Q&A with Celtics Legend Cedric Maxwell

Cedric Maxwell is a former two-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics where he earned rings in 1981 and 1984. Maxwell was named the Finals MVP in 1981 and has had his No. 31 jersey retired by the Boston Celtics.

Maxwell had a four year career at UNC Charlotte where he led the 49ers to Final Four appearance in 1977. He was the 12th overall pick in the 1977 draft and went on to score over 10,000 points during his 11 year career. Maxwell is currently a radio broadcaster for WBZ-FM in Boston where he has announced Boston Celtics games since 2001.

Cedric Maxwell: Who were your basketball idols growing up?

Shafin Khan: Probably my mom. My mom was a college basketball player back in the fifties at North Carolina Central so she played and she was one of those people I was playing against in my backyard when I was in my teens and she was in her thirties. That was the first person that I idolized. Guys that I idolized? I loved Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar]. I loved [Wilt] Chamberlin. I loved the big guys, I loved those big guys, those were the guys that I watched and learned a lot of post moves from them.

Khan: Talk to me about the final couple possessions in the 1977 Final Four game against Marquette. You hit the game-tying shot with three seconds left. Going into that possession did you know the ball was going your way?

Maxwell: I knew I was getting the ball. I told coach [Lee Rose] that we could clear out and I was going to take ball and go to the hoop and draw the foul and score a basketball and we ran a designed play and pretty much let me go. I was quicker than the guy who was guarding me so I was able to get to the basket and get the hoop. It’s unfortunate for us that the way things transpired with the long court pass and I intercepted the ball and Jerome Whitehead came over my back [and stole the ball] and tried to lay it in. I recovered so quick that I was actually able to block his shot before it went in the basket and that’s how my college career finished.

Khan: Describe the locker after Jerome Whitehead’s game-winning shot. What did Coach Rose say to you guys?

Maxwell: There wasn’t a lot to say, the season is over with. We had a great year. We were a second away for playing for the college national championship but the unforuante thing for us was that we had to play an exhibition game. [editors note: At that time the NCAA tournament held a third place game] We had to play our exhibition game against UNLV and I scored thirty, we had another guy score thirty and another guy score 28 and we still lost by ten.

Khan: You come from an older generation of players. Obviously, the game has evolved and become less physical. Do you like the way it has changed or do you like the style of play from the 80’s better?

Maxwell: I liked it better during the 80’s. The three point shot is great and the way teams use it. Some of the strategy of the game has kind of gone out the window. I like attacking the rim, I like high percentage shots. The way the game is played now, I don’t like it as much.

Khan: Which teammates did you form special relationship with that you still talk to today?

Maxwell: Most of my teammates I had great relationships with. I had a couple of guys who were my favorites. Robert Parish. Nate Archibald. M.L. Carr. Those were my favorites. I had the chance to talk to Danny Ainge and Kevin McHale recently. I haven’t talked to Larry [Bird] as much. I saw Larry at a playoff game about two or three years ago, he was actually at the Garden so I got a chance to talk to him but those guys are my friends.

Khan: What specific guys did you hate playing against on those Lakers teams during the 80’s?

Maxwell: All of them. There wasn’t a guy on those Lakers teams that I had any kind of affection for. Only guy I did like on the Lakers was Bob McAdoo and that was because he was from North Carolina. I used to play in the summer league all the time so we kind of became friends and as a matter of fact when he got traded from the New York Knicks he slept on my couch for about a two month period because he didn’t want to go get an apartment. So, Bob was the only Lakers guy I had any sort of appreciation or tolerance for.

Khan: Talk to me about Game 7 of 1984 NBA Finals. You had a great game that night and won the championship. What sticks out to you from that night?

Maxwell: That was a great game, we played well. It was just a culmination of a long grueling season. The season had to go to a seventh game which is always dramatic. I was planning on getting married and I talked to my fiancé about what day we could get married. We planned it so that if the season goes all the way to the end we would get married a week later and the season went all the way to the end. It was kind of disruptive to me getting married and it was chaotic. We were flying commercial and had to fly coast-to-coast and it was just grueling.

Khan: What were a couple of the most intense games you played in during your career?

Maxwell: 1984 would probably have been the most intense. It was a battle of titans, the Lakers vs. Celtics for a championship. Those had to be the most intense games. After that it could have been 1981 when we played the Sixers in a seven game series and it was probably one of the best series that was ever played and no one really knows that much about it. We were down 3-1 to the Sixers. We won game five at home. We had not won in Philadelphia in over a year or almost a year and a half so we had to go back and do what many thought couldn’t be done and beat them in Philly. We beat them in Philly in the sixth game and had to come back and play a tough game seven in Boston so those would have been the most challenging games I could remember.

Khan: Bouncing off of Philadelphia, talk to me about that incident where you went after a fan during a game against the Sixers, what happened?

Maxwell: Nothing. Nothing was really said, it was just the heat of the battle. People say you blackout and when people ask you later on “What happened” and you say “I don’t know.” It was just the intensity of playing against those guys and someone tossed me in the stands, something was said to me and I just blacked out. The next I knew I was coming out of the stands and my teammates were asking me if I was okay.

Khan: Do you have any regrets from your career?

Maxwell: No. To me I’m a two-time world champion, a Finals MVP, led the league in field goal percentage twice, scored over 10,000 points in the league and played with the kind of guys I played with and then have your jersey retired by the legendary Boston Celtics. I don’t what regrets you could find in there.

Khan: Did you ever face racism in the city of Boston or while you traveled on the road during your career?

Maxwell: Racism is alive and well in every place. I can’t say Boston was anymore racially charged than any other city. I mean people always want to say that and talk about Boston but Boston had the first black player ever, Chuck Cooper. They had the first starting five that was all black and the first black coach in Bill Russell. So, the organization itself, there wasn’t anything racial about it but there were parts of Boston, that if you were a person of color, it was told to me not to go in those areas like south Boston or East Boston so that’s the only thing I can think of. I can’t point to one specific thing and say this or that happened because athletes for the most part are treated differently. You aren’t treated like the regular person of color. The biggest racial thing that happened to me was when I was younger in South Carolina at Myrtle beach. They had a beach called Atlantic beach was a segregated black beach and in order to keep the people of color away from white people they had a fence that ran from the top of the beach all the way to out in the water. It was probably as long as a football field and just to keep people on the other side. I remember that and asking my mom why was that and not necessarily getting an explanation.

Khan: You say in the ESPN 30 for 30 Best of Enemies that you didn’t think that white guys could play, referring to Larry Bird at the time. What was your opinion of him after the first time you checked him?

Maxell: Shocked. When he walked in the gym I was thinking “this dude don’t look like that much” and I was averaging 19 points a game before Larry got here [Boston] so I was thinking I was the big dog and when Larry came out I scored a couple baskets on him and then it was my turn to guard him and he knocked down his first shot. I was like “Okay, he got lucky” and then he knocked down his second and third shot and I remember the closer I got to him the further he was shooting jump shots and I remember the first black person I got to after practice I walked to him and said “You know what? That fucking white guy can play”. God has a funny way. For a person that was prejudiced about the game, thinking that it was a game for people of color. God didn’t give me one of the greatest white players, he gave me two of them together. Kevin McHale and Larry Bird. It’s always funny though when you think so highly of yourself and what you know and then you realize you don’t know shit.

Khan: Were there any veteran guys that took you under their wing when you entered the league?

Maxwell: Yeah, there a bunch of them. Dave Bing, who became the mayor of Detroit, tutored me. John Havlicek was there. JoJo White was a mentor. As a matter of fact, in my first year in the league, we had seven who were on the all-star team. We had some great guys along with Tom Heinsohn who was my first coach. We had some great players and they happened to be older players at the time. They were not on their upswing but they weren’t on their downswing. We didn’t make the playoffs my first year and the next year we really just went bad and only won 28 games in my second year. I had never gone above .500 during my first two years in the league. When Larry Bird came in, that was the first time I was on the winning side of things in the NBA.

Khan: What does it mean to you to have your jersey retired at the TD Garden?

Maxwell: You know when your jersey gets retired by the Celtics, the day it happens, it’s just surreal. It’s surreal because you start thinking about the numbers you’re retired with. With the greatest winner of all-time, Bill Russell, maybe the greatest player of all-time. Bill Russell won more championships than he has fingers and thumbs, eight championships in a row. The organization is legendary and then for them to say that you’re among the greats and to have your number retired, that is really cool and just awesome stuff.

Khan: I’m sure Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are on this list but who are some of your favorite players in today’s game?

Maxwell: You know, I do like them. I love Kyle Lowry because he’s doggish. I love Jimmy Butler because those are the kind of guys that I see are throwback to the 80’s. You know, just fierce competitors, attitude, don’t give a damn.

Khan: What advice do you have for a young man?

Maxwell: Probably the biggest thing would be is be true to yourself, know who you are. Believe in yourself. Always advocate for yourself.

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