Cedric Maxwell

 

 

http://www.celtic-nation.com/interviews/cedric_maxwell/cedric_maxwell_page1.htm

MAX FACTOR

Michael D. McClellan

 

The man who put UNC-Charlotte on the basketball map is now a successful radio commentator, but to legions of fans he is best known as one of the Boston Celtics’ greatest.  A well-publicized falling out with Red Auerbach long kept the player known as “Cornbread” from the team’s highest honor – having his No. 31 retired to the rafters – but this fall, Cedric Maxwell will finally get the recognition that he so richly deserves.  Remember Game 7 of the 1984 NBA Finals?  While Larry Bird was named the series MVP, nobody played bigger in Game 7 than Max.  It was Maxwell who jumped to his feet in the pre-game locker room and yelled, "Get on my back tonight boys, this is my game."

 

And what a game it was:  Maxwell went right to work on Laker forward James Worthy, scoring 24 points and hitting the boards like a man possessed.  His presence under the basket put the Lakers in early foul trouble and set the stage for another Celtics world championship.

 

Maxwell joined Team Green in 1977 as the 13th pick in the first round.  The Celtics were a team in decline at the time, awash in bad chemistry and fading stars.  Auerbach needed to rebuild, and Maxwell would prove to be an important piece to the championship puzzle.  He would soon be joined by Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, turning the Celtics’ frontline into perhaps the greatest ever.

 

Maxwell’s legacy is one of rising to the occasion, of never shying away from the big moments.  Game 5 of the 1981 NBA Finals against Houston was vintage Max; with the series deadlocked at two games apiece and Rockets star Moses Malone talking trash, Maxwell responded with a 28-point, 19-rebound performance that helped shift momentum and propel the Celtics to their fourteenth NBA Championship.  Maxwell, fittingly, was named the NBA Finals MVP.

 

An impressive résumé to be sure, but there is much more to Maxwell than mere basketball exploits.  Always the impeccable dresser, Maxwell designs his own clothes – suits, primarily – and now has other celebs requesting his services.  He has produced a number of successful, off-Broadway plays.  He’s a gifted chess player.  And, of course, there’s his current gig as color man for the Celtics’ flagship radio station, 1510 The Zone.

 

Celtic Nation caught up with Max during the 2003 NBA Playoffs.  What follows is a candid, engaging look into the life of one of the greatest Boston Celtics ever.

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
You were born in Kinston, North Carolina, Monday, November 21, 1955.  Although your affiliation with the Celtics keeps you in the Boston area, you remain a southerner by heart.  Please tell me a little about growing up in Kinston.

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
I had a good childhood.  My father was a military man and my mother was a traditional, stay-at-home spouse who raised three children.  We lived in Kinston until I was six, at which point my father’s military obligation took us to Hawaii.  North Carolina was a segregated situation in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, and I vividly remember when there were “white” and “colored” water fountains and bathrooms.

  

CELTIC-NATION
I’m glad that you mentioned your time spent in Hawaii.  That must have been quite a cultural change for you.

 
CEDRIC MAXWELL
I went to public school when we lived in Hawaii, which encompassed the first three years of my grade school education.  In many ways I felt very isolated, but in other ways it was a culturally liberating experience that helped mold the rest of my life.


 

CELTIC-NATION
Isolated in what way?

 
CEDRIC MAXWELL
Isolated in the sense that we never left the island during my father’s stay, which meant that we didn’t get to see our grandparents for three years.  That, and just being so far from the mainland made me feel cut off from the rest of the world. 

Hawaii was a great environment and a great learning experience as well, so it’s really hard for me to complain.  There was never a need to cope.  I have many positive memories surrounding that period in my life.  I remember my mother taking us to the beach on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and how much fun we had on those trips together as a family.  I put great value on the time we spent in Hawaii.

Culturally, we were around a lot of Asian kids and native Hawaiians.  The diversity was quite a contrast from North Carolina in the late ‘50s, and I welcomed the change after coming from such a segregated situation.  From a growth standpoint, being around other types of people at such a young age was very important.

 

CELTIC-NATION
While UNC-Charlotte’s basketball program has enjoyed recent success, qualifying for the NCAA tournament six of the last nine years, you are perhaps most responsible for putting the school on the basketball map.  What led you to play your college ball at UNC-Charlotte?

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
We moved back to Kinston, which is where I played my high school basketball.  I was something of a late-bloomer, getting cut from the team as a junior before finally finding success on the court during my senior season.  I grew from 6’-3 ½” to 6’-7 ½” in the span of a year, which also helped.  It was a wonderful time, and we were a very good team.  We won the championship and from there I decided to attend UNC-Charlotte.  By that time I was ready to leave home, and the school was far enough away to where I could enjoy my independence.  It was also close enough that I could get home when I needed to, which was a big plus.  UNC-Charlotte is also a good school with a good reputation.  I’m very happy that I decided to go there.

 

CELTIC-NATION
The 1976 NIT Tournament was also known to many as “Cornbread’s Garden Party”.  UNC-Charlotte reached the finals against Kentucky and you were named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.  What do you remember most about that tournament, and how special was it to be recognized in such a way?

 
CEDRIC MAXWELL
Our run through the tournament stands out.  Beating NC State and Oregon – a lot of people don’t know this, but Oregon was coached by Dick Harter, who is now the assistant coach and defensive guru for the Celtics.  We also beat a very good San Francisco team with Bill Cartwright at center.  We reached the championship game before losing to Kentucky, 71-67, which was a tough loss to a very good team.  Kentucky was coached by Joe B. Hall that season.  Rick Robey was on that team, and he would later be my teammate with the Celtics.

Winning the MVP award showed people that I was good enough to play with the best in the country.  That’s what meant  the most to me about receiving such an honor.  There weren’t many who got to see UNC-Charlotte play during the regular season, so we weren’t all that well-known coming into the NIT.  We got on a roll and beat some very good teams, so it was very satisfying to run.  Unfortunately, we didn’t win the championship.

 CELTIC-NATION
March 26th, 1977:  There are three seconds left in the NCAA National Semifinal between UNC-Charlotte and Marquette.  You hit a big shot to tie the game at 49.  Tell me what happens next.

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
Butch Lee of Marquette flung a length-of-the-court inbounds pass toward Bo Ellis.  The ball deflected off of Ellis’ hands and went directly to his teammate, Jerome Whitehead.  Whitehead bumped me – I still think it was a foul [laughs] – but I was able to partially block his dunk.  The ball hit the backboard and bounced off the rim before dropping, but there should have been a goaltending call [laughs]!  Jerome clearly touched the ball over the cylinder.  The shot goes in and the referees confer before ruling in Marquette’s favor.  Marquette and Al McGuire get the victory and continue their Cinderella run to the NCAA Championship.

Very few people realize what I was prepared to do if I’d stolen that long inbounds pass.  I was prepared to call timeout immediately after the steal, which wouldn’t have been a very smart thing to do in that situation.  Do you know why?

 

CELTIC-NATION
No, why?

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
Because we didn’t have any timeouts left [laughs]!  If I had called timeout I would have been Chris Webber before Chris Webber.  Chris became infamous for calling the timeout that he didn’t have, so in that respect I have to thank Jerome Whitehead for sparing me that indignity [laughs].


 

CELTIC-NATION
If you were asked to select a signature game from either of those tournaments, which one would it be and why?

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
That’s an excellent question – I’ve never been asked that before.  If I had to select a signature game it would have to be the 1977 Mideast Regional Final against Michigan.  The Wolverines were the number one seed and the heavy favorite to knock us out of the tournament.  We went into this game and played with tremendous confidence, and because of this we were able to beat them convincingly.  I think the final score was 75-68.  I’d select this game because of the work I did on the boards.


 

CELTIC-NATION
You and senior teammate Melvin Watkins can boast of never losing a home game.  The 49ers won all 58 games played in the Belk Gym and former Charlotte Coliseum.  Where does this accomplishment rank in terms of your overall athletic achievement?

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
It’s a great accomplishment – how many players can say that they’ve never lost a home game?  It’s a remarkable statistic because we played a mixture of teams during that run, some of them very good.  Robert Parish played us in Charlotte, and Centenary was very tough at that time.  I remember that it was a close game, and that we ended up beating them by 2 points.  We first faced Robert in the 1975 NIT Tipoff Tournament, and we won that game as well.  It was ironic playing against him in college and then playing with him later as teammates in Boston.

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
You are the only player in collegiate history to average more than 20 points and 10 rebounds for an NIT semifinalist one year and an NCAA semifinalist the next season.  Were you aware of this?

 
CEDRIC MAXWELL
No, but that’s very interesting to hear – I didn’t realize that I held that distinction.

 CELTIC-NATION
You were drafted by the Celtics and the team went 32-50 during your rookie season.  The next year the team won 29 games and by then you’d played for three coaches – all former Celtic greats.  At that point in time did you feel as if the Celtics would ever turn things around?

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
I’d say it was more a case of shock than anything else.  Coming in as a rookie, I joined a team that suffered its first losing record since the 1969-70 season.  That year we had established and proven veterans on the team like Dave Cowens, John Havlicek and Jo Jo White, guys who had been there and who had won two NBA championships as Boston Celtics.  Charlie Scott was on that ’77-’78 team.  Dave Bing.  Curtis Rowe.  Don Chaney.  Sidney Wicks.  Kermit Washington was brought in and played 32 games.  Ernie DiGregorio played 27.  In all we had eight guys who were former All-Stars but the chemistry just wasn’t right.

The next season we added players like Bob McAdoo and Tiny Archibald, but the team continued to struggle.  It reached a point of desperation.  We were grasping at straws, trying different combinations but not getting the desired results.  It was a very difficult period.

 

CELTIC-NATION
Larry Bird joins the team in 1979, and the Celtics complete one of the most remarkable turnarounds in NBA history, winning 61 games and the Atlantic Division title in the process.  Tell me about that Celtics team in general, and that Larry Bird – the 1979-80 version – in particular.  What made both special?

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
Larry came in with a chip on his shoulder.  There were so many people who questioned him as a basketball player, and who said that he wasn’t going to be great.  There were other people labeling him as the ‘White Hope’.  Larry was determined to come in and prove these people wrong.  He worked hard and he carried that attitude with him all the time.  He was very motivated to succeed.

Larry’s arrival meant that my role on the team changed.  The previous season I’d averaged 19 points-per-game and was the go-to guy on offense.  Larry was suddenly the primary weapon.  He played on the opposite side of the basket and I understood the need for me to sacrifice in order to make the team better.  I had always been a team player, and I was unselfish when it came to personal statistics and achievements.  Those things weren’t really important to me.  I wanted to win so I sacrificed scoring and began concentrating on other aspects of my game.

As for that particular Celtics team, I’d have to say that we were the best in terms of the total package.  Philly was more athletic, and Los Angeles had more foot speed.  I think that was obvious to anyone who followed NBA basketball at the time.  But I still think that we were the more complete team of the three.

Bill Fitch was brought in as coach of the ’79-’80 Celtics.  That team had some great players on it, players like Bird, Tiny Archibald and Rick Robey.  Pete Maravich played 26 games for us – who I absolutely loved – but Pete was at the end of a Hall of Fame career.  Our practices were awesome that year, as good as any championship game I’ve been involved in.

 

CELTIC-NATION
In Larry’s autobiography Drive, he has this to say about you:  ‘Max was always talking trash…sometimes he’d come into the locker room after an interview and say, “Hey, we’ve got to get serious tonight.  I just said something they’re not going to like.”’  It’s my favorite passage in the book because it reveals both the playful and competitive sides of Cedric Maxwell.  Do you agree with that assessment?

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
Yes.  I’m a very competitive person, which probably explains why I never picked up golf.  If I did play I’d want to be the best and I wouldn’t be satisfied otherwise.  Why did I talk trash in certain situations?  Because I knew I’d have to back it up.  I didn’t want to go out there and look like a fool after saying things to fire up an opponent.  It raised the stakes and gave me the edge I needed.

I felt very fortunate to play basketball – at that time, there were a little over 200 players in the NBA and I felt as though I was one of the better players in the league.  I wasn’t the biggest or fastest player out there, but I was smart, tenacious and very competitive.

And I wasn’t the only one out there talking trash.  Larry was a pretty good talker himself – he was the talker of all talkers [laughs]!  We had M.L. Carr…he was always talking trash.  Kevin McHale was always talking.  So even from that aspect it was a total team effort [laughs].  But you have to remember that these guys could talk and back it up.  That’s what made those teams so special.

 

CELTIC-NATION
You’ve never been one to shy away from the big moments.  Game 5 of the 1981 NBA Finals and Game 7 of the 1984 Finals jump to mind.

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
That’s just who I am.  Some players step up and embrace those situations and others shy away from them.  I’ve never been one to shy away.

 

CELTIC-NATION
Game 7 of the 1984 Finals; Celtics vs. Lakers, Bird vs. Magic.  East coast vs. west coast.  From a media standpoint it was probably the biggest NBA Finals in league history.  Just how big was that game for you?

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
It was huge.  It was the kind of moment I live for, and I knew that I had to step up.  Primetime players play big in primetime games – I know that’s become a cliché in this league, but I always looked at myself as that type of player.


 

CELTIC-NATION
Just before that game you told your teammates to jump on your back, that you were going to carry them to the title.  Then you went out and played an incredible game.  You shut down James Worthy, drew fouls and dominated the boards.  What is it about you that lives for these types of situations?

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
I wish I knew – I also wish I could bottle it up and sell it [laughs].  My mother is a very competitive person, so I think that’s where I got it.  Her competitive spirit was passed on to me.  I think that helped me rise to the occasion.  So my drive – and the ability to elevate my game – comes to me honestly [laughs].

I think my Game 7 performance against the Lakers was so noticeable because I was more laid back than Larry.  By that I mean Larry only knew one way to play – he gave 110% all the time.  This could occasionally work against him, because when you give 110% there isn’t anything else to give when you need it.  He played every moment of every game as if it were his last, and I was more laid back in that respect.  I had a little extra to give in that game.

 

CELTIC-NATION
Robert Parish will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this summer.  You’re the one responsible for the nickname “Chief”.  Please tell me a little about Robert from your perspective, and do you plan on attending his induction ceremony?

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
I would certainly hope to be there [laughs].  I have a tremendous amount of respect for Robert, and I’m looking forward to his induction into the Hall of Fame.  He’s very deserving of the honor, as is Dennis Johnson.  In my mind DJ is worthy of inclusion – his accomplishments speak for themselves.

Robert is an extraordinary individual, a unique person who will go down as one of the greatest centers to ever play the game of basketball.  He was maligned at Golden State in the ‘70s, but there were a lot of factors responsible for that.  He had a bad agent at the time and he was viewed by many as an underachiever.  Then Red pulls off the trade with the Warriors, which brought Robert and Kevin to the Celtics.  That was one of the greatest trades in the history of sports – or one of the worst, depending on which end you were on [laughs].

Robert was one of the first running centers to come into this league, and certainly one of the first seven-footers to run the court.  Dave Cowens was a true running center, but Dave was only 6’-9”.  Robert came into the league and showed that players his size could play like thoroughbreds.

When most people think of Robert, they see the quiet, stoic player who didn’t say much and who didn’t change his expression all that often.  He was quiet to be sure, but he was also a very confident player who played this game longer than anyone else.  His longevity is unbelievable.  And he could tell a joke [laughs].  A lot of people don’t realize that about Robert.  He was a really funny guy with a very good sense of humor.

 

CELTIC-NATION
I know you’ve been asked this question a million times, but I’ll ask again.  How did Robert get his nickname “Chief”?

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
I pinned that one on him.  I saw the Jack Nicholson movie ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and I instantly thought of Robert as Chief Bromden [laughs].  Bromden was this silent, dignified, towering and huge patient committed to the ward visited by Nicholson’s character.


 

CELTIC-NATION
McMurphy?

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
That’s right.  There’s the classic scene where McMurphy is teaching the Chief ‘that old Indian game’ –basketball on a fenced-in court.  And he has that great line, ‘It’s called, uh, put the ball in the hole’ [laughs].

 

CELTIC-NATION
I hear that you are a very good chess player.  What parallels can you draw between the game of chess and the game of basketball?

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
Both games require a tremendous amount of thought to be successful.  You have to be able to anticipate your opponent’s moves and put yourself in a position to take advantage of that.  For example, you might be guarding a player who makes a move on you earlier in the game.  You know that move will be coming again, so you prepare for it.  You anticipate what he might do next, and when.  Then later in the game you counter his move, maybe cut him off on his way to the basket.  You’re able to do this because you’ve studied your opponent and you know what his tendency will be in a certain situation.

 

CELTIC-NATION
I’ve read where you’ve produced Broadway-style plays.  You’re also an impeccable dresser with a great sense of style.   Please tell me about the creative side of Cedric Maxwell.

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
That’s just how I grew up.  My mother was always playing music, and was always helping us to think creatively.  She’s a big reason that I got involved in the entertainment business after I finished playing basketball.  I produced some gospel musicals and some off Broadway plays back in the Southeast, which was interesting.  I started broadcasting college basketball in Charlotte.  It was a natural progression to what I’m doing now.

My fashion sense came from my grandfather and my great-grandfather.  I like the oversized jackets and pants, so I decided that I could do the designs myself.  I work with a tailor in Asia.  I send my ideas to him and he creates my suits.  It’s grown to the point where I am doing designs for other people as well.

 

CELTIC-NATION
The North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame is home to one of your NBA Championship rings.  Which ring is it – 1981 or 1984 – and how hard was it to part with such a special piece of hardware?

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
It was the 1984 ring, and it really wasn’t that hard to part with.

 

 



CELTIC-NATION
Why not?

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
From a purely practical standpoint it wasn’t hard because I don’t wear jewelry.  The championship rings are so large and gaudy that I never felt comfortable with it on.  On another level, the ring really wasn’t the most important thing to me.  You can always lose a ring, but you can’t lose the championship.  It was all about the camaraderie that I shared with my teammates and the thrill of knowing that we were the best in the world.  All of those things are greater than the ring.

 
 

CELTIC-NATION
This fall the Celtics will bestow upon you the highest honor – you will have your number retired to the rafters with all the other great Celtics.  What does this honor mean to you?

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
It’s a wonderful honor, and in many ways the highest that can be bestowed on a player.  I’ve given some thought as to what I’ll say at the ceremony.  My quote will go something like this:  ‘Springfield is home to the basketball hall of fame, but the real hall of fame is right here in Boston’.  When you think of all the great players to wear a Celtics uniform – Russell, Cousy, Havlicek and Bird to name a few – to have your number retired with theirs is the ultimate honor.

 

CELTIC-NATION
Much has been made of your differences with Red, and how these may have impacted the decision to have your number retired.  You’ve since mended fences and put those differences in the past.  Will Red be in attendance at your retirement ceremony?

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
I would hope so!  I would not accept this honor without Red’s blessing.  We’re on good terms now.  We’ve talked about the way my Celtics career ended, and now I’m looking forward to having my number retired.

 
 

CELTIC-NATION
Was it a big misunderstanding?

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
It was more like a father and son issue, both of us stubborn and unwilling to give in.  It was explained to me that way – the father never goes and apologizes to the son.  I was very bitter about the way I was portrayed, because I have a tremendous amount of integrity.  I had played hurt for the Celtics organization on many occasions, and there was never a time that I didn’t play hard and try to help the team win.  And then I hurt my knee.  I learned then that this was all about business, and that I couldn’t take it personally – it was hard to have my desire and integrity questioned, but I had to accept that part of the business and move on.

 
 

CELTIC-NATION
Your broadcasting career is in high gear, and you’re very good at what you do.  How hard was it for you to reach this level of excellence?

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
Radio broadcasting is very difficult – you have a very small window of opportunity to think about what you’re going to say, and then you have to put it in a precise, entertaining manner.  I know the game, and I love the game, so that has really helped me to become successful as a broadcaster.


 

CELTIC-NATION
Thank you for speaking with me – and congratulations on receiving the Celtics’ highest honor.  You are more than deserving.

 CEDRIC MAXWELL
Thank you – the pleasure is mine.

 

 



 

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