Pat Riley is the author of one of the most famous (and NSFW) press releases in NBA history, saying that “Danny Ainge needs to shut the f— up and manage his own team.” While that’s his most legendary press release, it may not be his hottest take ever.
Back in 1978, Riley, who was then a broadcaster for the Lakers, released the following statement on behalf of Maravich, seriously questioning his defensive play and habits.
“In fact, one very notable person by the name of Pat Riley said in 1978: ‘Maravich is the most overrated superstar whoever came down the pike. Every guard in the league wants to send a limo to pick up Pete at the airport and play aginst his soft defense. I not only think Pete could play any other way; I don’t think he wants to.‘”Roy Firestone, ESPN Up Close
When asked by Firestone to comment on that statement, Maravich showed a great deal of respect for Riley, who took over the Lakers head coaching duties in 1981 and held the position until 1990.
“Well, I don’t know. I like Pat a lot. I think he’s not only a very successful coach, but I think he is a very hard-working coach. You know, everybody has the opinion of people.”Pete Maravich, ESPN Up Close
Being a white superstar of the rapidly growing league over the 1970s, Maravich was known for his most unique offensive style of play, highlighted by spectacular dribbles, passes, and last-second shots. Pistol Pete inspired future NBA stars like Isiah Thomas and Jason Williams. As is often the case with offensive savants, their defense is questioned.
“They would say, you know, ‘Pete can’t play defense, Pistol Pete can’t do this.‘ I would look in, and the man I happen to be playing had like 10 or 12 points or 14 points. I had 45 or 50. And I say, you know, who is defending who?”Pete Maravich, ESPN Up Close
Maravich then got very frank in trying to explain how it is to live with such a reputation. Like with other things after his career, Pistol Pete was at peace with it.
“But that’s part of the game, you know. You get a particular reputation, and then it’s like taking a pillow, Roy, going up on top of the Empire State Building, tearing it up, letting all the feathers go out, and then, two days later, trying to retrieve every feather. You can’t do it! And once that reputation has established, you can’t retrieve them all.”Pete Maravich, ESPN Up Close
James Harden is living the same life in the modern NBA. The Beard has improved on defense overall and is quite good defending in the post. But after his defensive lowlights went viral, Harden won’t ever stop hearing about his defense.
When it comes to Pat Riley, he was obviously wrong. Pete Maravich was not “the most overrated star to come down the pike.” Was he a great defender? Absolutely not. But everything else he did on the court was magic and is only getting more underrated as time goes by.