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Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich Paperback – February 5, 2008

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Editorial Reviews Review

Book Description
Pistol is more than the biography of a ballplayer. It's the stuff of classic novels: the story of a boy transformed by his father's dream--and the cost of that dream. Even as Pete Maravich became Pistol Pete--a basketball icon for baby boomers--all the Maraviches paid a price. Now acclaimed author Mark Kriegel has brilliantly captured the saga of an American family: its rise, its apparent ruin, and, finally, its redemption.

Almost four decades have passed since Maravich entered the national consciousness as basketball's boy wizard. No one had ever played the game like the kid with the floppy socks and shaggy hair. And all these years later, no one else ever has. The idea of Pistol Pete continues to resonate with young people today just as powerfully as it did with their fathers.

In averaging 44.2 points a game at Louisiana State University, he established records that will never be broken. But even more enduring than the numbers was the sense of ecstasy and artistry with which he played. With the ball in his hands, Maravich had a singular power to inspire awe, inflict embarrassment, or even tell a joke.

But he wasn't merely a mesmerizing showman. He was basketball's answer to Elvis, a white Southerner who sold Middle America on a black man's game. Like Elvis, he paid a terrible price, becoming a prisoner of his own fame.

Set largely in the South, Kriegel's Pistol, a tale of obsession and basketball, fathers and sons, merges several archetypal characters. Maravich was a child prodigy, a prodigal son, his father's ransom in a Faustian bargain, and a Great White Hope. But he was also a creature of contradictions: always the outsider but a virtuoso in a team sport, an exuberant showman who wouldn't look you in the eye, a vegetarian boozer, an athlete who lived like a rock star, a suicidal genius saved by Jesus Christ.

A renowned biographer--People magazine called him "a master"--Kriegel renders his subject with a style that is, by turns, heartbreaking, lyrical, and electric.

The narrative begins in 1929, the year a missionary gave Pete's father a basketball. Press Maravich had been a neglected child trapped in a hellish industrial town, but the game enabled him to blossom. It also caused him to confuse basketball with salvation. The intensity of Press's obsession initiates a journey across three generations of Maraviches. Pistol Pete, a ballplayer unlike any other, was a product of his father's vanity and vision. But that dream continues to exact a price on Pete's own sons. Now in their twenties--and fatherless for most of their lives--they have waged their own struggles with the game and its ghosts.

Pistol is an unforgettable biography. By telling one family's history, Kriegel has traced the history of the game and a large slice of the American narrative.

"Why Pistol?"
An Exclusive Essay by Mark Kriegel
"Why Pistol?" I'm asked that all the time.Pete Maravich became famous in the late 1960s, while setting scoring records at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. I'm not a son of the South. Nor, at 44, do I have any meaningful recollection of basketball's boy wizard in his floppy-socked prime. I grew up in the Seventies, on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, a few blocks from Madison Square Garden. I was a fan of the Knicks and their star guard, Walt "Clyde" Frazier. In terms of basketball style, Clyde and Pistol were antithetical. Frazier's flamboyance--I recall committing his "wardrobe stats" to memory--was not apparent on the court. Rather, he was celebrated as a dogged defender. His game was wise, economical, his gaze expressionless. Maravich, by contrast, was considered a head-case. His eyes were sad--even a kid could see that. Still, there was a distinct exuberance in the way he moved. No one moved like that, before or since.

Continue reading "Why Pistol?"

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

As he did for another larger-than-life sports star whose achievements in his game were always shadowed by his demons outside of it, Kriegel (Namath) offers a rounded, insightful look at one of basketball's enigmatic icons. Kriegel presents Pete Maravich (1947–1988) as a "child prodigy, prodigal son, his father's ransom in a Faustian bargain." His father, Press Maravich, was the poor son of Serbian immigrants to Pennsylvania, a man obsessed with basketball as a means of personal and financial redemption. His rise as a coach loomed over Pete, who described himself as a boy as "a basketball android." A veteran sportswriter, Kriegel is more than up to the task of eliciting Pete's on-court greatness and describing basketball action in a fluid, dramatic fashion (Pete's deadeye shot earned him the nickname "Pistol"). But the book is more notable for how Kriegel evokes Press's support turning into suffocation, and the effect of the impossible expectations on Pete (he played for Louisiana State, then later for the New Orleans Jazz). In the end, Kriegel's portrait is a sad celebration of a gifted player whose collegiate legend never quite blossomed into professional greatness as he battled alcoholism, sought solace in religion and left a troubled legacy that's still felt by his children and those who knew him. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 393 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; Reprint edition (February 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743284984
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743284981
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (146 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,829 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Mark Kriegel, a former sports columnist for the New York Daily News, is the author of the critically acclaimed bestseller Namath: A Biography. He lives in Santa Monica, California, with his daughter, Holiday.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By George Bush HALL OF FAME on February 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"Pistol" is as much a story about Press Maravich (Pete's dad) as it is of Pete himself - the two really were one, contained in two bodies. Press was a professional basketball player in the early days of the game; more significantly, he was also an outstanding coach with very impressive accomplishments of his own. His coaching assistance (eg. developing drills for the young Pete), combined with Pete's native talents and seemingly never-ending practice, resulted in a basketball star that shone for years at all levels of the game.

Press was lured to the head coach position at LSU in a package deal (bring Pete also) that was an effort to build a program there; Pete didn't want to go, but his father's insistence convinced him otherwise.

The plan worked - in Pete's freshman year the frosh team outdrew the varsity, and eventually his varsity years led to the building of a much larger basketball arena. On the bad side, however, most experts also concluded that during those years Press went from being a great coach to being coach of a great player, allowing and encouraging his son's show-boating and ball-hogging. The really bad news was that during the time his mother became an alcoholic, and was largely ignored in the hoopla over Pete.

Pete's college career also included bouts of heavy drinking and partying, and episodic injury problems. He left without graduating - 29 hours short, off to pursue a professional career that began with a million dollar-plus contract to play for the Atlanta Hawks.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Dana49 on March 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Sports biographies are usually written by authors who care enough about the athlete to avoid the hard facts and lean toward the fiction. In 2005, a book entitled "Namath" was released. The author was Mark Kriegel. A few chapters in, I realized that this book was different from most sports biographies. This writer could tell a great story while using the truth and avoiding the fiction. "Namath" was both informative and entertaining.
Recently, Kriegel's newest biography "Pistol" was released. This time he takes us through a lifetime of basketball and the Maravich family. Setting fiction aside, he exposes the personal struggles and success that was once Pete Maravich. This is one of the best sports biographies that I have ever read. As good as "Namath" was, this one's better.
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful By R. Spell VINE VOICE on February 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a basketball fan old enough to watch Pete play in college I looked forward to this book which far exceeded expectations. I read Kriegel's book on Namath and found it a little too detailed and slow to read. This book reads much quicker and provided many facts of which I was unaware. For example, I had no idea that his Father Press was a very successful coach @ NC State nor that he was an excellent player in his own right.

But how does this "team oriented" coach allow his son to be such a "one-man" team? Watching Pete @ LSU was pure joy. Can you imagine a player today launching 40 foot set shots? Well, Pete did and made his share also. His passing ability was second to none.

Unfortunately my frame of reference ended with his college career. Playing in the pros for weak teams meant he was never televised nationally so I did not follow his initial tough beginning followed by his eventual rise. Kriegel fills in all the holes.

In summary, this is an exceptional biography that would interest anyone interested in sports in the 60s including the evolution of racial participation, basketball in general, the NBA, or just a human interest story of someone who led a unique life, turned it around to only then die tragically early. The ultimate biography which I strongly recommend.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Sammydetroit on February 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I noticed the Washington Post's reviewer referred to certain passages in Mark Kriegel's PISTOL as "infelicitous." I'm no expert in these matters, but it seems to me that the use of such a term in regard to a sports biography is not only pretentious but--well, downright infelicitous.

Not being a basketball fan, I initially resonated with PISTOL because much of the action unfolds in my old stomping grounds, the Beaver Valley, just north of Pittsburgh. Kriegel captures a time and place that has faded into the mists of history. And he captures it vividly: As I read the section on the steel mills of Aliquippa I swear I could taste the acrid soot in the back of my throat.

And I soon found the book dealt with a much broader subject than the title implied. The setting of PISTOL may be a basketball court, but the story evokes images from the great myths. Daedalus and Icarus; Laius and Oedipus; the ghost and Hamlet: All speak of the power fathers exert over sons, for good or ill. And Kriegel has captured that essence in this outstanding biography. If you don't shed a few tears as you read this bittersweet story, you surely are made of stone.

PISTOL transcends its genre, and in so doing marks Kriegel as one of the great chroniclers of American culture in the twentieth century.

As for the reviewer from the Washington Post, I would advise him to get used to Kriegel's "infelicitous" phraseology. It's called style, Mr. Reviewer, and Kriegle has it in abundance. Let's hope he brings us many more stories of fascinating, flawed Americans.
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