Jimmer conjures memories of ‘Pistol Pete’
NEW ORLEANS – For more than 50 years, Mike Serio’s family has been selling po-boys from its shop on St. Charles Avenue, right where the streetcars begin their clattering retreat from the French Quarter lights. In the 1970s, one of the regular customers was a certain mop-haired, floppy-socked guard from the New Orleans Jazz named “Pistol Pete” Maravich.
Serio was thinking about Maravich on Wednesday afternoon because a few blocks away, Jimmer Fredette and the BYU Cougars were practicing for Thursday night’s Southeast Region Sweet 16 game against Florida. Fredette has been the story of college basketball this season, slicing and shooting his way into a multimedia fervor like none ever seen before.
And, well, because Fredette shoots a lot and is white and averaged almost 30 points per game, there invariably have been comparisons to a time when Pistol Pete dazzled the world as a guard who couldn’t stop shooting at LSU. Now that Fredette has a chance to leave his biggest legacy yet in the land of Maravich, the parallels are impossible to ignore.
Which made Serio laugh as he sat at a desk in the corner of his shop.
“Jimmer is a really good player, but Pete was ahead of his time,” he said, his voice rising. “He averaged almost 50 points a game without a 3-point line! He took shots from beyond where the pro 3-point line would be. He was amazing!”
Serio shook his head.
“I think a few years ago they went back and calculated how many points he would have scored if there had been a 3-point line,” Serio continued. “He would have averaged over 70 points a game. Imagine that. Over 70 points!”
This is, of course, unfair – pitting Jimmer Fredette against the legacy of Pistol Pete, especially given that former LSU coach Dale Brown once figured Maravich would have averaged “only” 57 points per game with the 3-point line. The game is different, two eras that barely can be compared.
Maravich shocked the nation with a game that transcended the chest pass and the stiff ballet basketball had been. He played at LSU from 1967-70, in the aftermath of Texas Western winning a national title with an all-black starting lineup and amid the growing popularity of basketball being played above the floor rather than on it.
He twirled to the basket in ways no one ever had before, throwing up jump shots from farther and farther away from the rim, it almost seemed impossible he could keep making them.
Jimmer is not Pistol Pete. He is not remaking basketball. He might not even make a decent NBA player when he leaves for the league this summer. On the court Wednesday, with long bicycle pants under his practice shorts and a baggy white shirt billowing from beneath his jersey, he looked more like a walk-on or a fan picked to shoot with the players. It wasn’t until he let the ball fly from his fingers, spinning on a true ascent toward the rim, that he resembled anything like the most exciting player in college basketball this season.
He is good, very good. And in the next few days, he has a chance to take BYU to places it never has been as a basketball school. He sat patiently through a briefing with the national TV crew here, nodding and laughing when he told Reggie Miller his favorite players growing up were John Stockton and Mark Jackson and Miller expressed disappointment that his own name had been excluded.
“Yeah, Reggie Miller, of course, with his shot,” Jimmer said quickly.
His lips slid off to the right in that kind of one-sided grin that says he knows he is good. But when he spoke, he did not sound arrogant. He fingered a series of plastic bands on his wrist and said one was for an old AAU teammate from back home in upstate New York who has been diagnosed with cancer.
Later, as he left the court, he signed an autograph for Jeff Fuller of Baton Rouge, La., who had written the words “Romney/Jimmer 2012” on a sign, then crossed them out and scrawled “Jimmer/Romney 2012” just below.
“Jimmer has taken over as my Mormon man-crush,” Fuller said.
Maravich never had such acclaim or ease in public. In a lot of ways, his appeal comes from box scores and radio accounts. Few of his games as a college player were on TV. His brilliance is more imagined than anecdotal. As longtime Jazz and Hornets official scorer Bob Remy said Wednesday, “It just wasn’t what college basketball is now, with the coverage and all that.”
Fredette, himself, merely smiles when asked about Pistol Pete. There isn’t much he can say, other than to repeat what everyone already has told him.
“Yeah, I know he was an unbelievable scorer in college,” he said. “He was a great story. He really kind of revolutionized the game to do some of the things that he did.”
Mostly, Fredette is a Maravich for a modern generation, one who can make all the same shots in a TV generation. Where Pistol Pete lived in the mind and rambling news accounts, Jimmer thrives on YouTube. He seems real, almost able to touch.
In these next few days, he can take BYU to a Final Four. One thing Maravich never did much of as a player was win; he seemed almost incapable of pulling a team to greater heights. Ultimately, no matter how magnificent Pistol Pete was on the edge of the bayou, he never was in the position Jimmer is now. Not as a team all by himself but as the leader of one with a chance to win big.
Which would be the biggest difference of all.