It’s Easy to Forget ‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich Ended His Career With the Celtics Alongside Larry Bird, and It Ended in Disastrous Fashion
“Pistol” Pete Maravich is easily one of the greatest scorers the game of basketball has ever known. And that’s not an opinion, folks. That’s just a stone-cold fact.
To this day, Maravich still holds the record for the most points scored in college basketball history with 3,667, averaging an incredible 44.2 points per game for the LSU Tigers. And that was only over three seasons (1967-70), as freshmen weren’t allowed to play varsity ball until 1972. That was also without the benefit of the 3-point line, which wasn’t universally implemented in the college game until 1986.
The three-time All-American then enjoyed a successful career in the NBA, where he was a five-time All-Star, a four-time All-NBA selection, and a one-time scoring champion. Maravich only ranks 117th on the all-time list for total points with 15,948. But that’s only because his career was cut short due to injury.
The more telling stat was his scoring average over the course of a decade, which was 24.24 points per game, good for 20th on the all-time list. And that’s why he was a member of both the 50th and 75th NBA Anniversary teams.
Drafted with the third overall pick in 1970 by the Hawks, Maravich played four seasons in Atlanta before being traded to the then-New Orleans Jazz ahead of the 1974-75 season, the first for the expansion franchise, and was still with the team when it made the move to Utah five years later.
Now, when recalling “Pistol” Pete’s NBA career, I’d venture to guess that most would only remember him playing for the Hawks and Jazz. But what often gets forgotten about Maravich’s Hall of Fame career is that he finished it with the Boston Celtics playing alongside a rookie named Larry Bird.
“Pistol” Pete Maravich played his final NBA games with the Boston Celtics
When the Jazz moved to Salt Lake City ahead of the 1979-80 season, Maravich’s knee issues, which had started a few years earlier, were worse than ever. He appeared in 17 games for the Jazz early in the year, averaging 17.1 points per points, but as his condition worsened, he couldn’t practice. And since Utah head coach Tom Nissalke had a rule that players who didn’t practice didn’t play, “Pistol” Pete rode the pine for 24 straight games.
He was placed on waivers in January 1980 and was quickly picked up by the Celtics, who were in the midst of their best season in years thanks to Bird, who was on his way to winning NBA Rookie of the Year. It was certainly an adjustment for Maravich, a longtime starter who was now coming off the bench.
But he made the most out of the 26 games in which he appeared to end the regular season, averaging 11.5 points in 17 minutes to help Boston to a 61-21 record and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
This was just the fourth time Maravich appeared in the postseason and the first since leaving Atlanta, as the Jazz never made the playoffs during his run with the franchise.
Maravich scored just four points in his final NBA game
As the top seed in the East, the Celtics earned a first-round bye in the 1980 NBA Playoffs. In the conference semis, they met up with the fourth-seeded Houston Rockets, who joined the Western Conference the following season. Led by Bird, who averaged 20.3 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and 1.5 steals, Boston made quick work of Houston in a four-game sweep.
Maravich had his minutes cut by nearly half, playing just nine per game, and averaged just 5.8 points per game. He did, however, shoot 61.1% from the floor, hitting 11 of 18 shots during the series.
Sadly for Boston fans, the Celtics couldn’t duplicate their performance in the Conference Finals and were upset in five games by Julius Erving and the third-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, who were then defeated in the NBA Finals by rookie Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers.
And things really couldn’t have ended much worse for “Pistol” Pete. In the final game of his illustrious career, he scored just four points, hitting only two of eight shots, and had one rebound, zero assists, and four fouls. That’s certainly not how you want to see a legend go out.
Knowing his knees couldn’t take anymore, Maravich retired a short time later. The Celtics won the NBA title a year later.
Tragically, “Pistol” Pete Maravich collapsed during a pickup game in Pasadena, California, in January 1988 and died of heart failure at the age of 40.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference