Pete Maravich

Pistol Pete: College Basketball's All-Time Leading Scorer...For Now

When it became apparent that Caitlin Clark was going to break the NCAA women's basketball scoring record, then the record set by Lynette Woodard before women's basketball was part of the NCAA, leaving only one more mountain to climb, we decided to look at college basketball's all-time leading scorer (for now), Pete Maravich.

The best sports debates are the what if kind, such as: what if Babe Ruth played in the live ball era vs. what if Babe Ruth played against Black players?

Or, what if Pete Maravich played when freshmen were eligible, and there was a shot clock and a three-point line?

(Tangentially, what if Pete Maravich and Julius Erving had teamed up for longer than the two exhibition games they played together for Atlanta, for which the Hawks averaged 135 points per game?)

“Pete Maravich is the most skilled basketball player I've ever seen, Erving said in his Dr. J autobiography.)

Pistol Pete's Upbringing

Maravich’s father Press, who had been a good player himself, was as a coach and as a father a demanding hard ass. He introduced Pete to the fundamentals of the game when he was seven years old, and the boy spent most of his time working on ball control tricks, passes, head fakes and long-range shooting.

Nothing crazy about that. But, dribbling a basketball while leaning out of a car window as his father drove at various speeds? Unusual.

Anyway, Pistol Pete (so named because his shot started from the hip, not because his father was said to have threatened to shoot him with a .45 if he drank or got into trouble) got so good so fast that he was made a member of the varsity team at Daniel High School in Central, SC, a year before he was old enough to actually attend the school.

Not everyone on the team was fired up to have a 90-pound, 5’2” bone rack as a teammate, even if his father was the coach at Clemson University. But in his second appearance with the varsity, Maravich won the game with a buzzer beater, and crowds started to come out to watch the little kid who was a wizard with the ball.

As Press Maravich bounced around the college basketball world, his son followed, attending three different high schools, including Edwards Military Institute, where he averaged 33 points per game.

When Press earned the head coaching job at LSU in 1966, he brought Pete with him.


Pete was listed in the team roster as 6-foot-4, 165 pounds, and that weight figure was probably generous. The great sportswriter Peter Finney said he was so skinny, he could “tread water in a test tube.” His gangly limbs only added to the effect. Pete wasn’t impressive at first sight.

At that time NCAA rules kept freshmen off the varsity, which meant Maravich was the best player on campus but could only play on the frosh team, for which in his first game he had 50 points, 14 boards and 11 assists.

No one kept stats on how many teammates suffered broken fingers and noses before they learned to always be on the lookout for a Maravich pass that seemed to come out of nowhere.

Maravich wasn’t the first player to dribble behind his back or make a deft between-the-legs pass. But his playground moves, circus shots, and hotdog passes were considered outrageous during his era and, perhaps because he cultivated a freewheeling image, some basketball purists felt he was more style than substance, said, decades after the fact.

Give This Guy His Chance!

You want substance? When Maravich joined the varsity, wearing equally floppy hair and wool socks, he averaged 43.8, 44.2, and 44.5 points per game, leading the country in scoring all three seasons and totalling 3,667 for his career.

Consider this: that total obviously doesn’t include the 741 points Maravich scored in freshman competition.

Secondly, Maravich played before there was a three-point line, and he was a bomber. It’s reported that Dale Brown, who later coached LSU, charted every shot Maravich took and concluded the Pistol would have averaged 57 points and 12 three-pointers per game if there was a line.

Finally, this was also before the advent of the shot clock, and one would have to think the quicker pace would have led to more shots attempted and shots made for Maravich.

However, the SEC was mostly segregated during Maravich’s time in Baton Rouge, so that certainly had an impact on the quality of the defenders guarding him.

Pete In The NBA

Maravich was drafted third overall by the Atlanta Hawks in the 1970 NBA draft, but his flashy style clashed with the more down to earth play of the Hawks stars, guard Lou Hudson and center Walt Bellamy.

Also flashy: Pistol’s contract, valued at $1.9, about $15 million today, before really big money came to the league.

Averaging 23 points per game, Maravich learned to blend in with the veterans, enough so that Hudson had his best season ever. But the Hawks won 12 fewer games than the previous season and lost to the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs.

More of the same in year two, but in his third season, Maravich was fifth in the league in scoring and sixth in assists, and he and Hudson were just the second pair of teammates to each score more than 2,000 points in a season.

But none of it translated into playoff wins, and in the summer of 1974, the expansion New Orleans Jazz sent two players and four draft picks to Atlanta for Maravich, who could always sell tickets in Louisiana, even if his teams didn’t win championships.

He was All-NBA in 1975–76 and in 76-77, when he scored 50 or more points four times, including a 68-point performance against the Knicks, then the most points ever scored by a guard, and behind only Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. This was still without a three-point line.

Knee injuries slowed Maravich for the rest of his career, which finished up in Boston on a team led by rookie superstar Larry Bird (the potential of Bird and a healthy Pistol together boggles the mind).

Maravich came off the bench to provide offense as the Celtics went 61–21, the best record in the league. For the first time in years, Maravich was in the NBA playoffs, but the Celtics lost to the Sixers in the Eastern Conference finals.

Maravich retired at the end of that season, which happened to be the year the league finally put in the three-point shot.

On terrible knees, he made ten-of-15 threes, for a career completion rate of 67 per cent.

After retirement, Maravich was for a time a recluse, exploring various life philosophies both conventional and way out there, eventually taking up evangelical Christianity.

In 1987, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and his jersey has been retired by the Atlanta Hawks and both the Jazz and the Pelicans.

The next year, Maravich died at the age of 40 during a pick-up game, due to an undetected heart defect. His premature death and the nature of his career have made Pete Maravich memorabilia extraordinarily valuable.

A signed game ball from his 68-point night sold for $131,450 in 2009, and in 2023 a 1970 Topps card featuring Maravich became one of the most expensive basketball cards of all time, selling for $552,000.

In 2005, Maravich was named the greatest college basketball player of all time by ESPNU.

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