Photo: 1) Chris Clemons; 2) Pete Maravich; 3) Madison Square Garden; Maravich video
NOTE: Campbell's Chris Clemons scored 32 points in his final game as UNC-Greensboro beat the Camels 84-69 Tuesday night in the first round of the NIT. Clemons finished No. 3 on the career scoring list. So, unfortunately, no trip to Madison Square Garden.
By Tom Shanahan
Chris Clemons’ last shot at NCAA Tournament exposure fell short when the Big South co-champions lost in the semifinals of their conference tournament, but one historic stage remains within reach.
Fittingly, the nation’s leading scorer can retrace Pete Maravich’s final college steps to a basketball mecca. If Clemons helps Campbell University to an NIT first-round win Tuesday at UNC-Greensboro and then second- and third-round wins, the Camels book a trip to the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
I say fittingly because that means two players from Raleigh high schools can finish 1-2 among all-time NCAA scorers having both played their college final game at the Garden.
Maravich also settled for the NIT as a consolation prize when his last chance for an NCAA bid as an LSU senior in 1970 eluded him. His final points in a NCAA career record of 3,667 were scored at the Garden. Maravich’s total, in only three seasons (1967-70) before freshmen eligibility, is safely out of Clemons’ reach.
But if the 5-foot-9 Clemons, who can score from NBA range or on two-handed dunks driving the lane, plays his final game is at the Garden, Clemons, from Millbrook High, will likely finish second to Maravich, from Broughton High.
Clemons (2015-2019) enters the UNC-Greensboro game ranked fourth all-time with 3,193 points in four varsity seasons of averaging 18.5, 25.1 and 24.9 and now 30.0. With 25 points, he passes Lionel Simmons of LaSalle (1986-90) for third at 3,218. With 57 points, he passes Freeman Williams of Portland State (1974-78) for second at 3,250.
That is history to appreciate, although Clemons won’t draw the attention Maravich did visiting New York and gracing the Garden.
When Maravich played, the NIT still enjoyed some prestige. Only 24 teams were invited to the NCAA field, but even with 16 NIT teams it was better than a top 40 field. Marquette, the eventual champion, was ranked No. 8. Nine other teams had been ranked during the season.
The schools earning NCAA Tournament bids were conference regular-season champions. LSU had finished second to Kentucky at a time the SEC was essentially still segregated. Kentucky and LSU were both all-white teams, although the career of Vanderbilt’s Perry Wallace (1967-70) as the SEC’s first black basketball player overlapped Maravich’s days in Baton Rouge.
Remember that this was long before ESPN and the Internet. Teams rarely played on national television prior to NCAA or NIT games. In those days, the 16-team NIT was fully played at Madison Square Garden. These days, the first three rounds of a 32-team field are hosted by the higher seed until the Final Four at the Garden.
So back in 1970 when Maravich and LSU traveled to New York, it was unique exposure. Basketball fans knew Maravich averaged 44.2 points a game but not much more beyond a rare highlights and what the read and saw from pictures in newspapers and magazines.
Sports Illustrated played up Maravich’s trip to New York in its coverage with this headline: "The Upstaging of Pistol Pete." The first paragraph of William F. Reed’s story in the March 30, 1970 edition:
“At the end of his nine-day stay in New York City, Pistol Pete Maravich was ready to go home. He had come to town eager to justify his title as basketball's Mr. Showtime, and he could hardly wait to get out there under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, before a full house, and fire off the leaping, twisting shots that had made him college basketball's alltime scoring leader. He'd show those city dudes Pistol Pete the magician, scrambling down the floor on a fast break, his long hair flopping, his old gray sweat socks drooping, the basketball dancing through his legs and around his back. As he said before taking his first dribble in the National Invitation Tournament, "I've always insisted that basketball is an entertainment, and New York is where the fans love basketball. Either we will swallow New York—or New York will swallow us.”
The “upstaging” meant LSU lost in the semifinals to eventual champion Marquette while Maravich struggled playing sick (stomach) and battered (ankle and hip). He was held to only 20 points in a win over Georgetown, scored 37 to beat Oklahoma and limited to 20 again in the loss to Marquette.
But before, between and after games Maravich, Sports Illustrated noted, saw the city lights. He was a guest of Al Hirt for a concert at Carnegie Hall; was awoken at 2:30 a.m. by a girl knocking on his hotel room door calling “Pe-e-te, Pe-e-t-e”; received an invitation to the Dick Cavett Show that he turned down due to his stomach and ankle; visited Bachelors III, Joe Namath’s famed Manhattan pub; and took a hansom cab ride around Central Park that was pictured in the SI article.
On a modern trip for Clemons to New York, only a hansom cab ride remains as a culture experience – other than a game at Madison Square Garden. A Jay-Z is concert is probably more his style and as a guest on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
Maravich wouldn’t be able to welcome Clemons to the club, either. He passed away in 1988 at age 40 from heart ailment he had unknowingly played without through his college career and 10 NBA seasons.
A story with two kids from Raleigh ranked 1-2 on the NCAA career scoring list is worth remembering, even though Clemons won't draw the New York attention that Maravich attracted – the circumstances are different – but the stories are worth comparing and contrasting.
Maravich’s trip with his all-white team reminds how far we have come in race relations since those simple-minded days.
For Clemons, an African-American, a possible trip with a backdrop of hate crime rates growing in the United States teaches us even though we’ve come a long way we can do better.
RIP, Pete. Good luck in these final games, Chris.
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Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light http://tinyurl.com/knsqtqu
-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.
Don’t believe the myths at Duffy Daugherty’s expense about Bear Bryant’s motivation to play the 1970 USC-Alabama game or myths about the Charlie Thornhill-for-Joe Namath trade. Bear Bryant knew nothing about black talent in the South while he dragged his feet on segregation.
David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer; "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in."