By Doug Koztoski
When watching game footage and instructional films of basketball legend Pete Maravich, the words dedication, skill, joy, and, some might say, magic, come to mind. One moment the ball is here, now there – then it suddenly lands in the hands of a teammate via a behind-the-back or between-the-legs pass. Or perhaps he suddenly pulls up off a dribble, and the ball arcs through the hoop from 30 feet away.
While first gaining widespread notoriety at Louisiana State University by averaging a record 44 points a game for three years, and then entering the NBA as the third overall pick in 1970, Maravich added instant spark to any team.
Topps wasted no time getting Maravich in its 1970-71 “tall-boy” issue, and, as expected, the 6-foot-5 guard leads the set’s rookie class and is among the top basketball debut cards of all time.
Include David Gaylor as part of the “Pistol Pete” posse, whether it’s Maravich’s college days or his time in the NBA for the Hawks, the Jazz or the Celtics.
In elementary school, during most of Maravich’s key NBA years, Gaylor enjoyed the playmaker on the court and through sports memorabilia.
“I loved the excitement that he brought to the game, and his ‘razzle-dazzle’ moves we tried to perfect on the playground,” Gaylor said. “He simply did so many things that hadn’t been seen before. I spent so many hours doing his homework basketball drills, and as a collector of cards at that time, I wanted everything Maravich I could find. I would trade anybody I had for ‘Pistol Pete.’ ”
Gaylor renewed his pursuit of Maravich collectibles in the early 1990s, after moving into his first house and looking through a box of his possessions that included a sports page of the superstar’s untimely death at age 40 in 1988. Maravich collapsed from a heart attack during a pickup basketball game, years after his NBA career ended.
“Between cards, photos, magazines, programs, books, figurines and other stuff, my collection is in the hundreds of different Maravich items,” he said. Locating vintage pieces of the Aliquippa, Pa., native basketball icon that Gaylor does not have is like the superstar missing a layup.
Among his Maravich menagerie, Gaylor favors a few particular pieces.
“A like-new, in the box, pair of “Pistol Pete” Pro Keds sneakers from the early 1970s, still with the wax paper; a ‘Pistol Pete’ model basketball; and a few publications that I have only seen a couple of times,” are a few rare items Gaylor lists as his favorites.
Mark McQuade is a basketball collector at heart and he happens to live in the Pittsburgh area, where Maravich first learned to play the game. McQuade owns some books and Topps cards of the one-time Pennsylvania phenom.
“I also have a few pair of the Pro Keds tennis shoes,” McQuade said. “Pistol Pete was such a colorful character, so flashy, such a human interest story.”
Mike Knezevic first gravitated toward the stylish guard’s cards because they shared a Serbian heritage.
“And as I learned more about him, I just wanted to have the best examples of his cards that fit my collecting budget,” said Knezevic. “He looked like he was having fun on the court.
“He was a great showman, not only shooting, but with his passing skills.”
The hardest to find card of “The Superb Serb?” Knezevic said look to the 1972 Comspec set.
“This was a small, regional issue with very thin card stock,” he said. It took the collector three-plus years and a couple of auctions before he obtained a 1972 Comspec of “The Pistol.”
According to Gaylor, Maravich memorabilia ranks with that of other pro sports elite from the latter half of the 20th century.
“As someone who also sells a few things at shows and on eBay, I can tell you from experience that ‘Pistol Pete’ is still one of the most popular basketball players ever. He consistently outsells all of the other guys from his era,” he said. “To me, he is in the class of the other all-time greats like Mantle, Gretzky, Jordan, etc. Although he may not be regarded that high by everyone, his cards sell at that interest level. People still want his cards. It’s obvious from all of the new issues he is seen on that people still love ‘Pistol Pete.’ ”
Sure, the Maravich rookie card gets strong attention, but Gaylor said a few additional items of the basketball icon also attract a great buzz. Examples include the black-bordered Topps Trio stickers from ’71-72, the 1971 Mattel Instant Replay Disc in an unopened package with three other NBA stars, the 1972 Icee Bear card, the Quaker Oats transfer and the Dell Flipbook.
Looking down court
“Between the movie The Pistol: Birth of a Legend and YouTube videos, books, etc., every generation that loves basketball will ultimately hear of and see the Pete Maravich story,” said Gaylor. “He truly was a player before his time.”
NBA Hall of Famer John Havlicek, who played against Maravich for several years and was an excellent dribbler and passer as well, said the bushy-haired magician was “the best ball-handler of all-time.”
Both Knezevic and Gaylor said the future of Maravich collectibles will not flop, like the round-baller’s trademark socks. In fact, they expect quite the opposite.
“I see his cards maintaining their popularity,” said Knezevic, “as he is included in most current NBA releases for ‘legends,’ which only keeps his name in front of collectors and has newer collectors curious about his accomplishments.”
Plus, Knezevic emphasized, a portion of the spotlight will remain on Maravich as long as he is the all-time NCAA Division 1 scoring leader among men (3,667 points in three years at LSU), among his other college hoops feats.
“Because of when he played and the amount of cards out there during his career, he is still a great player to collect, as most of his cards won’t cost you an arm and a leg,” Gaylor said. “The main reason that I have continued to collect and remember ‘Pistol Pete’ was his passion, first for basketball and later in his faith. He didn’t do anything half-way.”
Except, perhaps, the occasional half-court shot.
Doug Koztoski is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at email@example.com.