Searching for Life
Hi, my name is John Lotts, Assistant Athletic Director at the University of North Carolina. Pete Maravich was a very close friend of mine and I’m so pleased to be able to share his story with you today.
Pete was one of the greatest college players ever to play basketball. He averaged 44 points a game all 3 years he played at LSU. Pete was a first team all-American for 3 years. He was voted College Player of the Year in 1970 by Sporting News. He averaged 24.2 points per game in a 10 year NBA career and was named to the All-Star team 5 times. Pete was the youngest player ever inducted to the basketball hall of fame.
Pete would want to be remembered as a person who accepted Christ as his Savior and tried to live as God wanted him to. We all lost a great friend, but as you listen to this recording, you will see that God truly touched his life.
I want to first of all thank all of you for coming here this morning. It’s a real privilege for me to be here with you in Theoria. I’ve never been here before, but just flying in on the little two-propeller sardine can that I came in, trying to stretch my neck out of one of the windows (there were only about three), I saw that it was a beautiful community and I am certainly very happy to be here. I would like to express my thanks to the mayor and to his committee and also a very special thanks to Dr. Berg and his wife, who very graciously allowed me the opportunity to stay with them last night; for it is such a privilege to stay in a home rather than a hotel, and I am certainly grateful for that.
Not too long ago a friend of mine called me up and he said, “Pete, let me tell you a little story”, and I said, “What is it?”
He said, “Well, I was in Texas and I was supposed to go to a country church to share my faith. I didn’t think anything of it. I just decided to go over there and do it.”
I got there kind of early and as I was standing around a rather large man came over to me, and with his Texas twang said, “Son, we certainly are happy that you are here. I mean we’re really gratified that you would come down here to this little old town, to share your faith in Christ. But I just want to give you some advice. Just remember this; that biscuits and sermons go best with shortening.”
So I’m certainly not here to bore you. And of course I did not fly all this way to talk about a jump shot or to talk about a behind-the-back dribble. I came here to bear witness of Jesus Christ, who is personally my Saviour and Lord, who has literally transformed my life in such a dramatic way, that I will never be the same. Each day that passes, it only becomes greater. I can bear witness with what Paul said… a little bit, not much… when he told the Corinthians that “we are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not despairing, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed.”
I can understand that a little bit. For five months I spent 24 hours a day with my father, who was so very close to me, so very close. I took him some 20,000 miles around the world trying to get treatment for his cancer, for I felt the door opened by the Lord. We spent hours and hours together. We loved each other, we hugged each other, we cried with one another. And yet my dad some two years ago walked down an aisle and gave his life to Christ, for it all of a sudden came together for him. The puzzle, the pieces all fit together.
I did not come here to make anybody a Christian more than I can make anybody a Corvette. That’s not why I’m here. I could not make my dad a Christian. All I could do for my dad was love him the way Christ has told me to love.
It was amazing, Paul also said this, “Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, our inner man is being renewed day by day.” I stuck on those verses when I saw my dad in tremendous pain. I committed those verses to my heart because I knew that even I, myself, one day would perish, one day would die, one day would be afflicted with pain even greater than I’ve ever had.
But I also saw what Paul said that the inner man, the spiritual man, would flourish. It could be nourished by the Word of God, by Jesus Christ. And then He said, “For our momentary light afflictions is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”
Paul was saying that what I am going through and what my dad was going through was momentary and it was light. It was not heavy, it was light. When you compare it to other things in the past, in the present and in the future…it is light. And then he said, “We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen. The things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are unseen are eternal.” We are to keep our minds focused on spiritual things, on eternal things. We are not to follow what the world says, but what the Word says.
There came a time in my life almost 35 years, I knew nothing about spiritual things. It goes back to the time when my dad thought I was born to be a basketball player. Of course, I wasn’t born to be a basketball player, any more than you are born to be anything else. But when I was 7 years old, my dad set me down and he said, “Pete, I’m making 96 dollars a week. I’ve come to this conclusion,” he said, “There is no way that I can put you through college. I’m looking ahead for you and Ronny, there’s no way I can put you through school – either one of you. You’re going to have to get a scholarship.”
“If you’ll listen to me, Pete. If you’ll let me teach you the game of basketball, if you’ll practice, if you’ll commit your life, if you’ll dedicate your life to basketball, Pete, you’ll get a scholarship. I don’t know where you’ll go to school, but you’ll get a scholarship. It’ll pay for you academics. It’ll pay your fare through college. Basketball will do that. And maybe Pete, one day, you’ll play on the professional level as I did,” he said.
“Pete, maybe you’ll be on a team that wins a world championship. They’ll give you a big ring, and on one side it’ll have your name on the other side it’ll say ‘World Champion,’ and on that day you’ll be one of the 11 or 12 greatest players on the face of the earth in basketball. They’ll pay you money to throw a basketball through a hoop.”
To a seven-year old, my eyes were just totally lit up. I’d never heard anything like that. I wanted that, more than anything in the world and so from that time on I began a very strict commitment to basketball. Basketball became my God. There was nothing else that could enter into my life. From that point on, I wanted the success that basketball would bring me. My goals were already set, short term and long term. And there was never a doubt in my mind that one day I would play professional basketball, make a million dollars, and be on a team that won the world championship.
It’s funny because when I was a kid I did sort of strange, unique things with a basketball. I played 6 to 10 hours during the summertime. When all my friends went up to the lake on the weekend to have fun and swim, I stayed in a gym that was 104, 105 degree temperature, 6 to 8 hours, working on drills that my dad had developed, called ‘homework basketball’, which included ball handling and dribbling.
You see I got bored very easily so my dad had to create things to keep me from getting bored. I used to go to bed with a basketball until I was fourteen years of age. I would lay in the bed and I would shoot the ball up in the air, as my mother left the room and said goodnight, I said “Goodnight, mother”. And I would shoot the ball up in the air and I would say three things, “Fingertip control, backspin, and follow though.” I would say that for some 30 minutes and finally fall asleep, soaking wet from sweat because I could not wait to get up the next day to play.
I would take my basketball into the movie theater at 3 o’clock in the afternoon—on a hot, sunny afternoon in Clemson, South Carolina, not too many people went to the movie at 3 o’clock. So I had the movie to myself. I would go in, I would sit on the first row and I would sit on the end seat, on the right. And I would watch the movie, dribbling my basketball along the carpeted aisle. Halfway through the movie I would move to the other side and dribble with my left hand. So you can see I did some strange things.
We lived some 2 miles out of Clemson, South Carolina. And I would walk into Clemson, dribbling my basketball. I would get up at 8 o’clock in the morning, before my dad would go to work at 9. I would eat my breakfast and say, “Mom, I’ll see you later, I’m heading to the ‘Y’.” And I would dribble on in and I’d dribble back some 5 miles a day. Sometimes I’d take a ride but most of the time I just liked to be out, listening to the birds and dribbling my basketball.
Finally, when I got a bike I learned to dribble a basketball while riding my bike, which saved a lot of time. One day my dad came to me and said, “Pete, get in the car and bring your basketball,” and I said, “What for dad?” He said, “Just come with me.” And I said, “Okay.”
So I got in the car, and my dad drove out on a lonely highway outside of Clemson and he looked around and he said, “Now Pete, I want you to put your body outside of the passenger side of the car, out the window. I’m going to drive at various speeds. I want to see if you can control the basketball.”
I said, “Dad, you’re a little bit nuts, aren’t you?” I said, “What are people going to think if they see a car going down a highway, with a kid dribbling a ball out the side?”
He said, “Just do it.” I said, “Okay, dad.” So we did it. He would drive at 5 miles an hour, and 10 and of course you know you have to take the ball and go “shwish,” throw it way out because it’s coming back because your car is moving. At 10 or 15 miles an hour, we would stop the car, I’d get the ball and we’d keep doing that.
I didn’t learn much from that except that I had a hand, it was full of rocks. But I never understood why he did that, but I understand now. He was always trying to build my confidence. He was always trying to build me up so that I could do something that nobody else could do; because he had a dream for me. He had a dream that I fulfilled. And I knew not what that dream was, at the time.
I used to sneak out of my bedroom window at night during a thunderstorm. We had a little goal on a pine tree in the back because our house was in the woods, and it was a very shallow light. And there was a big muddied, red area that was hard. And the rain would pound down on the mud and I would be in my pajamas with my tennis shoes on, sneak out the window and go dribble in that muddied area and shoot. Taking my ball and lifting it up to the heavens, letting the rain wash the mud off. Sneak back into the house and go to sleep.
I was possessed by basketball, I was obsessed by it. I had become a basketball android. I was robotized by basketball. Now during that time also I did not have any perception of God at all. I went to Sunday School. I remember going to church, my dad and mother went to church. They were good people. I loved them so very much and they loved us so very much. But I had no perception of God. To me, God was a heavenly Santa Claus. He was there when I wanted something, and I would pray. When something went wrong, I would pray also.
I remember one time I overheard my mother crying and I though she had mentioned something that my brother had just died. That’s what I thought I overheard. That’s not what I had overheard, it’s what I thought I did. I remember grabbing my basketball, crying, going out the window and going deep into the woods, about a mile. It was about twelve o’clock at night and I sat under a pine tree. I remember calling out to God at about 10 or 11 years old. I said, “Oh God, don’t let it happen! Don’t let anything happen to my brother. Don’t let anything happen to my mother, my father, take me. Don’t let anything happen to them, I love them so much.” But it was impersonal to me. And I only used Him when I wanted to use Him.
When I was fourteen and a half years old, a friend of mine came up to me and said, “Pete, have you ever had a beer?” and I said, “No, I haven’t.” He said, “Well, let’s get one.” And through the act of peer pressure, which affects every age limit, from the time you’re born to the time you die, peer pressure is there. But what’s forgotten today is this; that peer pressure is a choice, it’s simply a choice. I can look in the mirror and I can put different disguises on, but it’s still me in that mirror. I’m the one that did that. Adam and Eve had a choice and so do you and I. But I said, “I don’t want that beer. You don’t understand, my dad was a naval commander. He has a .45 in the house and it’s loaded and he said if I ever drank, he would shoot me until I was dead.” I said, “I don’t want to die. I want to play professional basketball.” He said, “C’mon, Pete, just try one. We’ll just have one. Just take it. You’ll really like it.” And again, through the act of peer pressure I said, “Okay.”
So we had a freshman from Clemson University get us two beers and we took them and we snuck around with them in a bag. And we went up with them on the steps of the Methodist Church at 9:30 on a Sunday night. We sat on the steps and he said, “Open it, Pete.” And I opened it. He said, “Smell it.” And I smelled it and I liked what I smelled. He said, “Take a sip.” And I took a sip and I liked it. I took more of a sip and I drank the whole beer and I liked it.
And I’m here to tell you today, young people that are here; that first sip nearly destroyed my life. If it was not for the grace and the mercy of God I would not be standing here this day. There is no possible way. It’s because of His mercy that I am here.
A friend about two weeks ago sent me an ad from an athletic journal. And when you opened it up, there glaring on the page was a color ad of a beer. And at the bottom of it, it said, “Taste of glory.” And here we have today athletes, they get on television and say, “Don’t do drugs, say no to drugs.” But nobody is going to attack something that is a part of their lives. Because most of them go back and grab their six-pack.
“Taste of glory.” Let me tell you a little story of “Taste of glory.” Cause he went on about a month ago in Columbia, South Carolina, a man was arrested on a misdemeanor charge. It was on a Friday afternoon. The next day and the next night he went out in his pickup truck. He had a few too many. Obviously, from wherever he left from, he got back on the highway. And as he was driving down the highway, he was driving in the wrong lane. He hit a van head-on. In that van was a family of eight. Seven of them died instantly. The only one that lived was the father, who drove. The man in the pickup truck died also. And when they went through the debris of his car they found many empty cans of beer in the front seat. The taste of glory, they tell us. Or is it the taste of death?
I know all about it because I was an alcoholic. I can’t get anybody to believe that. You see, I didn’t go to any clinics. I didn’t go to AA. I didn’t go to psychiatrists. Because alcohol came into my life very subtly, and that’s the way the enemy does things. It just became a toe-hold, then a foot-hold, then a stronghold. And by the time I was 18 years old I was into alcohol. I was into partying. I was into the opposite sex. All of a sudden the discipline that my dad had tried to teach me, left me. I played solely on talent, and the ability that God had given me, not even knowing it came from him.
When I was 19 years old, after my freshman year I was invited to go out to a Campus Crusade for Christ to put on my “Showtime Clinic,” which my dad and I put on around the world. I said, “Why not?” It didn’t matter to me. Campus Crusade for Christ, they want me to do my clinic. Sure, I’ll be glad to do it. I said, “Can I take a friend with me?” They said, “Sure, bring him along. Bring as many as you want.”