Most days, the doors to LSU’s John M. Parker Agricultural Coliseum sit locked tight while students rush past to their classes or Tiger fans stream onto campus to see their latest young heroes in their next game.
In 2020, it seems a humble and dusty place to be the home of a remarkable piece of sports history. But 50 years ago Friday it was the center of the sports universe as LSU’s Pete Maravich, “The Pistol,” took his shot at a record that has only looked more unassailable with time.
It was on Jan. 31, 1970 inside the Parker Ag Center, the old 6,800-seat barn bulging with more than 11,800 witnesses, that Maravich zoomed past Oscar Robertson’s NCAA career scoring record of 2,973 points.
Maravich would finish his LSU career seven weeks later in the NIT “final four” at New York’s Madison Square Garden, having set the scoring mark at 3,667. Robertson’s record lasted less than 10 years from the end of his 1959-60 season to when Maravich surpassed him.
Fifty years later, those who were there to see it, and the rest of us who marvel at Pistol Pete’s exploits since, have to think the Maravich mark in college basketball’s history book will remain indelible 50 years from now. And much longer still.
Will Wade said he was tired of watching his team blow second-half leads.
“I don’t think his record will ever be broken, even with the 3-point line,” said former LSU coach John Brady, now color commentator on LSU’s radio broadcasts. “They don’t come to college anymore to get a degree and play four years. They come to college to go play professionally.”
Maravich not only set the career scoring record and career record for most points per game (44.2), he also set points per game records for a sophomore, junior and senior season with 43.8, 44.2 and 44.5 points per game, respectively. In 1988-89, Chris Jackson, who himself will be honored later this season by having his jersey number hung in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, came along and set the NCAA freshman scoring record with 30.2 points per game. His record, like Maravich’s, still stands.
But Jackson left after two seasons and 1,854 points scored. Jackson might have had a shot at Maravich’s point total, in four seasons, but like many players who have followed him, the lure of NBA riches proved too great to stick around.
Not that Maravich wasn’t eager to monetize his talents back then. He was the No. 1 overall draft pick that year by the Atlanta Hawks before going on to an 11-year pro career with Atlanta, the New Orleans/Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics.
Maravich’s LSU games were happenings. In a day when very few games were televised, most of the Maravich magic had to be experienced in person. Pete’s freshman games (they weren’t eligible to play varsity then) drew packed houses during the 1966-67 season while the varsity, which limped to a 3-23 record, played before friends and family after Maravich left the building.
When the Tigers went on the road, fans had to listen to radio or get inventive to find out how he did.
“When he played away, people would call the station and ask, ‘How many points did Pete get tonight?’ ” said LSU public address announcer Dan Borne, then a reporter at WAFB. “They didn’t care who won the game. That was irrelevant to them.”
On Monday, Jan. 26, Maravich scored 29 points in a 71-59 victory at home over Tennessee. It was one of Pete’s more pedestrian efforts — he only scored fewer than 30 points in six of his 83 varsity games — but it left him 39 points shy of Robertson’s record entering the Ole Miss contest.
Brady, growing up about 90 miles northeast of LSU in McComb, Mississippi, came down for the game with a high school friend to sit in tickets scored by his friend’s father, a one-time LSU football player and football season-ticket holder. Basketball playing kids may want to emulate the late Kobe Bryant today or still “be like Mike,” Michael Jordan. But back then Brady, like a lot of kids, wanted to be the next Pistol Pete.
“It was his whole mannerism,” Brady said. “His hair, the floppy socks. Every tennis shoe he wore, I tried to buy. Every time Pete changed shoes I had my mother go down to New Orleans to find me some Pete Maravich shoes, because I wanted to wear them like he wore them.”
Brady brought a small camera that Saturday, one of those then-trendy models with the flash cube on top that rotated with each exposure. Tied with Robertson’s record, Maravich came down and missed five straight shots on five straight possessions.
“I never saw him do that in my life,” Borne said. “Then he hit the sixth one, an 18-foot jump shot.”
By that time, the flash cube on Brady’s camera had nothing left.
“We were out of flash bulbs,” Brady recalled with a smile. “But it was something I’ll never forget.”
Reporters and cameramen, many from across the country, rushed the court after Maravich’s record-breaking shot went down. He amazingly did a brief on-court interview then went back to business. He ended up with 53 points on (get this) 21-of-46 shooting.
Even more remarkable: Maravich dished out 12 assists that night. And his 53-point effort doesn’t even rank among his top 14 single-game efforts.
The story of LSU’s 90-76 victory Wednesday night over Alabama looked provocatively like it would be Will Wade verbally peeling a couple of lay…
Maravich died on Jan. 5, 1988, playing a friendly basketball game in Pasadena, California. He was 40-years old. Saturday at the LSU-Ole Miss game (the Southeastern Conference purposely scheduled it as close as possible to the anniversary), Maravich’s wife Jackie and their sons will gather and he will be remembered.
LSU coach Will Wade wants his young players to take note.
"We're going to celebrate our rich tradition and the players that built the program up,” Wade said. “This is a saying I use with our players all the time: 'Drink from the well, but don't forget who dug it.'"
Naturally, Brady wishes he could be up close with Pete on Saturday like he was back then.
“It’s too bad that right now he couldn’t walk around this campus and come to games,” Brady said. “That would be phenomenal, if he could experience the love LSU would show him if he was alive today.”
There may be absence at the heart of Saturday’s remembrance. But there will be love. And there will certainly be awe over what was done 50 years ago, and likely never will be done again.
Staff writer Sheldon Mickles contributed to this column.