I don’t know where you were on October 5, 1972, but I remember where I was. I was among close to 5,000 basketball fans at the official opening of UNA’s famed Flowers Hall. It was the first competition on the court that since then, has seen the UNA Lions carve perhaps one of the best home winning percentages in all of Division II basketball.
The game was an NBA exhibition game between the Atlanta Hawks and the league’s most storied franchise—the Boston Celtics. Stars were galore that night. The Celtics, NBA kingpins for many years, were coached by Tom Heinsohn and featured such stars as John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, Don Nelson and Jo Jo White.
But there was no doubt who the top drawing card that night was. It was none other that “Pistol” Pete Maravich. This is SEC country and fans not only had experienced the magical talents of Maravich while playing at LSU, nobody could do the things he could with a basketball.
Maravich’s college career at LSU has rarely, if ever, been matched. He played for the Tigers from 1967-’70. He’s still the all-time leading NCAA Division I scorer, pouring in 3667 points. His three-year average of 44.2 points per game is still the NCAA record and came when the 3-point shot wasn’t in effect.
I was in Coleman Coliseum the day he scored 69 points against Alabama. He was the most amazing college basketball player I’ve ever seen. I can’t recall anybody breaking his record of being named the college “Player of The Year” three years in a row. Maravich was drafted by the Hawks as the 3rd overall pick in the 1970 NBA draft.
He later was traded to the New Orleans/Utah Jazz and retired in 1980 because of injuries as a member of the Boston Celtics. Maravich was only 40 years old when he died of a previously undetected congenital heart defect while playing in a pickup basketball game. He was one of the youngest players to ever be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He was cited by the Hall as “perhaps the greatest creative offensive talent in history.”
None other than Hall of Famer John Havlicek said in a 2010 interview-“the best ball handler of all-time was Pete Maravich.” He thrilled the Flowers Hall crowd that October night by scoring 42 points in a 122-120 Hawks victory. The “Pistol” got his nickname for his style of shooting from the hip like a gunslinger. The UNA Lions have won hundreds of games on their home court, but what a night when the “Pistol” fired the opening shot on that October night in 1972.
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