The floppy hair and floppy socks are of another time and place, but Pete Maravich’s fabled game — no-look passes and look-at-me moves — is as current as last night’s box scores.

He launched bombs from the bayou before the three-point line. He was a living, breathing, loose-limbed highlight film before ESPN. Even today YouTube offers a selection of blind bounce passes out of his incandescent imagination. Some are in blurry black-and-white, as if to illustrate a central truth: Pistol Pete was a man ahead of his time.

History isn’t always kind to Maravich’s memory because he didn’t play for championship teams in college or the pros. But his NBA contemporaries say he could have played, and starred, in today’s era — and that he would’ve been a darling of SportsCenter Top 10s and an ever-trending presence on social media.

The NBA All-Star game will be played Sunday in New Orleans, where Maravich spent much of his pro career down the road from Baton Rouge, where he was an LSU wunderkind who scored more points than any other college player who ever lived.


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This season marks 40 years since Maravich won his only NBA scoring title — and this month marks 40 years since he torched the New York Knicks for 68 points. (The number 40 is always tinged in melancholy when Maravich is mentioned; it was his age when he died of a congenital heart defect while playing pickup basketball in a church gym in 1988.)

Maravich was a five-time All Star during his 10-season NBA career. If he were playing today, he’d still be an all-star — and that’s understating it, according to former Washington Bullets swingman Kevin Grevey, who grew up idolizing him.

“Pistol would be today better than he was then,” Grevey tells USA TODAY Sports. “He’s about the only player I could say would be better in this era than he was in his own. And we know how great he was in his own era. Oh my God, he’d be phenomenal now.”

That’s partly because the NBA didn’t adopt the three-point line until the last season of Maravich’s NBA career (when bad knees limited his playing time) and partly because he played when hand-checking could handcuff his brand of creative drive-and-dish.

“It’s not a bully game like it was 30, 40 years ago,” Grevey says. “You always had a hand on your hip. The defender was guiding you, telling you where to go. Now the offensive man tells the defensive player: ‘You can’t touch me.’ They can get to the rim, get into the paint so much more easily now. And that’s what Pistol was so great at. He did it with ball-handling and trickery. He would fool you. And if you didn’t get up on him, he’d shoot a 30-foot set shot. And it was only for two.”

Bill Bertka was the New Orleans Jazz general manager who swung the deal to get Maravich from the Atlanta Hawks for the expansion Jazz in 1974. (The so-called Louisiana Purchase included two first-round and two second-round draft picks plus a pair of expansion-draft vets. “Is that all?” Maravich asked at the time.) Bertka, a scout and consultant for the Los Angeles Lakers, is nearing 90 now.

“In the 1970s everybody ran set offenses that dictated the action of all five players on the floor,” Bertka says. “But in today’s game, with the pick-and-roll and the three-point shot and the ability to utilize his individual skills and go one-on-one, he would have been unbelievable. Of course, he was always great, when healthy.”

Teammate Rich Kelley thought Maravich was the NBA’s best player by early 1978 — stronger and savvier than his earlier iterations. At the end of that January, the Jazz were leading the Buffalo Braves in the late stages of a ninth consecutive win when Maravich uncorked his 15th assist of the night — behind his back, between his legs and laser-beamed up court to Aaron James, who cashed in the dime. Only then did anyone notice Maravich crumpled at midcourt, grabbing his right knee.

“He got up in the air and clipped himself somehow,” Bertka says. “Pete was never the same after that.”