A couple of weeks ago, I filled in for a two-hour radio shift on the Sports Animal radio. I decided to put democracy in action.
We voted on the greatest record in sports. Not necessarily the most unbreakable record, which definitely is a part of it, but the greatest. I used a New York Times article to jump-start nominations, but we let listeners nominate, too.
Me and my producer, Bobby Thompson, voted between two nominations, and if there was a disagreement, we let a caller break the tie. We had a bunch of 1-1 standoffs, so the callers were very involved.
We had all kinds of great records. OU’s 47-game winning streak led much of the day. The Boston Celtics’ eight straight NBA titles were hard to beat. UCLA’s seven straight NCAA titles was stout. Wilt Chamberlain’s 50-point average in 1961-62 (we picked that one over Wilt’s 100-point game) was strong. Richard Petty’s 200 NASCAR wins was tough. Someone nominated Walter Johnson’s 110 career shutouts, and that merited big discussions.
Personally, I made a strong plea for the Yankees’ five straight World Series titles, 1949-53, a vastly underrated feat in which the Yanks beat the epic 1951 Giants and thrice beat the Boys of Summer Dodgers, 1949 and 1952-53.
But in the end, an individual record emerged as the champ, and you know what, democracy worked.
We settled on Pete Maravich’s career scoring average of 44.2 points a game in college basketball. Before the shot clock, before the 3-point line, Maravich scored like no one before or since.
I don’t know if that’s the greatest record in sport, but you certainly can make that argument.
We had lots of Maravich talk in recent weeks as the NBA Draft approached. Spaniard Ricky Rubio was compared to Maravich, with good reason. He looks like the Pistol and he passes like the Pistol. But make no mistake; Rubio does not shoot or score like Maravich.
It’s hard for the new generation to know what a truly mythical figure was Maravich, what a legend he was at LSU from 1967-70.
For Maravich’s record to be broken, I think the game will have to change. Which is true of a lot of baseball records. But unlike the pitching records which seem insurmountable (Cy Young’s 511 career victories, Jack Chesbro’s 41 wins in a season), Maravich’s feats did not occur in a full century past. They do not live in dusty history books. Many fans who are not all that old saw Maravich do what now is considered unbelievable. Many fans remember Maravich from those days; I remember Maravich from those days.
I don’t know if 44.2 is the greatest record in sports. But I know it’s in the discussion.