On October 17, 1970, the nation of Fiji was granted independence from the United Kingdom. That’s not the only exciting thing that happened that day. Back in the United States, “Pistol” Pete Maravich made his much anticipated NBA debut. Over the course of three seasons at LSU, Maravich averaged 44.2 points per game, and is still college basketball’s all time leading scorer. Needless to say, he entered the NBA with quite a bit of excitement. The Atlanta Hawks selected him with the third pick in the 1970 draft. Coming off a record of 48-34, the Hawks had acquired the pick in a trade with the San Francisco Warriors. With Maravich already joining a solid team, there was plenty of reason to assume he’d make an immediate impact.
The Hawks opened the season at home against the Milwaukee Bucks, led by the previous season’s big rookie, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. During the offseason, they traded for legendary point guard Oscar Robertson, so they were coming in with a lot of excitement of their own. What better way to introduce the young Maravich to the NBA? Without further ado, let’s head down to the Alexander Memorial Coliseum in Atlanta to see how it all went down.
“You’re looking at Pete Maravich. At 22 years of age, it’s reported that he signed a two million dollar basketball contract…While at LSU, he established the record as the greatest scorer in college history. Upcoming on ABC’s Wide World of Sports! Pete Maravich in his first professional basketball game!”
You can barely see Maravich as he’s surrounded by his teammates. The Hawks warmup pants feature blue and green stripes that make them look like pajamas. Anyway, let’s let our announcer continue to set the stage for today’s basketball adventure.
“From the Alexander Memorial Coliseum in Atlanta, Georgia, ABC’s Wide World of Sports brings you live, and in color, NBA basketball! Today, the Milwaukee Bucks with Lew Alcindor and Oscar Robertson, meet the Atlanta Hawks, with all-time NCAA major college scoring champion Pete Maravich, in his professional debut.”
“ABC’s Wide World of Sports is being brought to you by….Brylcreem! That little dab of Brylcreem leaves your hair looking natural. The one that more and more men are going back to for natural looking grooming. By Schlitz! Grab for all the gusto you can! When you’re out of Schlitz, you’re out of beer! And by Mercury! Where better ideas make better cars, it’s as simple as that! Mercury makes better cars at the sign of the cat!”
As for The Bonus, it’s brought to you by me wasting a lot of time watching old basketball games, and that long introduction was brought to you by play-by-play announcer Jerry Gross, who will be joined by NBA hall of famer Jack Twyman.
Apparently that introduction was so long, we missed the start of the game. As we pick up the action, Milwaukee’s already ahead, 5-2. Not only that, but Pete Maravich is not out on the court. Hawks coach Richie Guerin has elected to bring the rookie off the bench and wants to work him in slowly, according to Jerry Gross. As the opening quarter continues, Maravich remains on the bench, while the Hawks open up an early lead thanks to some hot shooting from Lou Hudson. Overall, it was a fairly uneventful first quarter, as both teams seem to be feeling each other out.
Other first quarter highlights
– We learn that Hawks forward Bill Bridges was born with one leg longer than the other.
– Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had to leave the game with three early fouls. The Hawks were able to take advantage of his absence and extend their lead.
– Milwaukee’s coming off a 10-0 preseason, in which they gave up just 96 points a game. That’s including a 45 point win against these Hawks. Atlanta went 3-9 in the preseason, and gave up an astonishing 122 points a game.
– Of Atlanta starting center Walt Bellamy, Jerry Gross says, “What a controversial career he’s had!” He unfortunately does not elaborate.
End of First Quarter: Hawks 25, Bucks 19
Thankfully, Pete Maravich comes off the bench to start the second quarter. Jack Twyman tells us that he spoke to the young man before the game, and reports that he’s nervous about his first game. Twyman goes on to say that he thinks Maravich will fit perfectly with the Hawks.
After a quiet couple of minutes, Maravich breaks up a 2-on-1 Milwaukee fast break by picking off a pass. He then zooms down the court, pulls up and rattles home a jumper, inspiring the loudest cheer from the crowd thus far, as it gives the Hawks a 36-25 lead. Not a bad way to score your first NBA points. Later in the quarter, Maravich leads a fast break for Atlanta, and flings a behind the back pass to Walt Hazzard, who zips it right back to Maravich…but he misses a layup. A little later, he flings the ball over his head down the court to one of his teammates, but he can’t convert on the layup, and another potential highlight is ruined. Overall, Maravich definitely adds extra pace to the Hawks lineup, and they were able to extend their lead with Abdul-Jabbar spending most of the quarter on the bench due to his early foul trouble.
Other second quarter highlights
– Maravich scored his second NBA basket by finishing off a fast break by taking a pass and very quickly laying it up and in.
– Jack Twyman noted that while people might be disappointed when they find that Maravich doesn’t score as much in the NBA as he did in college, it won’t be his job to score all the points for the Hawks. Twyman believes Maravich’s role will have more to do with improving the Hawks ball movement and pace, something he was certainly able to do during his time on the floor.
– There’s been all sorts of technical difficulties in this game, with the video breaking up numerous times. It seems to happen exclusively on one end of the court, while the Bucks are trying to score. Jerry Gross has apologized twice for the difficulties so far. Not your fault, Jerry.
Halftime: Hawks 52, Bucks 43
During halftime, Jack Twyman interviews his former Cincinnati Royals teammate, Oscar Robertson, who is making his debut with the Milwaukee Bucks, coming over in the offseason via trade. Oscar reports that the Hawks are getting too many offensive boards, which is why his Bucks are behind here at halftime. He also says that the Hawks must be bringing Pete Maravich along slowly because they see some “flaws in his play”. Oscar also notes that he didn’t shoot enough in the first half and that he hopes to correct that in the second half.
This is the second game I’ve watched with Oscar Robertson in it, and I’ve noticed that while other teams of that era seemed to be more free-flowing on offense, with as much ball movement as possible, Oscar seems to be more in control of the ball. His teams have seemed more deliberate in their approach, mainly because he brings the ball up and spends a lot of the possession deciding what to do with it. Again, this is only the second game of his I’ve seen, but I can see how he racked up such tremendous scoring and assist numbers. His usage rate must have been off the charts.
While were here at halftime, let’s take a look at the scoring leaders. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leads the Bucks with 11 points, despite the three fouls that kept him on the bench for a lot of the second half. Lou Hudson leads the Hawks with 18 points, and Walt Hazzard has contributed 11. Pete Maravich managed four points while he was out there.
Next up, during this eventful halftime, Jack Twyman presents Pete Maravich with a trophy for that year’s Outstanding Collegiate Player Award. He’s asked by Twyman about the adjustments he has to make here in the NBA.
“Well, I think you have to make a number of adjustments. Number one, you have to adjust on defense. You can’t be lackadaisical on any one person in the NBA since they’re so super. Another adjustment you have to make is to the disciplined offense that Richie runs, and this is something that everybody adjusts to once they–because the veterans have been running this type of offense for a long period of years, and uh, right now I’m just trying to get into the groove of the NBA, and uh, I think everything’s going to work out.”
While he watches from the bench, he says he’s trying to get a feel for how the defense operates. He acknowledges that his scoring ability isn’t necessarily needed on the Hawks, and that he wants to “utilize any part of my game that can help the Hawks get to the NBA Championship.” After the interview, we’re thrown back to Jerry Gross, who announcers some more of the proud sponsors of ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
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It was cool to see Pete Maravich interviewed. He seemed like a humble dude, who knew that he wasn’t going to burst into the NBA and average 40 points a game like he did in college, and that to be a success in the pros, he’d have to adjust to the ways of the NBA.
“That’s the end of our halftime activities,” says Jerry Gross, “and we’ll return for the start of the second half here on ABC’s Wide World of Sports in just one moment…”
As the focus returns to the game at hand, Jerry Gross and Jack Twyman talk about the rebounding difference between the two teams, something Oscar Robertson noted in his halftime interview. The Hawks have out-rebounded the Bucks, 41-21, with Bill Bridges grabbing 19 boards alone.
Once play resumes, the Hawks are able to build their lead up to 64-52, however, it’d be all downhill from there as Atlanta’s offense gets stagnant, allowing the Bucks to eliminate their deficit by scoring eleven straight points. Finally, Pete Maravich is brought back into the game to try and get the offense going a little better. By this point, though, the Bucks are right there with them, playing with a faster pace of their own, and we’ve got a one point ball game heading into the final quarter.
Other third quarter highlights
– Another reason the Bucks are back in the game is they’ve been able to keep the Hawks off of the boards more effectively than they were in the first half.
– Despite vowing to shoot more in the second half, Oscar Robertson was fairly quiet in the third quarter, though he did give the Bucks a brief lead by getting an offensive rebound off his own miss and getting it into the hoop. We couldn’t see it because of the continued technical difficulties, but Jerry Gross is doing his best to provide ample play-by-play. Robertson also unleashed a nice full court pass to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for an easy bucket.
– We learn that Milwaukee’s Bob Boozer owns a restaurant and a couple of car washes and is hoping to retire in basketball in a few years.
– Apparently Atlanta’s Lou Hudson is a bachelor and visited “the Far East,” as Jerry Gross puts it, to visit the American Armed Forces that were stationed over there at the time.
End of third quarter: Hawks 75, Bucks 74
Let’s take this opportunity to take another look at our scoring leaders. Lou Hudson, who hit two free throws at the end of the third quarter to give the Hawks their one point lead, has a game high 27 points. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, still known as Lew Alcindor at this point, leads the Bucks with 23. Walt Hazzard’s scored 15 for Atlanta, while Bob Boozer has chipped in with 13 for Milwaukee. Also, coming up next on ABC’s Wide World of Sports: Notre Dame takes on Missouri in a college football battle.
The game remains close in the early stages of the fourth quarter. Pete Maravich stays in the game for the Hawks. He was able to work himself free with a series of fakes in the corner, keeping his pivot foot planted and shaking off his defenders. He then curled around the perimeter to get open for a shot, only to have Kareem come charging out towards him, forcing him to shoot an errant rainbow shot over the outstretched arm of the Milwaukee center. It was almost awesome. The Bucks were able to take a lead thanks to a lousy Maravich pass that was picked off and led to a Milwaukee fast break. Eventually, Milwaukee grabs a three point lead after Greg Smith comes flying in for an offensive rebound and kicks the ball out to John McGlocklin for an open basket. I have to say, despite some impressive flashes (including a nice pass along the baseline for a layup), Maravich is having a hard time making an imprint on the game here in the second half. The Bucks have been able to bottle him up pretty well with double teams that trap him and force him to stop his dribble.
8:18 remaining: Bucks 85, Hawks 82
With Maravich back on the bench, the Bucks lead continues to grow. They’re blocking shots, corralling rebounds on both ends, and even initiating a few fast breaks to grow their lead. Meanwhile, the Hawks have gone cold and have started to turn the ball over at an alarming rate. One of those turnovers was a pass picked off by Bob Dandridge, who took it the length of the court for a two hand slam to get the Bucks lead up to double digits. Everything that was working for the Hawks in the first half, namely their excellent rebounding and some hot shooting from Lou Hudson, has gone completely out the window, which has led to an 11-2 Milwaukee run since our last time out.
4:49 remaining: Bucks 96, Hawks 84
Maravich returns to the game for the Hawks and is immediately more aggressive, especially when looking for his own shot. He immediately hits a long jumper, and on the next possession, makes a nice pass to center Walt Bellamy for an easy bucket. However, the increased aggression doesn’t translate to much success on the scoreboard, especially with all of Maravich’s other shots missing. Nevertheless, he’s showing a nice ability to penetrate and make things happen. Unfortunately for Atlanta, it’s too little, too late.
1:56 remaining: Bucks 103, Hawks 92
Over the last couple of minutes of the game, the Hawks apply some pressure defense, but the Bucks have this one well in hand. Pete Maravich does show off a behind the back dribble to dazzle the crowd, and Lou Hudson hits a long range shot that comes just after the final buzzer, so it doesn’t count, disappointing an already disappointed crowd of Atlanta Hawks fans.
Final Score: Bucks 107, Hawks 98
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the Bucks with 32 points, and Bob Dandridge added 21. Lou Hudson scored 27 to lead Atlanta, but he cooled off considerably after a scorching first half, and was held scoreless in the fourth quarter as the Bucks pulled away. Walt Bellamy added 21 for the Hawks, and Pete Maravich scored seven off the bench.
This wasn’t exactly the rip-roaring debut one might have expected from the legendary Pete Maravich. He showed flashes of his greatness, but he was kept on the bench for most of the game. It was frustrating to watch, and I’m sure it had to have been a little frustrating for him at the time. If you ask me, this game could have used a lot more Maravich.
As for the rest of the season, Maravich would go on to average 23.2 points a game in 36.1 minutes a night, so he clearly found his way off the bench. The Hawks would finish a disappointing 36-46 and lose to the New York Knicks in the Eastern Semifinals, 4-1. Maravich would remain in Atlanta until 1974, and the team wasn’t able to find much success with him and Lou Hudson. During the 1974 offseason, he was traded to the expansion New Orleans Jazz, returning him to his college territory of Louisiana. He had his best seasons there, leading the league in scoring with 31.1 points a game in the 1976-77 season, which included a 68 point game, at the time a record for a guard. Unfortunately, the Jazz struggled, and Maravich suffered through numerous injuries which eventually hampered his incredible skills. The Jazz moved to Utah and waived Maravich during the 1979-80 season. He was then scooped up by the Boston Celtics to come off the bench and provide some extra offense. They took him to the postseason where the Celtics fell in the Conference Finals to the 76ers. After that, with his knee injuries ever present, Maravich decided to retire at the age 32. Had he stuck around, he could have won a championship with the Celtics, but it was just not in the cards.
To this day, Pete Maravich is remembered as one of the most electrifying characters in NBA History. He doesn’t have the championships and a resume full of heroic Playoff moments, but his artistry with the basketball was enough to keep his memory alive long after his death, which unfortunately came in 1988 after he suffered a heart attack while playing pick up basketball.
If anybody from the NBA is reading this, which I highly doubt, but on the off chance, how about getting some Maravich games included on NBA League Pass? This one I bought off iTunes a few years ago, and I don’t think it’s even available anymore. On top of that, it’s a pretty uneventful debut and doesn’t really highlight the memorable player we all know and love. Come on, release that 68 point game. The people demand it.