The blockbuster trade that put the Jazz on the NBA map — and landed Pistol Pete in New Orleans
“Pistol Pete” Maravich just wasn’t a franchise. The former LSU star, college basketball’s all-time leading scorer, was the franchise soon after New Orleans was awarded an NBA team on March 7, 1974. A subsequent trade with the Atlanta Hawks to obtain Maravich, dubbed “The Louisiana Purchase,” included the Jazz giving the Hawks two first and second picks for the 1974 and 1975 drafts, two expansion draft picks, options to swap first-round draft positions in 1976 and 1977, and a deal to choose the Hawks’ Walt Bellamy in the expansion. Maravich’s response when he learned what the Jazz gave the Hawks in the trade: “Is that all?”
Maravich has had his jersey retired by LSU, the Pelicans (though he never played with the franchise) and the Hawks. After relocating to Utah, the Jazz finally made it to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, losing both times to the Bulls. After the Jazz left New Orleans, the city didn’t get another NBA franchise until the 2002-2003 season when the Charlotte Hornets re-located from North Carolina, renaming itself the Pelicans just before the 2013-14 season.
- Maravich was selected to play in the NBA All-Star game five times and played in four, missing one due to injury.
- In a 2014 NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune ranking of the top 50 Louisiana athletes of all time, he came in at No. 3, behind only Peyton Manning and Shaquille O’Neal.
- Once the Jazz moved its home games to the Superdome for the start of 1975-76 season, Maravich — with his uncanny ball-handling skills — and the Jazz drew some of the biggest crowds in NBA history. But he and his teammates never qualified for the playoffs. After he hurt his knee on Jan. 31, 1978, he basically played on one leg the rest of his career after refusing surgery.
- Dwindling crowds resulted in the Jazz being sold and moved to Salt Lake City for the start of the 1979-80 season. Maravich was waived in January 1980 and he signed with Boston Celtics. He retired at the end of training camp just before the start of the 1980-81 season after averaging 24.1 points in his 10-year NBA career.
- At age 40, he became one of the youngest players ever inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on May 5, 1987. Exactly eight months later, on Jan. 5, 1988, Maravich died of a heart attack while playing pickup basketball. An autopsy revealed he was born without a left coronary artery.
- The Jazz wasn’t New Orleans’ first professional basketball franchise. The New Orleans Buccaneers were a charter member of the American Basketball Association. The franchise lasted three seasons from 1967-68 to 1969-70 before moving to Memphis.
- The LSU men’s and women’s basketball teams play their home games in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, named after him shortly after his death.
- Maravich still holds 16 NCAA records, including most points scored in a career (3,667 in three seasons from 1967 to 1970) and career scoring average (44.2). One of his most incredible stats is his scoring 40 or more points in 67.5 percent of his 83 college games. He scored 40 or more in 56 games and in half of those he scored 50 or more.
- Maravich is the only of four players ever to lead the NCAA and NBA in scoring for at least one season. The others on this elite list are Rick Barry, Paul Arizin and George Mikan.
- Throughout his college career and in his four seasons with the Hawks, Maravich wore his lucky gray “floppy” socks that drooped around the ankles. But when the Jazz moved to New Orleans, he stopped wearing them because he wanted to demonstrate his commitment to team play rather than drawing attention to himself.
- It was once said Maravich, who averaged 44.2 points per game during his LSU career, would have averaged more than 50 if the college game had a three-point line when he played. When he opened his junior season with the Tigers playing at Loyola — where the New Orleans Bucs of the ABA played its home games — Maravich scored 54 points and more than half of his 22 field goals were from behind the ABA’s three-point line. In Maravich’s final season in the pros when the NBA installed the three-pointer, he hit 10-of-15 threes.
The price the Jazz paid for the rights to sign Maravich in 1974 was an undeniably steep one, but more than 40 years later it is still paying dividends. The win-loss records of his Jazz teams aside, Maravich put professional basketball on the map in New Orleans in a very real way, with his dazzling brand of on-the-court magic igniting an appreciation for the pro game that continues today among local fans. He never played for the Pelicans, the city’s current NBA franchise, but they are nonetheless a part of his deep legacy in the Bayou State, a place where “Pistol” Pete is still remembered, even revered, as one of the greatest ever.