By Neil Beldock
Much like Mary Shelley’s brilliant novel has Dr. Victor Frankenstein creating the monster Frankenstein, Press Maravich played the role of Dr. Victor Frankenstein in creating a monster of a basketball player who would become known to the world as Pistol Pete Maravich.
Whereas Dr. Frankenstein’s work was confined to his basement laboratory, the laboratory Press Maravich used to create the monster Pistol Pete, was anywhere and everywhere a basketball could be dribbled or bounced off a wall.
Physical limits to where and how ball handling skills could constantly be worked upon and improved had no boundaries.
But Press Maravich, just like Dr. Victor Frankenstein, did have a basement laboratory.
Said Bill Hensley, Sports Information Director at Clemson University when Press was coaching there and Pete was 9 years old: “We would go down in the basement and Pete would dribble for us on the concrete floor. The kid could dribble like the Celtics’ Bob Cousy.
Hensley Continued: “Then Press would put gloves on him so he couldn’t feel the ball. The kid still dribbled like Cousy, and then some. Pete would be going between his legs, behind his back, throwing it against the wall, catching it behind his back. He was a machine”.
But it would not stop there……
Says Hensley: “Then Press would blindfold Pete so he couldn’t see the ball. Never saw Cousy do that. Never saw anyone do that. We’d sit there for like an hour watching this little bitty kid dribbling everywhere”.
And just like Dr. Frankenstein placed the monster Frankenstein on a stage so the world could see his brilliance through his creation, so too would Press Maravich never be hesitant to, from a very young age, show off the monster of a basketball player he was creating.
“He was dying to show off little Pete”, said Hensley.
Throughout the summer months Pete would travel with Press to numerous basketball camps where Press would have Pete show off the array ball handling drills Press had invented, and the amazing skills the young prodigy was developing by utilizing those drills.
It was at the basketball camp held at Campbell College in Buies Creek, North Carolina in 1960 where Press roomed with the legendary UCLA coach John Wooden. Press was anxious to have Wooden see the things the 13-year old Pete could do with a basketball.
After watching Pete perform his magic, Wooden said: “I saw him do things at Campbell I didn’t think anyone could do. I had the great pleasure of playing against the New York Rens (of Harlem, N.Y.) many times. They had some of the best ballplayers you could ever see. I watched the Globetrotters with Goose Tatum and Marques Haynes. None of them could do more than Pete. Pete Maravich could do more with a basketball than anybody I have ever seen”.
Wooden however, was not without his reservations about what he was witnessing, as impressive as it may have been.
Wooden, ever the fundamentalist, asked Press: “All those tricks, what do they accomplish? How many hours does it take to learn all that? Wouldn’t he be better off learning proper footwork for defense?”
The response from Press was quick and to the point: “You don’t understand. He’s going to be the first million-dollar pro”.
Like any mad-scientist, the line between madness and genius can be very thin. And the mad scientist Press Maravich knew that if Pete was to become the first million-dollar basketball player, a singular dedication to the game of basketball would be required.
But Pete, like all the boys he was growing up with, didn’t want to just play basketball all day. He wanted to play football and baseball as well. This, in Press’s mind, and within his grand scheme, amounted to evil temptations which would need to be quelched. But how? The mad-scientist would have to dig deep into his brain to accomplish his goal.
By the time Pete was 9-years old, he would always be nagging Press to hit him fly balls on the baseball field. Not wanting to encourage his interests in baseball, Press would decline Pete’s request. But then Press had a brainstorm.
It was a beautiful day with the sun shining bright when Press advised Pete he would be happy to hit him some fly balls. Pete was thrilled, but Press had an ulterior motive.
Said Press: “The sun was bright and directly over our heads. I began hitting him some fungoes, trying to get the ball as high as I could. He (Pete) was running back and forth catching the ball, a big smile on his face”.
Press continues: “Then it happened. He misjudged one or lost it in the sun. Anyhow, it hit him smack on the forehead. He started crying and by the time we got home he had a welt on his head the size of an egg”.
Press stayed up with Pete all night, icing the lump and discussing what a dangerous game baseball is. The result?
Said Press: “Neither of us ever mentioned baseball again”.
One sport down, one remained.
Although baseball was now and forever in Pete’s past, as he was getting close to and entering his teen years, football became the next distraction in Pete’s life which Press needed to address.
In South Carolina, all the boys loved to play football, and Pete was no different.
Pete and his friends would hop the fence to get on to the field at Clemson University and play 4-on-4 tackle football. Pete would play quarterback. By the 8th grade, Pete also played organized football at the under-90 pound Mighty-Mite level.
From Press’s standpoint, football was gaining more importance and exposure in Pete’s life than Press wanted. Something had to be done, and fast. Press, the mad-scientist, went back to work.
Recalled Pete years later: “He (Press) had the 8th grade coach put me in a vulnerable quarterbacking situation. The secret order was to cream the quarterback. After one pile-up and several late hits, I retired my cleats”.
Mission accomplished. Basketball could now be the sole focus of Pete’s life. And, with Press orchestrating, Pete’s life was now comprised of drills, drills, and more drills.
Press would school Pete in drills designed to teach the fundamentals of basketball, but those could become monotonous given the amount of time Press wanted Pete to practice.
In order to fight the boredom, Press would once again become the mad-scientist and design and create more and more elaborate and challenging drills for Pete.
Much of what Press created was rooted in the brilliant ball-handling skills he saw performed by the Harlem Globetrotters, and the ball-handling wizardry of 5 foot 4 inch Ah Chew Goo, who Press saw play while he was in the Navy.
Ah Chew Goo told Press how he had spent countless hours dribbling between chairs and passing the ball off walls and telephone poles. He could pass equally well with either hand. He could shovel pass, pass the ball behind his neck and behind his back, and mastered passing the ball between his legs.
From what he witnessed from the Globetrotters and Ah Chew Goo, Press created over 40 different drills for Pete to spend endless hours mastering. Each drill had it’s own name. There was the “Pretzel” drill, and the “Crab Catch”, and the “Flap Jack”, and the “Punching Bag” and the “Ricochet”, all designed to develop superior ball handling skills within Pete and enable Pete to do things on the court rarely if ever before seen.
Before long, after endless hours practicing, Pete mastered every drill the mad-scientist Press could create. Pete could move the ball around his body and through his legs at a speed which would not seem real. He could dribble so close to the ground that the ball and the ground sounded like a boxer working a speed-bag.
Watching Pete perform these drills has been described as being “hypnotic”.
And the more drills Press created, the more time Pete would spend working to master them. Nothing else existed in Pete’s life other than mastering the drills Press created for him, and gaining Press’s approval.
Players at Daniel High School, where Pete would soon enroll took notice of the young prodigy. Said Daniel High player Herbert Cooper: “Pete was the first kid I ever saw who played one sport year-round”.
And this from another Daniel High player, Jimmy Howard: “The little f***ker always had a basketball”.
Pete would dribble everywhere he went, and never go anywhere without dribbling. He would dribble the 2-miles between his home and the center of town, all the time using the drills created by Press.
For Christmas 1956, Press bought Pete a bicycle, but not for the same reason all other parents would buy their children bicycles. This bicycle was to be a tool in yet another drill designed by the mad-scientist.
With this bicycle, Pete could be seen continually cycling all over town. But something very different was being witnessed.
While cycling, Pete would be dribbling the basketball!! First with his right hand, then with his left hand, then with his right hand, then with his left hand. Up and back, throughout and all over town. There would be Pete, executing yet another drill created by Press. Nobody had ever seen anyone ride a bicycle and dribble a basketball at the same time. And it didn’t take long for Pete to master this exercise.
With another drill mastered by Pete, the mad-scientist Press went back to his laboratory and came up with his wildest creation yet.
One day, after breakfast, Press instructed Pete to grab his basketball and get in the car. Not even Pete could have imagined what was going to happen.
Once in the car, Press instructed Pete to lie across the backseat with the passenger door open. As Press drove, Pete would dribble the ball along the road. Press would alternate the speed of the car to further challenge Pete and teach him how to control the ball at different speeds.
Of course it wouldn’t take Pete very long to master this creation of the mad-scientist either. Amazing…..
Apparently, the mad-scientist was on to something. By the 8th grade, though undersized in both height and weight, Pete was the starting point guard for the Daniel High School varsity. In 8th grade…….
And it was but a year later, as a 9th grade starter on the Daniel High School varsity that the name “Pistol Pete” was created.
Still small and undersized in both height and weight, when Pete shot the ball he would start from his hip. After scoring 33 points in a December 1961 game, the local newspaper the Anderson Independent, christened him “Pistol Pete” in reference to his “gun-slinging, shoot from the hip style”.
A legend had been born………Or was this legend created? Created by a mad-scientist by the name of Press Maravich.
In what sums up to perfectly describing the single-minded dedication to basketball Press initiated within Pete, when Pete was in grade school he got in trouble for not doing his math homework. When the teacher asked Pete why he didn’t do his math homework, Pete explained that he didn’t have time because he was practicing basketball.
Perturbed by this news, his teacher sent Pete home with a note requesting a meeting with Press.
When Press met with Pete’s teacher and was asked about how to correct this problem of Pete practicing basketball instead of doing his homework, Press responded by explaining to his teacher exactly that which he had explained to John Wooden:
“You don’t understand. He’s going to be the first million-dollar pro”.
Fast forward to the spring of 1970. Pete has completed his playing days at LSU and was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks. When Pete signed his contract to play for the Hawks, he signed a 4-year and $1.9 million dollar contract…..
The first million-dollar contract ever signed by a professional basketball player.
The mad-scientist by the name of Press Maravich truly had created a basketball monster…………
And this was not a character in a novel as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein had been.
Pete With Press Shortly Before Press’s Death
(Stay tuned for more articles about Pete Maravich, his life and career.)