 years.

“Pistol” is not so much a biography as it is a study on passion and obsession and how the two can be confused. At it’s core it’s about how much a father, in this case Press Maravich, can drive his son into greatness and tragedy. Into a legend, although one marred by tragedy.

To me, the way Pete Maravich was described reminded me of Pete Rose. Rose took a one-time criticism from his father on not running out a groundball into a career known as Charlie Hustle, much in the same way that Press’ love for basketball led to the devotion that Pete poured into it, devoting his life to the game. However, Rose got off lightly compared to Maravich, who almost all of his life playing the game, almost never getting the respect he deserved, at least not until his career had finished.

“Pistol” covers not just the life of Pete, but also that of Press. The book opens with a young Press, stuck with no future in a Pennsylvania steel town (where the sky was colored a flaming orange by the factories, notes Kriegel) discovers a way out - basketball, a game which he takes to almost immediately. The book was surely not off the mark when it says that Press mistook the game for salvation - it would dominate the rest of his life.

From there the book covers Press’ exploits in the early days of professional basketball and the first few years of what to become his pastime, coaching. By the time that Pete was a small child, Press was coaching his just as much (and perhaps more) then he was with his team, the NC State Wolfpack.

Here, the book goes into great detail, from newspaper clippings to interviews with people who were around, into this period of Pete’s life, when he was almost forced into basketball, practicing for hours a day, right up to during his teenage years. It was here, on the basketball court, that Pete found what he was craving all along - affection, from the fans who loved seeing his flashy moves and passes.

The book does a great job of covering both the highs (His 68 point game against the Knicks, his record setting performances at LSU) and the lows (his knee injury, LSU’s collapse in the 1970 NIT) of his career, as well as the interesting dynamic of Press and Pete’s relationship, and how it changed over the years.

It goes on, later, describing the aftermath of his NBA career - his depression, his spiritual rebirth as a born-again Christian, and eventually, his early death (on a basketball court, fittingly).

Overall, “Pistol” is an interesting book - it paints a picture of Pete as a tragic and often depressed superstar, and does a very good job of it. It’s meticulously researched (there’s even a large list of footnotes and references included) and very well written, although it does compare Pete to another flawed legend, Joe Namath (who, by the way, was the subject of another book written by Mark Kriegel) on a regular basis.

It’s definitely worth a read.
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