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Friday, September 27, 2013

"Pistol", the Elvis of Basketball

Pistol. The Life of Pete Maravich- Mark Kriegel

Sadly, I was too young to watch Pistol Maravich in action, and when I really got into NBA, he was already dead. But as a basketball addict I quickly discovered the talents of Pete "Pistol" Maravich, an American icon and, foremost, a unique ballplayer that made that elevated that sport to unparalleled levels of spectacle with his never-ending talents (watch video below or links). I believed that I already got the chance to knew a bit of his turbulent life, but after reading this addictive biography, I realise I didn't have a clue of what really went on with Pistol. For good and bad.

Writer Mark Kriegel achieves what I thought it was impossible with this sort of "commercially appealing" biographies. There's very little, if any, bias from the author. Zero hagiography, instead a highly documented work, fuelled with the opinions of countless who were there, plus a will to make no prisoners, but tell a story that is shocking, powerful and touching enough by itself.

Have you seen any "Behind the Music" program? Sure, after seeing too many they look rather silly and cliche-bounded. But it also shows the classic structure of rise-fall-final rise (redemption) that is so recurrent on American mythography (literature, music, cinema...). The Maravich tale is no different... with one exception. This time it seems it was completely for real. The Elvis of basketball.

This is a tale of obsession as much as frustration, with basketball being the joy and ruin of the Maravich's family. Father Press lived for the sport, to push the game forward and making his son Pete a child prodigy fated to be "the million dollar contract kid". Pete even surpassed the expectations, averaging the never to be beaten mark of 44,2 points a game at Louisiana State University. He became a legend, a Southern icon capable of building venues thanks to his presence, more like a rock icon. But also his worst enemy too. The dream  quickly transformed into a terrible nightmare once he went professional, one where playing the ball, always his shelter, turned also to be his curse.

Kriegel does a fantastic work in showing us all. The nature of Pistol's myth and his endurance among generations, his role on transforming the game. The impossible father-son relation, leaving alone their doomed wife-mother, the contradiction between his flamboyant, individual genius style on a team sport, his incredibly lacking social skills and struggle with fame against his will to be the focus of attraction on court, and all his obsessions, including the final and relieving finding of Catholicism. And how his legend and fate haunted his family even after his death. "Pistol" is an incredibly absorbing read, even for non-basketball fans. But hey! don't just believe my word, just watch the Pistol play...

SCORE: 8,25/10

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