At the end of his nine-day stay in New York City, Pistol Pete Maravich was ready to go home. He had come to town eager to justify his title as basketball's Mr. Showtime, and he could hardly wait to get out there under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, before a full house, and fire off the leaping, twisting shots that had made him college basketball's alltime scoring leader. He'd show those city dudes Pistol Pete the magician, scrambling down the floor on a fast break, his long hair flopping, his old gray sweat socks drooping, the basketball dancing through his legs and around his back. As he said before taking his first dribble in the National Invitation Tournament, "I've always insisted that basketball is an entertainment, and New York is where the fans love basketball. Either we will swallow New York—or New York will swallow us."
Well, it turned out to be something like mutual heartburn. New York loved Pete's act, but Marquette's team and its star, Dean Meminger (opposite), upstaged him in the end and won the tournament. After his NIT adversaries had come at him with their aggressive, gang-up defenses, Maravich looked—and felt—as if he had been worked over by a mugger in Central Park. At one point, besides a severely upset stomach that caused him to lose 10 pounds, Pete had a knot on his head, a bruised hip, a strained ligament in his leg and a sprained ankle. Although LSU won two games and finished fourth, his brilliant passes were few and far between. And after his team was beaten in the semis, Maravich decided to sit out Saturday's consolation game with Army.
"I didn't want to risk hurting myself further," he said. "I wanted to come here and win for my dad [the LSU coach], but everything was a disaster. Man, I've had enough of this place."
While Maravich was having his troubles, Coach Al McGuire and his hungry, angry urchins from Milwaukee showed why they were the tournament favorites. The Warriors hounded a limping Maravich into uselessness and beat LSU 101-79 in the semifinals. And on Saturday afternoon they easily disposed of McGuire's alma mater, St. John's, to win the final 65-53.
"We're a great little team," said McGuire, whose usual snappy attire was surpassed in brilliance only by his team's black-and-gold striped uniforms. "We thought we would win—and we did."
All season, of course, the Warriors had been pointing not for the NIT but for an at-large berth in the big tournament, the NCAA. After finishing with a fine 22-3 record, Marquette got an NCAA bid all right, but to the Midwest Regional in Fort Worth instead of the Mideast at Dayton, Ohio. This was not the first time that the NCAA had asked a team to switch regions in order to fit in all the best independents, but McGuire balked, fumed and finally said phooey—the Warriors would go to New York and the NIT.
"We were unjustly kept out of the Mideast," said McGuire. "I didn't want to go to Texas. I have nothing against longhorns, but that's 1,500 miles away. What could I get down there—maybe two cheerleaders."
Of course, the NIT was delighted to acquire the Warriors. Usually the tournament has to make do with 16 of the NCAA's rejects and also-rans, so a team like Marquette brought substantial class to the field. Moreover, the Warriors' best players—Meminger and Ric Cobb—are products of New York playgrounds and high schools. So, as the NIT got under way, the smart money liked St. John's in the upper bracket and Marquette in the lower. Neither favorite, despite the local appeal, captivated audiences the way Maravich did.
When they arrived in New York—on Friday the 13th—Maravich and his teammates were taken to the New Yorker Hotel, and right away, as Pete told it later, there was trouble. "We had to wait to get our rooms," he said, "because there had been some kind of shooting and they were still cleaning up." The story was denied by both the New York police and the hotel, but it was fun to tell and Pete always likes to entertain, on or off court. Shortly he was describing how he was stuck on one of the hotel's elevators:
"Here I was, 36 floors up, with this elevator bobbing up and down. Man, I'm saying my life's over—I was going crazy. I kept punching buttons and it kept bobbing between 36 and 37. Then all of a sudden the doors opened and there was nothing but a wall there. I said 'Oh, no' and punched another button. Finally it went up to 40 and I got off. Man, I walked down to the lobby."