How Did Pete Maravich Get the Nickname ‘Pistol Pete?’

While attending LSU, it wasn’t uncommon for Pete Maravich to steal the spotlight. The team was never great, but the man known as “Pistol Pete” was. Although Maravich helped turn around a struggling program by winning 22 in his senior year, he never played in the NCAA tournament.

Yes, fans flocked to see the flashy 6-foot-5 guard. Maravich could shoot and pass with the best of them. He left LSU as the NCAA (Division I) all-time leading scorer and still holds the record 52 years later. Maravich played 10 years in the NBA and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987. How did Maravich earn the Pistol Pete nickname?

Pete Maravich once said his nickname began in junior high school

Atlanta’s rookie Pete Maravich looks as if he is being initiated in the NBA. His left eye gashed, puffy, and purple, add to his image of floppy hair and droopy socks. Maravich works his way around Laker Gail Goodrich and scores. | Getty Images.

Maravich was introduced to basketball by his father, Press. In fact, Maravich played under Press, who was his head coach at LSU. Although Press got him interested in basketball, Maravich took it upon himself to hone his skills on his own. He also worked on trick shots and mastered the behind-the-back pass.

“As I grew up, I continued to work on my drills — I didn’t have a name for them then — and even began to use the funny passes in games and other competitive situations,” Maravich wrote in a first-person Sports Illustrated article in 1969. “In high school, I had five different coaches in five years, and they never gave me much hassle about my stuff because they knew I’d play like this whether they liked it or not.

“I always put it to them this way: if I can get the ball to a man with a pass behind my back as well as I can with a regular chest pass, what’s the difference? They didn’t really appreciate that, but they let me do it anyway.”

Maravich was a skinny kid, which played a role in how he shot the ball. That shooting technique, he said, was his first memory of being called Pistol Pete.

“For one thing, I used to always take hook shots from 15 and 20 feet away in junior high,” he wrote. “It was easier for me to get the ball up there that way. I also shot from the hip because I wasn’t strong enough to get the ball high on my chest or over my shoulder. I was about 4-11 then, maybe 85 pounds, really a spaghetti. And I fired it one-handed from the hip. I think that’s when somebody first called me Pistol.”

Pistol Pete went on to have Hall of Fame college and NBA careers

Related

As He Prepped for the NBA, Pete Maravich Recalled the Play That Turned Him Into a Showman

All the hard work paid off for Maravich. He made a name for himself at LSU, where he became the NCAA’s all-time scoring leader. The most impressive about that still-standing mark is that he finished with 3,667 career points in three years. Back then, freshmen weren’t allowed to play on the varsity teams.

Maravich also averaged 44.2 points per game in college during a time when there was no three-point shot. There was also no shot clock, which would allow teams to hold the ball, giving opponents fewer possessions.

The Atlanta Hawks made Pistol Pete the third overall pick in the 1970 NBA Draft. He spent four seasons with the Hawks, the last two being All-Star seasons. He finished with five All-Star appearances in his 10-year career.

In 1974, the New Orleans Jazz came into the NBA as an expansion team and needed a player who would draw fans. They traded for Maravich, whose popularity at LSU proved beneficial for the Jazz. Maravich spent six years with the Jazz, earning a scoring title in 1977.

Two years later, the Jazz relocated to Utah. With Maravich battling knee injuries, the team waived him, and he signed with the Boston Celtics for his final season. In 1988, Maravich died while playing pickup basketball. He was 40.