Pistol Pete Maravich was a torched genius and a sports prodigy from a young age, mastered by his father - to an ugly degree - to become the most innovative and dazzling basketball player in history. LaMelo Ball’s flair, size and build, remarkability of always seizing to entertain as well as his upbringing of a present powerful basketball father figure, make the comparison laid out by longtime Bull’s broadcaster, Stacey King, a truly great one. But why would LaMelo not want to follow the path of an all-time great?
An innovator of passing before the Magics and Birds, a pioneer of dribbling before the Isiahs and Iversons and a trailblazer for long range shots, well before the Lillards and Currys - there really isn’t another Pistol Pete. Although he and LaMelo share the jaw dropping attraction of finding unimaginable angles for teammates, impossible shots with artistic ball spins, all while moving around defenders with a grace and tranquility that remains unmatched by the other physically aggressive dependent players on the floor. They just can’t help but stand out.
Pistol Pete's rare birth defect
One would think that this elegance was unteachable, but when analyzing Maravich’s upbringing, it’s not hard to note some similarities with the social media sensation’s rise - even if Ball was not put through near the abuse. Other than soon being an alcoholic insomniac, Pistol was born without a left coronary artery, a heart condition that took most its victims by the age of twenty and removed any possibility of one day becoming a professional athlete. But Maravich defied the impossible.
Maravich's vs. LaMelo's upbringing
He was raised in his words as a “basketball android” by his abusive father, hell bent on draining every last drop of talent and potential out of him. When he wanted to try a different sport, his dad would hit him in the face with a baseball. To scare him off doing anything that might derail his inevitable ‘million dollar career’, Pistol’s dad would threaten him with a 45 caliber pistol. He was forced to play 8-10 hours of basketball a day, starting a very young age. Safe to say LaMelo did not face this level of fear or control, but it’s no secret LaVar groomed LaMelo from a young age with the aspirations of the NBA.
Pistol Pete college career
After being the most famous high school ball player in the world, Pistol begrudgingly took his talents to an all-time low LSU team. His reluctance was brought upon by the team’s abysmal record and current head-coach, his own dad. You can’t make this stuff up. Pistol went on to destroy every conceivable scoring record in college, averaging 44.2 points per game. This was without a three point line which would have only tallied more to his stat sheet. However the team failed to have much success, which was not at the hands of Pistol but more his supporting cast. LaMelo obviously played in the JBA league, a league created by his father, orchestrated to see LaMelo touch the ball as much as possible even though he did not win anything significant.
LaMelo fortunately does not have the same fondness for alcohol as Maravich did, but in fairness, LaMelo is playing ball in a much more formidable and supportive league than how it was in the 70’s. Cocaine and other self harming substances were nothing more than just accepted habitual traits of the typical athlete of that time. No awareness around mental health, no supportive programs for speaking out or receiving help, not enough money floating around to remove inner team jealousy. When Maravich signed a record-breaking 5 year, $1,900,000 contract as an unproven rookie, he immediately was unliked. That was something he never recovered from, which on top of a horrible family incident, led to severe paranoia. With all the pre-pro endorsements and TV deals that LaMelo sinked in, this was still not a problem for him once he entered the modern NBA. Even if it did put a slight target on his back when he was in the NBL.
But look at the way people spoke about Pistol Pete and tell me it doesn’t ring a paralleled identity to that of the youngest Ball brother, “Maravich was like 12 Globetrotters rolled into one. No pass was too far-fetched, no shot too far away. He'd glide across the court -- all rubbery limbs, ball attached to his hand like a yo-yo, blank expression on his face -- and nobody knew what would happen next. The scoreboard never seemed to matter as much as the show” (Bill Simmons’ ESPN 2 Sports Guy column, ‘There’s only one Pistol Pete).
Scoring 68 against the all-time defender, Walt Frazier
Pistol was so great that if you touched anything except the top of the ball while dribbling in his day, it was a carry. That means his foreign crossovers and flashy passes were even harder to do back then! His greatest moment was scoring 68 against the all-time defender in Walt Frazier and the rough New York Knicks (setting a then NBA record for all guards), and it would have been more if not for dubious foul calls.
But this is why LaMelo's journey is not an ideal one if it just reaches Maravich’s peak. Although his prime was wasted on awful Hawks and Jazz teams, he was still an overall loser. The gym rat persona and creativity is what LaMelo should take from Maravich, not the lack of playoff success. LaMelo can learn that Maravich’s defense - his biggest weakness - only became passable when he himself became physically stronger during his Jazz stint. That it takes patience to grow into your body, something hard to come by when you are an immediate star since highschool.
Fortunately enough, Maravich ended up finding inner peace with christianity at the end, becoming a lay-preacher while educating kids at basketball and Bible camps. Although he has become one of the forgotten greats due to the league’s inability to televise most games in his prime, and his sudden death not long after retirement at the age of 44, there’s more than one similarity and lesson between him and LaMelo’s game. He just needs to look.