Basketball and High School Romance: Vada Palma and Pete Maravich Papers, Private Collection (PC) 2071

[This blog post was written by Fran Tracy-Walls, Private Manuscripts Archivist, Special Collections Section, State Archives of North Carolina.]

Pete and Vada at her home before leaving for the Queen of Hearts Dance.

Pete and Vada at her home before leaving for the Queen of Hearts Dance. Call number: PC2071_2_F11_A. From the Vada Palma and Pete Maravich Papers, PC.2071.

As Valentine’s Day approaches and we are full throttle into the basketball season, this post calls attention to one of the many unique collections in our holdings: the Vada Palma and Pete Maravich Papers, Private Collection (PC) 2071.

Millions of fans have heard of Pistol Pete Maravich. However, not all know that this iconic professional basketball player spent a few but highly formative years in Raleigh while his father Press Maravich was coaching the North Carolina State University’s basketball team, 1964–1966. Furthermore, few of the stories about the legendary Pete Maravich (1947–1988), mention that Pete was smitten by a girl named Vada during the height of his stellar career at Raleigh’s Needham B. Broughton High School, 1965. Known then as “String Bean,” Pete was considered girl shy and socially awkward.  Early on he had a passionate devotion to basketball, and his father hoped to hone and focus that passion, in part by steering him away from girls. Coach Press Maravich’s sense of discipline and his parental hopes aside, young Pete fell hard for a popular, pretty junior, Vada Palma.

One of Pete’s letters in the collection reveals that a few days before the long-awaited school Queen of Hearts dance he has a basketball game coming up. He lamented that he had no time, he didn’t as of that moment have a suit, and he wouldn’t go to the dance without one. To stay in Vada’s good graces, Pete somehow came up with a handsome suit of clothes and escorted her (albeit reluctantly) to the school social event of the year. That Valentine’s Day of 1965, Pete also hand delivered a sizzling hot pink Valentine card measuring 18 inches high. (Note that the card and heart adorned envelope, eleven of his love notes/letters,  several photographs and two clippings survive in PC.2071.)

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This intense romance, alas, fizzled in the months following Pete’s high school graduation in 1965. Time passed and Pete’s father was not to be disappointed. Pete continued to train, improve, and attract notice far and wide. By 1967 Pete was playing basketball for Louisiana State University, where he set scoring records that have yet to be surpassed. Thereafter, into the 1980s, Pete played professionally for the New Orleans Jazz/Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics, and the Atlanta Hawks.

Vada Palma also moved on and realized dreams of her own.  A 1966 graduate of Needham B. Broughton High School, Vada earned an A.A.S. from Southwood College, a B.S. from Campbell College in 1971, and a M.A. Ed. From East Carolina University. She taught for 25 years in Raleigh, New Bern, and at Greenville’s J. H. Rose High School. Vada retired as a basic skills coordinator at Carteret Community College in 2004. In 2009 she was sworn in for a second term as an Atlantic Beach, N.C. town commissioner.

I received the Vada Palma and Pete Maravich Papers as Vada’s gift to the State Archives in July of 2013. On the phone she was charming and generous, and referred me to an informative interview piece written by Tim Stevens (now retired), high school sports editor for the News and Observer. See Steven’s “Pistol on the court; shy boy a-courtin’,” dated March 10, 2010, via One of the most telling aspects of the piece was Vada’s comment, reiterated in my conversation with her: “If you were writing a book about my life, Pete Maravich would be one paragraph. I was really happy when I heard he had met someone and gotten married. He was such a sweet boy.”

In Vada’s estimation the letters were simple, and not the stuff of a grand love story. Yet such letters touch on the aspirations and hopes of youth, and symbolize for many the sentiments of one in the throes of a first crush, and represent the tension and complexity of navigating adolescence, school, first love, and the uncertain demands and possibilities of the adult world.  Fortunately, students and researchers now and in the future have as a resource this collection (PC.2071), which preserves for the long term some eleven letters, a period Valentine’s Day card, six photographs, and two newspaper clippings. Related additions are always welcomed.

See two State Archives of North Carolina Flickr albums:

  1. Vada Palma and Pete Maravich Papers, PC.2071:
  2. “Pistol Pete” Maravich, basketball legend from Raleigh, N.C.: