Maxwell drives for two
By HELEN ROSS
Believe it or not, Cedric Maxwell – the man who would go on to have his jersey retired by the Boston Celtics as well as the University of North Carolina-Charlotte – was cut from his high school basketball team.
He was a gangly 6-foot-3, 140-pound junior, and Kinston coach Paul Jones already had a veteran-laden team. But at Jones’ urging, Maxwell worked hard during the offseason -- a growth spurt didn’t hurt either – and he found himself starting as a senior.
“We had great players my junior year,” Maxwell told the Neuse News. “At that time, the coach didn’t know who I was and my mom, who played basketball, called him up and asked, ‘What did he do wrong’ because she knew I could play. He said, ‘He didn’t do anything wrong; he just wasn’t good enough.
“Then the next year, I happened to grow from 6-3 to 6-7 and a half, and the coach asked me if I was going to try out for the team. I said, ‘Why, so you can cut me again,’ and he said, ‘I don’t think you’re going to be cut this time. We turned (the season) into a very special unit, led by guard Reggie Jones, and I just started to develop game after game.
“(We) ended up going to the state championship and the story was beginning for me.”
Jones couldn’t help but be impressed by Maxwell’s work ethic. “You could see his improvement on a day-to-day basis,” the coach told the Boston Globe in 1981. “It was almost unreal.”
The late bloomer would go on to play for UNC Charlotte (now referred to as Charlotte) where he was MVP of the 1976 National Invitation Tournament and the 1977 NCAA Mideast Regional, fueling a run to the Final Four. The 49ers lost to the eventual NCAA champion, Marquette, by two points in the semifinals that year.
Maxwell averaged 22.2 points – shooting a school-record 64 percent from the floor -- and 12.1 rebounds as a senior when he was named a first-team All-America. Oh, and during Maxwell’s four years at UNCC, the 49ers posted a phenomenal 58-0 record at home and a 97-18 mark overall.
After that stellar career, small wonder that Maxwell was selected in the first round of the NBA draft, chosen 12th overall in 1977 by the Boston Celtics. He is the first of an impressive list of seven former Kinston High players to compete in the NBA.
Maxwell, who played with Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, among others, led the Celtics to the 1981 and ’84 NBA titles. He was MVP in the ’81 Finals and scored 24 points against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7 in 1984 when he reportedly told his teammates to “climb on my back, boys.”
Maxwell played 11 years in the NBA, all but three with the Celtics, who retired his jersey in 2003. He finished his career with 19,465 points and 5,2611 rebounds.
The 66-year-old, who briefly coached in the USBL, now works as a radio personality in the Boston area and does color commentary on Celtics’ broadcasts.
Maxwell also collaborated with Mike Isenberg on “If These Walls Could Talk: Stories From The Boston Celtics Sideline, Locker Room and Press Box.” The book was published last year and Parish wrote its forward.
“Bird, McHale and myself were fortunate to be elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame,” Parish wrote, in part, in the book. “But let me tell you something: Cedric should absolutely be there with us. That era of Celtics basketball really started with the 1981 NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets. Cedric was – without doubt – the best player on the court, winning MVP and bringing the championship back to Boston. Then when we beat the Los Angeles Lakers in 1984, it was Cedric who told us to hop on his back. There’s no way we win those two titles without him.
“When Bird arrived in Boston, Cedric was coming off a season where he averaged 19 points per game. He was the big star. But instead of complaining and causing trouble, Cedric took on a less glamourous – but just as important – role, which allowed our success. The fact that he was willing to subjugate his ego for the greater good made all the difference.”