Editorial: ‘Ponytail Pete’ an amazing comparison to the original ‘Pistol’

Published 7:12 am Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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The year was 1967.

I was just a 10-year-old boy with dreams – a 10-year-old boy determined to make those dreams come true.

I was already skinny, so that part was no problem. But I had to let my hair grow out just a certain way, flopping when I ran, and almost, but not quite, in my eyes. I had the floppy socks, and after lots of begging (My brothers and sisters would say whining, I’m sure.), I got those pair of Keds.

It was the brand that Pistol Pete wore, of course.

And I was determined to be the next Pistol Pete.

For hours on end, I would shoot that rubber, Green Stamp purchased basketball at the hoop, mounted on an old wooden sign that was nailed to the side of the smoke shed.

But it was hard – no, impossible – to practice driving to the basket without running into the side of the shed. It also limited practicing shots from the side. So I begged (My brothers and sisters would say whined, I’m sure.) for a better set up. It wasn’t long before I got what I wanted, that wooden sign attached to a pole in our large side yard.

The yard became my coliseum.

It was there where I spent much of my pre- and middle-school years. Shooting a basketball. Dribbling a basketball (The ground was worn down to hard dirt in no time.). Pretending I was taking the game-winning shot for a national championship. I would shoot pretend free throws until I made 50 in a row. I would practice layups with both hands until I became dizzy.

The only problem was that in the summer, a grove of green apple trees nearby sometimes caught a runaway ball. It was full of rotting, squishy apples and bees that are attracted to such. On the other side of that dirt, makeshift basketball court was a hill. If the ball went that way at just the right spot, it would continue on down our gravel driveway.

So I got pretty good at following my shots, as well. For those of you not familiar with basketball, following your shot means you run towards where you think the ball will end up – especially if it’s not going through the net.

And yes, in middle school, my nickname was Pistol Pete.

It was my destiny.

But alas, things change. The Pistol Pete I emulated grew to be 6-5 tall. I stayed 5-10. I could play basketball all day and all night, but my feet weren’t quick like his. My first few steps were a bit slow. And the “real” Pistol Pete could see a basketball court from one side to the other, no matter where he was facing. My peripheral vision was lacking. I had to turn my head, and in turn, that let everyone else on the court know my next move.

And then there was the attitude. I always respected and tried to follow what my coaches wanted me to do (Except that one coach who told me to shoot the ball as soon as I reached half court). But when the coaches reached into my personal life, with nothing to do with basketball, I balked. That should be none of their business.

Why am I writing about this now?

Pistol Pete Maravich – my hero – was until Sunday afternoon, college basketball’s all-time leading scorer. He did it in three years. He did it without a 3-point shot. He did it without a shot clock.

Pistol Pete’s record was surpassed by pony-tailed sensation Caitlin Clark of Iowa. Watching that game, I was amazed at how much she reminded me of  Pistol Pete. Her shooting range is pretty much the whole court, like his. Her passing ability was top notch, as were her ability to just be at the right place at the right time.

A basketball player with Caitlin Clark’s ability needs a nickname, right?

It came after she broke the record, when someone called her “Ponytail Pete.” I like it. Maybe even a DNA test is in order.

I can only imagine, that somewhere on a black dirt farm in Nowheresville, Iowa, there is a 10-year-old girl with a dream. It’s getting dark, and her mother looks anxiously out the window. There is her little darling, her princess, shooting a basketball on the makeshift court her father had made in the driveway where they used to park the cars.

The little girl looks left, then right, dribbles backwards, takes a few steps and let’s the ball fly from 25-feet. It arcs high in the sky, and comes down with a swish, hitting nothing but net. And she’s there to catch it before it hits the  cement.

The mother smiles. She knows her daughter will cherish that Caitlin Clark jersey she had just purchased.

– Mike Barnhardt