News Articles

Pistol Pete’s faith gets new spotlight

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Pistol Pete Maravich is remembered by most sports fans for his floppy socks, shaggy hair, showmanship and unprecedented scoring records.

But Maravich, who died of a heart attack in 1988 at the age of 40, no doubt would want to be remembered more for something else — his Christian faith. By his own admission, the Pistol spent most of his life idolizing basketball, but in his final years, he accepted Christ and wasn’t shy about telling everyone.

Maravich’s faith is back in the spotlight with the release of an inspirational edition of the popular 1991 movie “The Pistol” (rated G), which tells the story of Maravich’s exploits as a boy. Among the bonus footage on the inspirational edition — which is available at LifeWay and other Christian stores — is a 50-minute personal testimony that Maravich gave to a group of inner-city kids just over two years before he died.

The DVD testimony serves as sort of a mini-autobiography of his life: how he slept with a basketball until he was 13 year old, how he ran from God as a collegian and pro and how his life turned around when he became a Christian.

“The amazing thing about his Christianity — and I’ve never seen this with anybody else — is that it was almost like a switch had flipped inside him and he became very mature,” Marshall Terrill, who co-authored the 422-page, 2006 biography “Maravich,” told Baptist Press. “It was such a fast transition. He knew the Bible inside and out — it almost seemed like he knew it instantly…. He started quoting Scripture and memorizing Scripture. His transformation was amazing.”

Maravich holds what basketball experts consider “untouchable” records — records that likely won’t ever be broken. During his final three years at Louisiana State University (freshmen were ineligible back then) he averaged an NCAA-record 44.2 points per game, which is nearly 10 points ahead of the No. 2 scorer of all time, Austin Carr (34.6 ppg.). Even more incredible, Maravich set the record before the introduction of the 3-point shot. Shot charts from his games show he would have made between seven and eight 3-pointers per game — meaning he would have averaged more than 50 points per game.

Maravich, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, went on to play 10 seasons in the NBA, averaging 24.2 points per game for three different teams.

But while he appeared to have everything — he often would carry around $5,000 in cash — the Pistol was searching for life’s purpose.

“I searched all through the 1970s for what meaning there was to life,” he says during the DVD testimony. ” … None of it really satisfied me. They were just all brief interludes of satisfaction…. My life had absolutely no meaning at all.”

Terrill, who spent seven years researching and writing the biography, says Maravich — who claims to have spent 20,000 hours playing basketball between the ages of 5 and 17 — was miserable.

“As he got older and he went to LSU, basketball ceased to be fun simply because of the glare of the spotlight,” Terrill said. “He had started talking about retiring a year or two after his pro debut, and so the millions that he made and the adulation and the fame didn’t give him happiness. And so, all throughout the 70s, he threw himself into fads such as vegetarianism, the study of UFOs, karate, transcendental meditation. But they wouldn’t last. So when it finally came time where he became a born-again Christian, that was truly the only thing that lasted. He attacked that like he attacked the basketball.”

Maravich says as much on the DVD.

“[Jesus] saved me that day, and my life has never been the same since. … It’s not something that just happens to you and you forget about it…. It’s something that all of you are going to have to come to grips with one day in your life…. Jesus Christ changed my life. Money didn’t do it. Women didn’t do it. Friends didn’t do it.”

He challenged the youth in attendance to examine themselves.

“I praise God I know where I’m going, and I hope you do, too,” he said.

Said Terrill: “Of all Pistol Pete’s testimonies, to me that was the most compelling, because it was the longest testimony he gave. This one really seemed to really come from the heart. It was as if he was pleading in his heart for all these kids. He revealed more things in this testimony than he had ever done.”

Much of the personal testimony on the DVD includes comical basketball stories about his childhood. He would go outside during thunderstorms and try to control his dribble in mud puddles (“I felt like if I could dribble in that mud and that water and everything else and control it, I could certainly do it on a court when someone was guarding me”). He would dribble the ball into town (a two-plus-mile walk) with his right hand and dribble back with his left land. He would dribble the basketball while riding a bike. He would even dribble the ball with his head stuck out a car window with his dad driving (“When you’re trying to dribble a basketball out of a car or on a bicycle, you’ve got to throw it way out in front because … it really comes back quick, along with a lot of rocks”).

“He had an obsessive-compulsive personality, and he dedicated his whole life to basketball,” Terrill said. “He’d spend eight hours in the gym a day during the summer and four hours a day during the school year. It takes a special personality to continue on with that. He did it for 30 years.”

Then he found Christ.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust