Editor’s note: This article appears in the Jan. 29 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
Any late-night-cable junkie has stumbled across a movie about Steve Prefontaine and felt either excited (because it’s the one with Billy Crudup) or bummed out (because it’s the one with Jared Leto). I’d say this has happened to me 20 times over the past few years. If I see Crudup or Jack Bauer’s dad, I’m in. If I see the blonde from “Melrose Place” or Leto wearing one of those awful wigs, I’m out. But either way, I always ask myself the same question: Why did Hollywood feel
the need to release competing biopics about a long-distance runner who finished fourth in the 1972 Olympics? One would have been plenty, right?
The book world has just produced a similar head-scratcher: two competing biographies of Pete Maravich, one by acclaimed author Mark Kriegel, the other by Wayne Federman and Marshall Terrill, who spent five years putting their book together in collaboration with Pete’s widow, Jackie. On the surface, dueling Maravich books seems even stranger than dueling Prefontaine movies. After all, Pistol Pete died 19 years ago, didn’t win anything other than some scoring titles and never played in the Final Four — or past the second round of the NBA playoffs. His 10-year pro career spanned the depressing ’70s, a decade marred by drug and alcohol abuse, overpaid head cases, tape-delayed playoff games, violent fights and sagging attendance. We always hear that Bird and Magic saved the NBA. Doesn’t that mean they saved it from people like Pete Maravich?
Of course, I plowed through both Maravich books in a week. When my family owned Celtics season tickets in the 1970s, I cared about seeing only five visiting players: David Thompson, Bill Walton, George Gervin, Julius Erving and Pistol Pete. 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. Kids from that era remember his appearances on CBS’s halftime H-O-R-S-E contests more fondly than any of his games. Even his basketball cards were cool, like the one from 1975, when he sported an extended goatee and looked like a count.
So you can imagine my delight when Red Auerbach plucked an end-of-the-line Pistol off waivers during Larry Bird’s rookie season. We picked up The Pistol for nothing? Sadly, he was woefully gaunt and out of shape. Limping around on a bum knee and wearing a gawd-awful perm that made him look like Arnold Horshack, The Pistol struggled to blend in with his first good NBA team. The Garden crowd adopted him anyway. Every time he jumped off the bench to enter the game, we roared. Every time he sank a jumper, we went bonkers. When he shared the court with Bird, Dave Cowens and Tiny Archibald — that would be four of the 50 greatest ever — there was always a sense that something special could happen.
But Maravich had picked up too many bad habits over the years. It was like the Celtics had adopted an abused dog from the pound — there was just too much damage. After our coach, Bill Fitch, buried him in the 1980 playoffs, The Pistol retired the following fall, missing out on suiting up for the 1981 champs. I remember being particularly crushed by the whole thing. I felt like I’d been given an expensive TV for free, and it had broken down after two months.
|Day for Farrell|
I only knew one person who died on 9/11: Holy Cross alum John Farrell, who graduated in ’91 and is remembered by all as a fun-loving, generous, charismatic guy (as well as the master of the garbage put-back layup in pickup hoops). John was blessed with a terrific group of college friends (the Carlin guys), who rallied after his death to make sure nobody would ever forget him. Back in 2002, they started a “Day For Farrell” to raise money for a scholarship in John’s name at the Nativity Mission Center in Manhattan (which was fully endowed within two years), then Brooklyn Jesuit Prep (where $75,000 has been raised over the past three years). Now it’s become an annual tradition: His friends and family gather in New York to celebrate his life and raise money for John’s scholarship fund, which allows underprivileged kids to attend a quality private school.
The fifth annual “Day For Farrell” will be held this Saturday (Jan. 27) in Manhattan, kicking off with a memorial mass in the Xavier High School Chapel (12:30 p.m.) and followed by a reception at MJ Armstrong’s (19th Street and 1st Avenue) at 2 p.m. that will feature a Final Four raffle and dozens of collectibles, tickets and charity items. There’s also a 100-percent chance that A.) there will be beer, and B.) there will be beer. If you’re a Holy Cross grad (or anyone else) in the area and you’re interested in attending, just show up at one of those locations and follow the herd from there. And if you’re interested in giving to Brooklyn Jesuit Prep in John’s name, please click here for details. Thanks for reading.