Who’s the greatest athlete in LSU history? ‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich stands alone
BATON ROUGE, La. — To determine the greatest individual athlete in LSU history, you need only look at a campus map. He’s the one they named a building after.
LSU has produced plenty of world-class athletes over the decades, but no one is as iconic as Pete Maravich. The guy even had his nickname, Pistol, on the back of his NBA jersey.
But Pistol wasn’t just cool. He was legendary.
Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak is most frequently cited as the most unbreakable record in sports. But Maravich’s 3,667 career points — the NCAA Division I scoring record — is even more unlikely to go down. The closest men’s competitor is Portland State’s Freeman Williams, who came up 418 points shy and graduated in 1978.
These days, anyone talented enough to come close to Maravich isn’t in college long enough to chase him down. In the modern era, Maravich likely would have been a one-and-done like Ben Simmons in 2016. Instead, he couldn’t even play as a freshman because of the NCAA rules then.
And that’s what makes Pistol Pete’s achievements all the more mind-boggling. Had he played all four years, the scoring record would be well north of 4,000 points — probably closer to 4,500. And had the 3-point shot existed in Maravich’s era, his career average of 44.3 points per game most certainly would be above 50. Former LSU coach Dale Brown once charted his shots and estimated Maravich would have averaged 57 points per game.
Maravich seems like the ultimate ball hog with all that scoring, but he averaged 5.1 assists per game in his college career, ranking fifth in program history.
Success carried over to the professional level, where Maravich averaged 24.2 points per game in 10 seasons and is considered to be among the best ball handlers in NBA history.
“If Pete Maravich is not the unique athlete of his time, he is close,” Sports Illustrated wrote in 1978.
At LSU, that distinction remains true.
LSU’s next-greatest athletes
Shaquille O’Neal (basketball)
At nearly any other school in the country, Shaq would be the undisputed top pick. And there is a strong argument that’s the case at LSU, Pistol Pete be damned. O’Neal is in the pantheon of George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Hakeem Olajuwon as the greatest centers to play basketball.
Shaq was the 1991 college Player of the Year and holds the school record with 412 blocked shots. He also found more NBA success than Maravich, winning 4 championships, Rookie of the Year and the 2000 Most Valuable Player Award.
Like Maravich, he was among 50 players named to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary Team.
And his greatest influence? On culture. When he was at LSU, he was seemingly the only Shaquille around. Now there are Shaqs on college and high school teams all over the country in multiple sports.
Bob Pettit (basketball)
Given LSU’s spotty history of basketball success, its propensity for producing legends in the sport is a peculiarity. But there is little question Pettit belongs on any list of Tigers greats.
Like Maravich and O’Neal, Pettit is among the NBA’s 50 greatest all-time players. He was the first player named MVP in NBA history and stands alongside Shaq teammate/rival Kobe Bryant as a 4-time All-Star Game MVP.
Pettit led the SEC in scoring all three seasons he played (1952-54) and led LSU to its first Final Four appearance in 1953. During his senior season, Pettit averaged 31.4 points and 17.3 rebounds per game and became the first LSU athlete to have his jersey retired.
Pettit’s career mark of 16.2 rebounds per game ranks behind only Chamberlain and Russell in NBA history.
Alvin Dark (baseball)
“The Swamp Fox” did it all at LSU, lettering in football, basketball and baseball in 1942-43 before joining the Marine Corps.
Raised in Lake Charles, La., Dark was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles after World War II. He chose baseball instead and signed a contract with the Boston Braves. Dark became the answer to a trivia question, succeeding Jackie Robinson as Major League Baseball’s second Rookie of the Year in 1948.
Dark was a 3-time All-Star and finished fifth in the 1954 MVP voting as he and Willie Mays led the Giants, then based in New York, to the World Series crown.
Dark’s career Wins Above Replacement total of 42.9 is the best among all LSU alums in MLB history.
Seimone Augustus (women’s basketball)
When filling out a ballot, the final spot is usually the toughest. But Augustus’ accomplishments made her impossible to ignore in LSU’s top 5.
She is a 3-time Olympic gold medalist, playing on the 2008, 2012 and 2016 USA teams. Augustus was also the 2006 WNBA Rookie of the Year and 2011 WNBA Finals MVP. She has led the Minnesota Lynx to 3 league titles.
While at LSU, she led the Tigers to 3 Final Four appearances, and the program’s drop-off since her departure further demonstrates the rarity of her talent. Augustus was the National Player of the Year in 2005 and 2006. No player for a team other than Tennessee, Stanford, Baylor or Connecticut has won the award since.
Close but no cigar:
- Y.A. Tittle, Jim Taylor, Alan Faneca, Kevin Mawae, Patrick Peterson, Billy Cannon, Steve Van Buren (football)
- Sylvia Fowles, Chris Jackson, Rudy Macklin (basketball)
- Albert “Joey” Belle, Ben McDonald, Joe Adcock (baseball)
- Lolo Jones (track and field)