COVINGTON, La. -- The father had to fly to California on business, so he gathered his two boys into the living room, knelt before them and placed one hand on Jaeson and the other on Josh. In the past, whenever he took a trip, he simply waved goodbye and left and that was that. So this was new. This was different. This was … like a huddle. And the father drew up specific instructions.
"Now Jaeson," the father said, staring straight at his oldest, "you take good care of the house and look after your mother." Jaeson was all of 8 years old. He nodded.
"And Josh," the father said, "you can help out, too. Don't leave it all up to your brother." Josh was 5. He stared.
The father disappeared, but the boys knew what would happen when he returned home. They knew he would once again take them into their sprawling attic, almost as long and wide as a half-court, and hand them a kiddie basketball. This was his amusement and this was their fun. Jaeson's hoop was six feet tall. Josh had a five-footer. They knew their dad would stand and watch for an hour, always making sure they stuck to the basic fundamentals of passing and dribbling. They knew he would remind them to restrict their shooting range to a distance based on a formula he devised: their age, plus one foot, because their arm and wrist muscles were still developing. So that was nine feet, no further, for Jaeson. Six for Josh.
They knew they would play a game of HORSE and maybe learn some new trick shots and most of all laugh because that's what they did when he was around, which wasn't often enough. So they waited for the day his 14-year-old Porsche Carrera would pull into the driveway of their renovated Victorian house.
Instead, when Jaeson was summoned from St. Peter's School unexpectedly and quickly -- a teacher rushed him out of lunch period without telling him why -- he saw 20 or 30 cars crammed into the driveway and parked along the street outside his house. His father's car wasn't in the caravan.
Once inside the house his mother hugged him, and she was crying, and she told him and his brother about their father, and Jaeson ran upstairs into the bathroom and looked into the mirror and started crying. Josh just went to his room and stared out the window, confused, wondering why everyone in the house had tears, and also trying to process the news: My daddy died? What exactly does that mean?
And: When is he coming home?
* * *
Pete Maravich's heart stopped beating a quarter-century ago in a Pasadena gym, during a pickup game. He was 40. He left behind some floppy socks, plenty of basketballs with worn pebbles, grainy video that would survive technology and go straight to YouTube, scoring records that seem unreal and unreachable even today, tons of fans who still worship his immortalized name, his wife Jackie and two sons who remain tortured by his loss even as young adults.
The NBA All-Star Game is this weekend, just across Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans, where Pistol Pete had his greatest NBA years, and not far from Baton Rogue where he virtually invented basketball at Louisiana State. His skills were perfect for the breezy, wide-open All-Star showcase. Maravich was David Copperfield with the ball, famous for passing and shooting on a variety of deceptive moves, causing whiplash and breaking ankles before that term found its way into the basketball dictionary. If you could choose a dreamy starting five for an All-Star Game, you couldn't go wrong with Magic, Michael, Dr. J (ABA version), Earl the Pearl and the Pistol.
Maravich was announced as a Hall of Fame inductee at the 1987 All-Star Game in Seattle, and it was the first memory that Jaeson, who went on the trip, had of his father. Maravich died a year later. Also, the 1997 All-Star Game in Cleveland was where Jaeson and Josh spent "the best weekend of our lives." That was the celebration of the league's 50th Anniversary Team, uniting the 50 greatest players of all time. Forty-nine were still living. Repping Maravich were two awestruck teenagers who spent two unsuccessful days trying to keep their jaws from hitting the floor. Hearing stories about their father from strangers had become the norm for them, and the tales and tributes never stopped coming in Cleveland.
Magic Johnson said: "Your dad was the original Showtime."
Isiah Thomas: "I got all my moves from your father's videos."
Kevin McHale: "Loved being his teammate. Learned a lot from him."
George Gervin, laughing: "Sit down and lemme tell you 'bout the time when … "
These players, some of whom were suckered by a Maravich no-look pass, filled in the blanks, polished off their own memories of Pistol, spoke almost religiously about a player who was clearly before his time in terms of style and showmanship and skills. It was a lot to digest for two boys whose heads were woozy from it all, who never had the pleasure of seeing their father play in person.
"It was bittersweet for us," said Jaeson. "I felt a little resentment. He was the only player who was deceased. We were the only family members on that podium representing a player. It was a huge honor and at the same time it was heartbreaking. Instead of us being in the stands looking at him, we had to stand in his place."
The high lasted a few days after their flight home and then, sadness and reality paid a visit once again and never left them. To honor his name, Jaeson and Josh wear tattoos of their father's uniform numbers and a pair of floppy socks, Pete's trademark. Hidden underneath the ink are the psychological scars. Imagine, learning mostly about your dad not from first-hand experience but the tales of others. Imagine, falling in love with basketball but never having a basketball father watch your games in high school or college or beyond. Imagine, needing help to guide you through the tough times when the ball sometimes deflates and never getting any advice from him. Imagine being the sons of Pete Maravich, a basketball icon and reformed alcoholic and born-again Christian, and watching your childhood come and go without a father who could've made a difference in your life's journey.
"To grow up in his shadow, especially around here, it takes a toll, man," said Jaeson, wearily. He is now 34 and finally has the benefit of reflection. "We couldn't be more proud of him. But I always say being his son has been a blessing and a curse."
* * *
On a great night, Jaeson Maravich might sleep five hours. On a bad night, he'll get the equivalent of a catnap. He has long suffered from an anxiety that doctors never quite diagnosed, but he and his family are quite sure it's indirectly linked to stress related to his father's death.
He is friendly, if somewhat guarded. His home is small and meticulously well kept, with framed memories of his father on almost every wall, none more cherished than the photo of Pete, eyes lasered at the basket, launching an off-balanced jumper that broke Oscar Robertson's NCAA career scoring record.
He lives alone with his dog and coaches neighborhood kids. He wants basketball to be a big part of his life, but isn't certain the feeling is mutual. He's had a long and intense affair with the game. It took him through five colleges in six years and a short tryout with the Mavericks before dropping him at his doorstep in Covington. The game put him through the emotional wringer at times and it began the day after his father died.
"Talk about being in a twilight zone," he said. "They wanted me to go to practice, to keep my mind off of everything. That was impossible. Even though I was 8, I was aware of it. I remember riding in that car to the gym. I was not excited to go to the gym. Didn't want to do it. Didn't want to do anything."
Because Jaeson spent the most time with his father by virtue of being the oldest, it hit him the hardest. He wanted nothing to do with the game as a kid in the immediate aftermath. He drove himself hard in middle school, averaged almost 30 points a game, and that only managed to spook him. Parents, his classmates and his coaches all saw him as being special, suggesting the apple didn't fall far.
"People would ask for his autograph so one day he had a friend switch jerseys and pretend he was Jaeson," said Jackie Maravich, Pete's widow. "Jaeson didn't want to deal with any of that."
Billy Packer wanted to fly in and do a story for CBS. It was overwhelming for a 14-year-old with a Hall of Fame ghost as a father. After his ninth grade year, he ran away from the game.
"I didn't play because I couldn't deal with the pressure," he said. "I shied away from it."
When Pete Maravich was that age, he was already whipping behind-the-back passes and splashing shots from half court. Pete's mom would pack a brown bag in the morning, kiss his forehead and send him off to the gym, where he wouldn't return until just past dinnertime. The game consumed Pete quickly and totally, mainly because of his father, Press Maravich.
Press was Pete's coach from crib to college, and the tales of the two and how they connected became folklore. In his autobiography, Pete confirmed most of it, about how he'd dribble a ball from the window of a slow-moving car, about playing in almost total darkness to improve his hand-eye, about being one of the few white boys in the '60s who'd venture into black neighborhoods to seek out the best competition. Pete became obsessive about learning the game and mastering it.
"Pete never got that chance to have the relationship with his sons that his father had with him," said Jackie.
Jaeson grew to about 6-foot-5 as a senior in high school and gave the game another try. He played it well enough to get some attention from colleges; Tim Floyd wanted him at Iowa State. But Jaeson needed more experience and went to prep school in New Hampshire, the beginning of a lengthy, strange and maddening post-high school ride.
He hurt his back and lasted one semester. After six months of rehab back home, he tried the University of Alabama, but didn't fit with coach Mark Gottfried's style. He went to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College because it was closer to home and finally, basketball showed mercy on him.
"When he came here he was kind of reserved and to himself," said Bob Weathers, the coach.
"Jaeson was searching for something," said Wendell Weathers, the coach's son and an assistant at the time. "He was real introverted. He walked through the halls with sunglasses on, almost like he was trying to hide who he was."
Right away, Bob Weathers knew the kid had spark, the same loose and carefree playing style as his famous father. Fans packed the tiny gym and sometimes were turned away for fear of violating the fire code. Feeling unburdened -- and finally healthy -- Jaeson averaged 27.3 points while at MGCCC and major schools, including Kentucky, started giving pitches.
Jaeson went to McNeese State because it was away from the glare and close to home, but almost immediately he re-injured his back. He left campus and gave up the game. He was taking courses at a local community college when a friend urged him to try William Carey.
"Who's that?" asked Jaeson.
Actually, more like, what's that. William Carey College is an NAIA school in southern Mississippi that threw him a basketball lifeline, and Jaeson took it. He stayed two years, the longest he ever spent in one place. He made All-America third- and first-team in 2003 and '04. That second season was stressful because the Maravich name, along with Jaeson's smooth jumper, brought lots of attention. Newspaper stories were written. Folks were curious. Other players came at him hard. The gym was packed.
"Street and Smith's magazine had me preseason All-American and player of the year," said Jaeson. "I was worried. My mind started racing. I said to myself, 'I've got to achieve something.' I think I slept three hours a night the whole year. I was stressed."
He had a solid senior year anyway, averaging over 18 points and shooting 40 percent on three-pointers. In his final game, he scored 41 points. He wanted to play pro ball, and played well enough at the Portsmouth Tourney, the main NBA combine, to get a camp invite in Dallas.
After he was cut by the Mavericks, all of the old demons returned. His insomnia kicked in at a high level. He felt depressed. He rejected an offer to play professionally in Lithuania and later regretted it. He went home, knowing he'd played his final game.
"Let me tell you, Jaeson can play right now," said Josh the other day, his voice rising.
"I don't know about that. I'm kinda old now," said Jaeson.
"No, no," said Josh, now leaning forward in his chair. "He has range and quickness. He could play for the Pelicans right now. Right now. They have a spot for Austin Rivers. C'mon."
Rivers is in his second season with the Pelicans and, like most young players, his transition from college to the NBA hasn't come without a burp. But you can't help but wonder if the flash of resentment from Josh was partly due to the advantage Rivers had over the Maravich boys. Like Josh and Jaeson, Austin's father enjoyed a fruitful NBA playing career and left his own mark, although much less significant than Pistol Pete's. Unlike Pete, Doc Rivers spent many hours with his son and served as a sounding board and was around precisely when he needed to be. You see, Doc Rivers lived and Pete Maravich didn't.
* * *
Much more than Jaeson, Josh at age 31 looks like his father. The eyes, the nose, the long mop-top hair -- he could play the role of a young Pistol Pete in a movie. Except when he was a boy, all Josh wanted to do was any activity other than basketball. It didn't grab him by the windpipe. At least at first.
When the game finally entered his blood, it refused to leave and so another Maravich boy was left to deal with the self-placed pressure to be someone he was not. Josh was less polished than Jaeson in every way on the court but still good enough after high school to get the attention of several schools.
He dodged the vagabond journey followed by his brother and stuck with one school throughout his college career. That school was Louisiana State, precisely where his mother and brother did not want him to go.
Jaeson, for example, never would've gone to LSU and played in an arena called the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, or the "P-Mac." Because Josh really didn't know his father all that well and the few memories gathered by a 5-year-old soon became faint, he didn't feel the same burden as a kid that Jaeson felt.
"It hit me earlier," said Jaeson. "It hit him later."
The sucker punch came fairly quickly and was delivered by John Brady, the coach at LSU, who didn't have a scholarship for Josh. When Josh decided to walk on anyway at LSU, Brady was trapped. He tried to discourage Josh, saying it wasn't a good idea. Josh disagreed and wanted to feel a connection with his dad and thought of no better way than to wear the same school uniform. And so Brady simply threw up his hands.
"Well," he said later, "I didn't want to be known as the LSU coach who turned down Pete Maravich's son."
After all, how could it be a disadvantage to have Pete Maravich's kid on your bench? Josh was 6-foot-3 and skinny yet aggressive and backed down to no one on the court. In preparation for college in 2003, he wanted a new look, so he changed his hairstyle to a spiky crew cut.
"First day of practice," said Josh, "we're in the video room and he says, 'Son, I don't know you and you don't know me. But that s--- right there ain't gonna fly.' He was talking about my hair."
As with most walk-ons, Josh's playing time was restricted to practice, where he often played the role, as best he could, of the next game's opponent. He found peace with that, until that serenity was shattered by a coach's whistle.
Josh said when he scored in practice against the first-teamers, Brady would often bring practice to a halt, not to commend Josh, but to admonish the player he beat for a basket. In those flash moments of glory, during his highest moments on a college floor, in a building named after his father, Josh never felt lower.
He especially remembers the day before the Ole Miss game when he went strong to the rim and the whistle blew and play stopped and he heard Brady bellow: "Hold up, hold up. What's going on here? This is Josh Maravich. Josh Mar-a-vich. You let him beat you like that? If you can't guard goddamn Josh you can't guard anyone."
LSU coaching legend Dale Brown made a guest appearance at one of those whistle-blowing, belittling practices. He stood up and walked out. Brown sensed Brady was insecure and felt threatened. Brown liked Josh, liked the Maravich family. He had the boys attend his summer basketball camp right after Pete's death and remembers little Josh clutching his mother's leg upon arriving, begging her not to leave him at camp, then refusing to go home when she returned later than afternoon to pick him up.
"He's a Damon Runyon character," Brown said about Josh. "Got a great spirit about him."
That spirit was broken, not by the sounds of the student body that chanted We Want Josh at games, but the coach who largely ignored those pleas. Maravich played scant seconds in 13 games over three years. He took three shots, made two.
"[Brady] hated me," Josh said. "By my third year, I lost the passion for basketball. While they were practicing, I was in the dungeon by myself, just shooting. The man didn't give a shit about me."
Jaeson: "Brady destroyed him mentally."
Josh: "He'd take me to his office and beat me down. Just being verbally abusive. Me not having any male figures around while somebody is slamming you, well, I lost my identity." (Now coaching at Arkansas State, Brady didn't reply to a request to comment for this story.)
If only his father were alive then …
Butch Pierre was the top assistant under Brady and laughed the other day when the subject of Josh's cameo playing time was raised.
"My son plays for John Brady right now at Arkansas State, he's a walk-on like Josh, and coach will be up 20-25 points and doesn't play him, either. My wife doesn't understand."
Pierre turned serious when asked about Brady chopping down Josh in practice: "It wasn't nothing against Josh. Coaches can sometimes be misunderstood because they're trying to motivate a player in some fashion. I would've explained that to Josh had I known. It's bad that he feels that way because Josh was a good teammate who played at the same school as his father and handled everything well."
Josh never quit the team, though. Never budged from his reason to attend LSU, to honor his father in some way, to be close to him, to get to know him on some wayward level. On Senior Night, he was the only senior who didn't see a split-second of playing time, and this was a game against Vanderbilt in a 12-point victory. The fans chanted for their favorite walk-on. Jackie Maravich and Jaeson were in the stands, steaming. Josh was embarrassed. After the game, at a local watering hole where the players gathered, Brady walked in. He extended his hand to Jaeson. His hand was left hanging.
Josh had one more year of eligibility but chose not to give Brady the pleasure of blowing that whistle again. So he took his degree and left and is currently exploring what he wants to do next. And this is where it gets wickedly ironic. Pete Maravich never won a championship and retired from the Celtics the year before they won the title in 1981 because his battered knees couldn't take more pounding. Josh Maravich left LSU the year before the Tigers went to the Final Four because his battered confidence couldn't take more pounding either.
* * *
Dale Brown has been around basketball his entire life. He has coached poor players, well-off players, players from the country and players from the city, players who went to the NBA and players who earned an MBA. He has also coached players whose fathers were good-to-great on the college and NBA levels and says we wouldn't understand the baggage those kids carry.
"It's a tremendous burden," Brown said. "I had Bill Walton's son Adam. I've had others. Everybody thinks those boys have the same gene. I had Julius Erving's kids in my camp and believe me when I say they didn't have it. There's always pressure to compete with what their dad did. When they can't, it shuts them down. Some begin to develop an inferiority complex."
There are exceptions, of course. Even in today's NBA. Steph Curry might be a better shooter than his father Dell, who owned a buttery jumper in his NBA days. Klay Thompson's father was Mychal, an NBA champ and valuable sixth man for the Lakers. There's Tim Hardaway Jr., making a name for himself with the Knicks. And Al Horford, who's had three times the career of his father, Tito.
In New Orleans, over in the Garden District, two kids picked up a football and tried to follow their father, the quarterback of the Saints. Peyton and Eli Manning have done quite well as Archie's boys, winning three Super Bowls between them. They're headed to the Hall of Fame someday. The success of the Mannings hits close to home for the Maravichs, if only because the Mannings were born and raised, well, so close to Covington.
"There was a Manning special on TV and I turned it off," said Jaeson. "I'm certainly happy for their success, and they come across like nice guys. That's not the point. I just got extremely bitter. I honesty believe if my father and my grandpa was around I would've been in the NBA for 10-15 years. Because I never would've quit. I would've had one of the best players of all-time teaching me. Everything I learned about the game was self-taught."
* * *
The injuries and insecurities and bad timing piled up against Jaeson, not to mention the sleepless nights caused by anxiety. Josh, too, suffered physically, tearing his Achilles and killing his chances of sticking in semipro ball, which he tried after his LSU days.
Pete Maravich was changing as a person right around the time his boys were born. He became a more spiritual person and gradually came to grips with his retirement from the game. He looked forward to fatherhood.
"He cried when they were born," said Jackie Maravich (who has long since remarried). "Pete was so excited, especially when Josh arrived, because I wanted another son, someone else for Jaeson to play basketball with or whatever."
She said Pete often talked about his father Press and how he'd raise Josh and Jaeson just as Press raised him.
"His daddy was brilliant," she said. "But I wonder if Pete would've pushed basketball on the boys the same way. I don't know if he'd want that pressure on them."
Their childhood has come and gone, along with their checkered college basketball experience. There's no way to relive that, to magically rewind the calendar and hope for a better result, because one fact will forever remain unchanged: Pete Maravich wouldn't be around anyway.
It was a shock to doctors that he lasted as long as he did. His heart defect was rare; his autopsy revealed he was missing one of two arteries that act as the blood supply to the heart. Given his devotion to basketball and how often and intensely he played it as a kid, Maravich was extremely fortunate to reach adulthood. Like many of the tricks he did with the ball, Maravich reaching 40 was somewhat miraculous, making you wonder, How did he pull that off?
Did Maravich know, later in life, that he was on the clock? He died eight months after Press, and Jackie remembers Pete whispering, "I'll see you soon" in the ear of his dying father. When he knelt on one knee and looked into the faces of his young sons in January of 1988, just before he left for California on business, and a few days before he collapsed, was Maravich giving his boys their marching orders, you know, just in case?
Jaeson and Josh Maravich will be the first to say there are scores of fatherless kids with far greater issues and challenges who manage, best they can, every day, and even succeed. Pete Maravich's sons don't want anyone's pity and never asked for it, actually.
They only wanted a Hall of Famer to come home and tote them up to the attic in their renovated Victorian and raise the hoop once again. Six feet high for Jaeson. Five for Josh.