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SERIOUSLY, FOLKS . . . : Cedric Maxwell Leaves Some Bitterness Behind in Boston, Starts Anew With Clippers

October 19, 1985|SAM McMANIS | Times Staff Writer

After his first two dismal seasons with the Celtics, when the franchise was at its lowest point, the club won 75% of its games and two NBA championships with Maxwell as a starting forward.

Boston's success, of course, can be directly related to Larry Bird's arrival, as well as to solid play by Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and Dennis Johnson.

Still, when the Celtics won the NBA title in 1981, Maxwell, not Bird, was named the most valuable player of the series. And when Bird and teammates were slumping in the 1984 final series against the Lakers, it was Maxwell who boldly told them before Game 7: "Get on my back, boys, because I'm gonna carry you."

You may remember the quote, but do you remember that Maxwell went out and did it, finishing with 24 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists?

It seems that Maxwell will be forever shackled with his reputation as a comic. A few years ago, when he denounced the Cornbread nickname and asked to be called plain old Max, it wasn't long before people picked up on it and called him Mad Max.

Basically, Maxwell accepts that and sometimes revels in it. But after his embittering experience last season in Boston, Maxwell has felt the need to defend himself as a basketball player.

His detractors in Boston and elsewhere say that Maxwell, who will be 30 next month, left much of his talent back in Boston. Maxwell counters by saying those detractors never fully noticed--or appreciated--his talents in the first place.

In 1978-79, his second year in the NBA, Maxwell averaged 19 points and 8.5 rebounds a game as the starting small forward. The next season, though, Larry Bird arrived and roles changed. The 6-foot 8-inch Maxwell was moved to power forward and told to concentrate on defense and let Bird do the scoring. Even after Bird took over, Maxwell still averaged double figures every season and flourished in the playoffs.

Not that many noticed, Maxwell said. The way he sees it, he's been working in the shadow of a giant Bird most of his career. It has been suggested that Maxwell harbors a slight resentment toward Bird for that reason.

"I know the league and I know (the Celtics) have one of the greatest white players ever to play the game, so I wasn't going to get the attention," Maxwell said. "I won the MVP in the (1981) championship (series) and Larry scores 27 in the last game only, so people said he should've gotten it. But I had a complete series.

"I don't look at it as a black and white situation in Boston, even though I once got criticized a lot for saying that the city of Boston had a racial overtone. It's just that Larry Bird is Larry Bird."

Bird justifiably receives more attention than his teammates, but no one was quoted more than Maxwell during his tenure in Celtic green. Whether it was sarcastic comments about opponents, intentional or unintentional malapropisms, or unsolicited observations about life and times in the NBA, Maxwell has few peers when comes to the spoken word.

As The Times' Randy Harvey wrote during last season's playoffs: "When Maxwell says he has one thing to say, get ready for a filibuster. Gentlemen, start your pens."

Some of the funnier and/or stranger Maxims over the years:

--On last season's much publicized on-court fight between Bird and Philadelphia's Julius Erving, which cleared the benches: "I was like a young Martin Luther King out there--nonviolent."

--On his off-season hobbies: "I like to watch other people work. Every day, I hop in my car and drive around, pull alongside some guys who are working construction and say, 'Sorry, boys, but I've got nothing to do today.' "

--On being traded from Boston to the Clippers: "The first thing I'm going to do is get rid of all those green tennis shoes. I don't want to see anything green that isn't money."

--On why he voted for archconservative Senator Jesse Helms in his home state of North Carolina: "Because most of the bros back home don't make as much scratch (money) as I do."

--On Boston guard Danny Ainge, a Mormon: "Danny's a guy you'd want your daughter to marry. But not my daughter, because I don't want all those grandkids."

--On whether he can help the Clippers qualify for the playoffs for the first time in 10 seasons: "My wife's name is Renee, not Lois, and I'm not going to come out of some phone booth with a red cape."

OK, so it may not be good enough for the Comedy Store, but it's better than most of what you'll hear in the NBA. Maxwell says that thoughts just come to him and he blurts them out. But there also is a strategy behind some of his comments.

Two years ago, when the Celtics beat the Lakers for the championship, Maxwell and cohort M.L. Carr rattled the Lakers by calling them the Fakers, and saying they didn't play physically enough to win. McHale said: "He gets the other teams saying things about us, which gets us stirred up. We seem to play better when there's animosity."

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