LOS ANGELES, CA (ANS) — Basketball legend “Pistol” Pete Maravich had it all – worldwide fame, financial security, a loving wife and kids, a big house in the suburbs, a fleet of expensive automobiles and the adoration of millions.
Adjusting to life without a basketball was a brutal process. “One day I was playing – I scored 38 points – and the next day I quit basketball. That was it. I was like a drug addict coming off heroin. I had gone cold turkey,” Maravich said.
He turned down requests for interviews as well as six-figure offers to appear in television commercials. During the initial months of his retirement, Maravich focused on his 18-month-old son, Jaeson, spending hours teaching the toddler to solve puzzles meant for children three times his age. When becoming “Father of the Year” didn’t fulfill him, Maravich put all of his efforts into leading a vegan lifestyle, once existing solely on water and fresh-squeezed juices for 25 days. Friends and family worried as his weight dipped to 170 pounds, almost 30 pounds before his playing weight.
As Maravich searched to find a meaning in his life, more compulsive behavior emerged. His wife Jackie recalled Pete became a “neat freak,” scrubbing pots and pans with a fervor, meticulously raking leaves, or vacuuming the entire house several times a week. He threw himself into old interests like UFOs, yoga, astral-projection, hypnosis, reincarnation, radical nutrition, Hinduism, meditation, survivalism and investing.
The New Orleans Jazz still owed him well over $1 million and he was determined to invest the money wisely. Each morning he turned to the business section of the newspaper to monitor the performance of his stocks. If his portfolio showed a profit showed a gain his mood temporarily improved. If it dipped, so did his disposition.
In addition to stocks and bonds, Maravich put significant money into orange groves, a local bank and a strip mall. Unfortunately they provided little return. He stockpiled gold Krugerrands and silver bars in an Arkansas bank, convinced that the precious metal would be the only safe asset after the imminent “crash of the world economy.” He bought property, including 30 acres in Folsom, Louisiana , where he planned to build a new home, and a bomb shelter.
Pete also continued to invest in his own physical health, ordering hundreds of dollars worth of special vitamins from overseas, believing they would extend his life past 100.
On March 25, 1982, Pete and Jackie welcomed their second son, Joshua, into the family. But the joy created by the arrival of a new child quickly wore off and Pete sank back into his ever-deepening funk. He began to think about suicide.
One night as he drove his Porsche along the 23-mile Ponchartrain Causeway, he had an ominous thought. “All I had to do was turn the wheel just 10 degrees and I would be history,” Maravich recalled in 1987. Everybody would say, ‘What an accident. Isn’t it terrible what happened to Pistol Pete?'”
On a November night in 1982, while Jackie and the boys slept upstairs, Maravich sat in his den staring at the television. Around midnight he turned off the set and quietly slipped into bed.
As he struggled to fall asleep, uncomfortable scenes from Maravich’s past played in his head. He remembered the first sip of beer at age 14 on the steps of the Methodist Church in Clemson , South Carolina . He recalled the night at LSU when, drunk on beer, he rammed his car into a parked vehicle at 55 m.p.h. The police had to knock out the shattered windshield in order to extricate Pete. Although his car was totaled Pete barely had a scratch. A police officer at the scene shook his head and said, “Pete, you’re the luckiest man I’ve ever seen.” Maravich dismissively replied, “You don’t understand, I’ve gotta play pro ball.”
Lying next to Jackie, Pete pondered the impact alcohol on his life and family. It had driven his mother to suicide. It had nearly destroyed his chance at a basketball career. And now his brother Ronnie was caught in its addictive grip.
He reflected on enemies he’d made and ugly things he had said or done to people. “It was almost as toothpicks were in my eyes,” Maravich recalled. “Things that I had done to myself. The abuses I’d made toward people and myself. Everything kept coming. It was never like this before. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It was driving me nuts.”
The clock next to his bed read 2 a.m.
He recalled that long-ago weekend at Lake Arrowhead in California when he was supposed to put on a basketball clinic for the Campus Crusade for Christ. For three days Maravich heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, but it had no impact.
“I have no time for you, Christ. My goals are set,” Pete had said. “I’ve got my scholarship, and from here on, I’m going to the pros. I’m going to make my million dollars and I’m going to get my ring. I don’t have time for you.”
Maravich remembered the many letters from fans praying for his salvation. Pete believed that those people were weak and threw their letters in the trash.
For hours and hours Pete lay awake, tortured by his memories. Then he had a revelation. There was an overriding them to his painful recollections, a through-line that he could no longer ignore: sin. Pete, drenched in sweat, peered at the clock. It was 5:40 a.m.
He sank to his knees at the foot of the bed.
With tears streaming down his face, he prayed, “God, I’ve punched you. I’ve kicked you. I’ve cursed you. I’ve used your name in vain. I’ve mocked you. I’ve embarrassed you. I’ve done all those things. Will you really forgive the things I’ve done?”
He then heard a voice.
“BE STRONG. LIFT THINE OWN HEART.”
The words were delivered “loud as thunder” Maravich often said.
Having experienced a transcendental moment, Pete prayed for his salvation.
“Jesus, I know you’re real because I’ve tried everything else,” Pete said through his tears. “I’ve got nowhere to go. If you don’t save me, I won’t last two more days.”
Then, a calm feeling flooded through his body, washing his tension away. Pete’s immense burden was lifted.
“From that moment on,” Maravich recalled, “my life was never to be the same again. When I took God into my heart, it was the first true happiness I ever had.”