Like most people, I enjoy a bargain.
And there was one to be had in Charlotte on Dec. 20, 1969, when Pete Maravich came to town with Louisiana State and set the scoring record for the old Charlotte Coliseum.
Adult tickets were $5 for LSU’s neutral-site game against Clemson. Student tickets were – get this – $2. So a family of four could have watched Maravich score 49 points and LSU win, 111-103, for a total of $14.
There has never been anyone quite like Maravich in college. Coached by his father, Press, who advocated a “Get the ball to my son at all times” approach, “Pistol Pete” Maravich averaged an astonishing 44.2 points per game at LSU. He set NCAA scoring records in three years (freshmen were ineligible then) that have never been broken in four.
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And remember, there was no three-point shot back then.
Maravich spent much of his high school career at Raleigh Broughton, starring for the team while Press coached N.C. State. At one point, it seemed a near-certainty that Pete would join Press with the Wolfpack.
But the two Maraviches instead moved to LSU, for Pete reportedly did not have the required SAT score to attend an ACC school at the time. Thus, hoops fans in North Carolina rarely got a chance to see one of the most remarkable college basketball players ever.
But that day in 1969 – exactly five months after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon – was an exception. A crowd of 7,282 filled about three-fourths of the original Charlotte Coliseum – built in 1955, and now called Bojangles’ Coliseum – to watch Maravich against Clemson.
“We had no clue how to stop him,” John Coakley, a point guard on that Clemson team, once told me about that game. “I can’t remember how many defenses we tried against Pete. But I do remember that none of them worked.”
Maravich made a respectable 43.8 percent of his shots in college. But that night he shot the best percentage of his 83-game college career. He made 22 of 30 shots from the field (73.3 percent).
Yet after the game, the 6-foot-5 guard said he wasn’t pleased with his performance.
“I don’t think I really played that well,” Maravich told The Charlotte Observer.
Maravich added nine assists and six rebounds against Clemson. But he also had 11 turnovers, and threw one pass that particularly upset him.
“I felt tired out there,” Maravich said. “I’ve never thrown a behind-the-back pass off my butt before, but I did tonight. That shows a lack of stamina.”
Still, fans who wanted to see Maravich put on a show went home happy that night. Wrote The Charlotte Observer’s Harry Lloyd: “Later, with the game salted away, Maravich hit two more baskets that gave him the Coliseum scoring record. Bill Bradley of Princeton set the old mark of 45.”
Maravich went on to a superb 10-year pro career. Although he never won an NBA championship, he was voted a five-time NBA all-star, averaged 24.2 points per game and was elected to basketball’s hall of fame in 1987.
At age 40, in 1988, Maravich died of a heart attack while playing a game of pickup basketball in California.