Tim Buckley: Why it’s taken so long for Pistol Pete Maravich’s statue to stand at the PMAC

FILE PHOTO BY LEATUS STILL

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story first was published July 6 by Tiger Rag. The Pete Maravich statue will be unveiled tonight by the school. The original story …

While discussing a variety of athletic-related issues with a member of the LSU Board of
Supervisors on June 21, Tiger Rag asked Jay Blossman about one of the most agonizing
holdups in the university’s sports history.

It’s no robbery, no heist.

But waiting so long to display a statue honoring LSU basketball legend Pete Maravich has stolen years of historical context from a fan base that deserves better.

For those who do know anyway what Pistol Pete really meant to the school – he created
a buzz about LSU basketball that didn’t exist before he brought his magical game to campus – understanding the controversial delay is difficult indeed.

“It’s ready. It’s done. It’s built,” Supervisor Blossman said of the statue at the time he was interviewed. “It just needs to be put up.”

One day later, June 22, on what would have been Maravich’s 75th birthday, go figure, LSU announced plans to unveil the statue July 25.

Finally.

Shaquille O’Neal, understand, brought his Herculean big man’s game to LSU long after Pistol Pete was scoring like nobody’s business, yet Shaq’s statue went up first.

Bob Pettit already has one too. Seimone Augustus’ is coming soon. Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon’s is appropriately prominently displayed outside of Tiger Stadium.

Yet Maravich’s family has had to wait agonizingly long years, prompting another question that, comes none too soon: Who will be the next former LSU student-athlete honored with a statue?

That evidently isn’t much of a contest.

A recent poll of Tiger Rag readers – the magazine’s Top 25 survey of favorites for LSU fans, results of which can be found on pages that follow – leaves no doubt.

It’s Joe Burrow, hands down.

A whopping 81.13% of respondents chose the former LSU and current Cincinnati Bengals quarterback.

Former major league infielder Todd Walker, named College World Series Most Outstanding Player after leading LSU to its 1993 national championship, was a distant second. Sylvia Fowles, picked to play in eight WNBA All-Star Games including this year’s after playing on three LSU Final Four teams from 2004-08, was third.

The resume of Burrow – also runaway winner of the survey’s ‘Best pro athlete’ question after being name by 78.85% respondents to 19.23% – speaks for itself.

Winner of a zillion major college football awards in 2019, topped by the Heisman Trophy. Consensus All-American. A 25-3 record over two seasons at LSU after transferring from Ohio State, including 15-0 during the Tigers’ 2019 national title run.

NFL Comeback Player of the Year after tearing his ACL and MCL in Week 11 of his 2020 rookie season, which caused the nasty-looking scar on Burrow’s left knee seen in his Tiger Rag cover photo. A 70.4 pass completion percentage last season to help get the Bengals get to their first Super Bowl since the 1988 season, way back when rookie running back Ickey Woods was dancing the Ickey Shuffle.

Adopted and loved in Louisiana, face of a franchise in his home state Ohio.

Enough said about Burrow.

What’s not discussed nearly enough in LSU land, however, is the issue of the real reason it’s taken so long for Maravich’s statue to be unveiled.

It seemingly should have happened long, long ago at a university that’s also honored longtime former baseball coach Skip Bertman with a statue standing outside Alex Box Stadium and late women’s basketball coach Sue Gunter with one inside the arena where her teams played.

Fifteen-time NBA All-Star O’Neal got his two decades after winning multiple college basketball Player of the Year awards including the Adolph Rupp Trophy. Pettit got his, also arguably long overdue, in 2016, six-plus decades after LSU retired the 1954 consensus All-American and 11-time NBA All-Star’s jersey.

Both stand outside the north side of the arena in which the Tigers play basketball, the aptly named Pete Maravich Assembly Center, in the same area Maravich’s will go, at least for now.

Why Pettit had to wait in line behind Shaq is yet another perplexing question in LSU athletics history.

In any event, it was announced earlier this year that two-time Naismith Player of the Year Augustus, a retired eight-time WNBA All-Star who helped lead LSU to three straight Final Four appearances, “will join three other Tiger greats” – Pettit, O’Neal and Maravich – with statues outside the PMAC.

That too is well-deserved.

But what’s also deserved by Tiger faithful is an explanation of why it’s taken 34- plus years after his premature death for LSU to unveil a Maravich statue.

Some might suggest naming the arena in Maravich’s honor is enough.

That happened in 1988, shortly after a heart attack took him at age 40.

The five-time All-Star and Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame honoree had retired not long before from a 10-year NBA career cut short by knee pain following stops with the Atlanta Hawks, New Orleans and Utah Jazz, and the Boston Celtics.

The PMAC argument, however, seemed especially weak to some when Shaq was granted the first statue outside the arena bearing the Maravich name.

The school’s student newspaper, The Reveille, reported in 2014 that in July of that year then-Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal “openly asked the University why there is not a statue of Pete Maravich on campus, a question Pistol Pete fans have been raising since a statue of Shaquille O’Neal was erected in 2011.”

It was a more than fair question considering Maravich, to this day, remains college basketball’s all-time leader in both career points (3,667) and scoring average (44.2) and that he claimed three straight NCAA scoring titles from 1968-70 – and that his amazing offensive production came in just three seasons, during an era in which there was no 3-point line.

In response, the LSU Board of Supervisors threw its support behind a Maravich statue in 2016.

Before it was sculpted, however, a rule requiring such honorees to be graduates of the university had to be altered to accommodate Maravich, who left early to pursue NBA dreams – a quite common occurrence nowadays.

The LSU Athletic Hall of Fame Committee ultimately did that in 2019.

Yet the Maravich family still has had to wait until 2022 to see the man immortalized with a statue of his own.

Cody Worsham, a former Tiger Rag editor who is now LSU’s chief brand officer, kindly delivered some answers when asked.

The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, has delayed quite a bit worldwide since 2020.

But it’s much more complicated.

“My understanding of that is the biggest thing is, ‘What is going to happen with the entire PMAC, that entire facility?” Worsham said.

The 13,215-seat multi-purpose arena opened in 1972 and is in dire need, it sure
seems, of major renovation.

“Right around that time, 2019, we hired a group to come in and look at our facilities and make recommendations, do a market study,” Worsham said. “We didn’t want to commit to installations or anything costly without being conscious of what the future of the whole facility was. … But then at some point the thought transitioned to ‘Look, Pete’s statue’s been cast; let’s put it up, let’s get it up there; let’s celebrate him; we’ll get the Seimone (Augustus) statue in, and then if (relocating the statues) ends up being what has to happen then that has to happen.

“It was a combination of (that),” Worsham added, “plus then COVID put a pause on everything for so long that made it probably drag out the way that it did.”

And there you have it: A seemingly honest answer to a seemingly fair question.

Finally.

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