I just wanted to give a shout out to one of the most underappreciated players in Celtic history: Cedric Maxwell. Before the Basketball Jesus showed up to save Boston, Maxwell led the Celtics in scoring, while shooting nearly 60 percent from the field and grabbing almost 10 rebounds a game. But he willingly stepped aside for Larry, and he did it quietly and without complaint. Only David Robinson ever displayed that level of grace. Although it should be noted that the Admiral ceded control of his team near the end of his career, whereas Maxwell did it while he was still in his prime.
Despite playing second fiddle -- and even third or fourth fiddle after Robert Parish and Kevin McHale arrived -- Maxwell carved his own special niche into Celtic lore. He was the Finals MVP during the 1981 championship run. He was the best player in Game 7 of the 1984 NBA Finals, when, after telling the team to jump on his back, he went out and made James Worthy look silly by scoring a game-high 24 points (hitting all 14 of his freethrow attempts) to go along with 8 rebounds and 8 assists. Larry might have been the Finals MVP that year -- Bird averaged 27 points, 14 rebounds, and 7 assists a game for the series -- but the Celtics wouldn't have won the title without Maxwell.
So why don't basketball fans and pseudo-historians properly appreciate -- or even remember -- Maxwell? He was like an All-Star disguised as a role player. His career field goal percentage with the Celtics is 55.9 percent, which ranks first in team history -- higher the Bird, Havlicek, McHale, Parish, or Russell. The C's may not have gone to him every time, but when they did, he usually produced. And it was Maxwell, not Bird, who usually guarded the toughest opposing frontcourt player, whether it was Doctor J, James Worthy, or Bernard King. Maxwell never shrank away from the challenge. He usually invited it.And maybe that was part of the problem. Max's mouth tended to get him in trouble. He talked an endless stream of trash to Celtic opponents. Prior to the 1984 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Knicks, Maxwell vowed to shut down Bernard King, one of the league's top scorers. "That bitch ain't gettin' 40 on me," Max said. He even went so far as to imitate King's distinctive gait, and said, "Ain't no way a guy who walks like this is getting 40 on me." Of course, King scored 43 in Game 4 and 44 in Game 6 as New York pushed Boston to the limit.Although Max usually backed up his brash words, there were times he talked the talk then took the night off. He once approached Elvin Hayes before a game and predicted a severe ass-kicking...courtesy of Kevin McHale. He also tended to coast through games against weak teams, trying to pick up fouls quickly so he could take a seat on the bench. "I'm not getting injured playing no junior varsity game," Maxwell would tell his teammates. That kind of attitude tended to grate.Max wrote his own sentence when he got on Red Auerbach's bad side. Cornbread injured his knee during the 1984-85 season, and, according to some, didn't fully commit himself to his rehab (if you go back and watch any of the classic Celtic games from that season, you'll notice Maxwell is a shell of his former self). Then, when Auerback told Cedric he should attend rookie camp to test the knee, Maxwell balked. This infuriated Red, who promptly traded Max to the Clippers for Bill Walton. With Big Bill playing the role of the best backup center in NBA history, the Celtics won 67 games and steamrolled the competition en route to their 16th world championship. And to this day, Walton's contributions during that one season are more well-known and celebrated than anything Maxwell did in his 600-plus games with the team.Still, Max eventually got his due. After almost 20 years, the Celtics finally retired his number 31, once Auerbach was finally ready to forgive him his transgressions. As Maxwell said, "The father should not have to apologize to the son. And Red is the father."Anyway, I didn't mean to get all nostalgic here. The point of this post was to explain how Maxwell got the nickname "Cornbread." None of my friends, one of which is a die-hard Celtic fan from Boston, knew the answer. Well, here it is. During his junior year at North Carolina-Charlotte, Maxwell and teammate Melvin Watkins went to see the move Cornbread, Earl and Me, about a 12-year-old who is traumatized over the murder of his friend, a star basketball player. Watkins decided that Maxwell looked like the lead character and soon started calling him "Cornbread." However, Max didn't like it, and so the nickname was quickly dropped. Until NCC made it to the NIT and Maxwell was named the tournament MVP, that is. According to Watkins, "The New York media picked up on [the nickname]." Which is probably a nice way of saying he spilled the beans to a reporter, and, of course, they printed it.So here's to you, Cornbread. This Celtic fan remembers you.