Cedric Maxwell has won almost every award you can think of: MVP of the 1976 NIT, conference POY in 1977, and NBA Finals MVP in 1981. Everyone is talking about the crushing heat after the air conditioning broke down at the AT&T Center during Game 1 of the 2014 Finals between San Antonio and Miami, but that is nothing new for a guy like Maxwell who helped the Celtics beat the Lakers in Game 5 of the 1984 Finals at the 97-degree Boston Garden (aka “The Heat Game”). As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of that legendary game on June 8th, CHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Maxwell about going undefeated at home in college, being one of the best shooters in NBA history, and that nifty nickname.
You allegedly got the nickname “Cornbread” from your college teammate Melvin Watkins after he saw the movie “Cornbread, Earl and Me”: did you really look like the title character (Jamaal Wilkes, who you later faced in the NBA Finals), and how did you like the nickname? I thought it was kind of weird. Another teammate (Jerry Winston) had just arrived on campus from New Jersey, and he said he thought I looked like the guy in the movie. I finally saw it and I could see that Jamaal and I had a similar frame and played the same sport, but we had different eyes. I never thought about it until the 1976 NIT, when my friends kept using the nickname when talking to reporters about me. Some reporter used it in his story, and that is when it started to become a big deal.
In the 1976 NIT at Charlotte you had 24 points/11 rebounds en route to being named NIT MVP despite a four point loss to Kentucky in the title game: how big a factor was it when the Wildcats switched into a 1-3-1 zone in the final minutes? I did not think it was that big a deal. We were playing on pure emotion after being in a nip-and-tuck game. We beat NC State with a heroic defensive effort after they dropped us off their schedule earlier that season.
In 1977 you were named conference POY: what did it mean to you to win such an outstanding individual honor? My teammates loved to razz me, but I also was named MVP of the conference tourney. It was a unique and surprising moment for a player who a lot of people did not know about in high school.
In the 1977 NCAA tourney (the first in school history) you had 32 points/18 rebounds in a five point OT win over Central Michigan: what did you learn from the NIT the year before that helped you in the NCAA tourney? I learned what the hell a Chippewa was! I also learned that you should never rile up the star player on the other team. Some guy on Central Michigan walked up to me and said, “I don’t give a damn what All-American team you are on!”, and I said, “you ARE going to care after this game”! After the game he came up to me and said, “have a good time in the pros!”
Butch Lee made a full-court inbounds pass toward Bo Ellis with three seconds left, the ball got deflected to Jerome Whitehead, and even though you partially blocked his dunk attempt it hit the backboard/bounced off the rim/fell through the net as time expired in a two point win by eventual champion Marquette: do you think Whitehead should have been called for goaltending? Goaltending, over the back, etc.: he could have been called for a multitude of things. Former Celtics coach Doc Rivers is a Marquette alum and he would always tease me by saying that there was no foul. Whitehead was about to dunk the ball and I made an unbelievable recovery to partially block it…but that is the way the cookie crumbles.
You went 58-0 at home during your college career: how were you able to stay focused for every single home game you played for four straight years? We played a few cupcakes but just happened to play very well on our home court. We played Centenary when they had Robert Parish and we beat them in a sold out Charlotte Coliseum. We played most of our games on campus in a crackerjack gym that only held about 5000 people, which was tailor-made to keep a streak going.
You led the NBA in FG% in two of your first three years, and your 54.5 career FG% remains in the top-20 all-time: what was your secret for being a great shooter? Shooting layups! I was able to knock down some 15-footers, but I remember telling Elvin Hayes that if you cannot stop me from five feet away then why bother going farther away from the basket?! Playing with great teammates like Larry Bird also helped me get some easier shots.
In the final seconds of Game 7 of the 1981 Eastern Conference Finals with the Celtics you tipped away an inbounds pass from Bobby Jones to clinch a one-point win over the 76ers as the Garden faithful stormed the court: do you consider that to be one of the greatest playoff series in NBA history? If you look at the ebbs and flows of that series there were a bunch of games that went down to the final possession. 76ers PA announcer Dave Zinkoff got on the mike during the first half of Game 6 and said, “Tickets [to the Finals] will go on sale right after this game!”, and to a man we said it would not happen today. I was enraged when I heard Dave say that. Darryl Dawkins pushed me into the stands and a fan said, “Hey you bum, go back in the game”, so I pushed him real hard in the chest and there was all kinds of chaos. After that series the league created a rule that said players could not go into the stands (which was well before Ron Artest!).
In the fourth quarter of Game One of the 1981 Finals Bird missed an 18-footer, got the rebound, caught the ball in mid-air with his right hand, switched it to his left hand, and flipped it into the basket en route to a three point win over the Rockets: do you agree with Red Auerbach’s quote that “it was one of the best shots I have ever seen”? I could have knocked the ball away because I was about to get the rebound, but I saw Larry coming at me out of the corner of my eye so I just let him take it and flip it into the basket.
You scored 19 points in a win on the road in the decisive Game 6 en route to being named Finals MVP: what did it mean to you to win the title, and how did being named MVP change your life? It did not necessarily change my life because I was already a pretty good player, but it made me feel like I was one of the better players in the league. There were six future Hall of Famers in that Finals so I was proud to be named MVP.
In a four point overtime win in Game 4 of the magical 1984 Finals you scored 11 points but are most famous for walking across the lane while James Worthy was at the FT line and placing your hands around your neck in a choking motion: were you just trying to get in his head, and do you think Worthy was out for revenge when he shoved you into a basket support during Game 6? I did get into his head: if I had a fire extinguisher I would have used that too! James was once asked about the most difficult player for him to guard, and he said that for some reason I was the one player who stayed in his head!
You scored 13 points in a home win in Game 5 that was played in 97-degree heat without any air conditioning: where does that rank among the most exhausting games of your career? It was just so hot in the building. The Forum had pretty people and air conditioning but the Garden was a ragtag little building, and with the heat and all the people it just became an oven. It was almost like playing outside in the summertime, but we were used to playing without AC. We were able to change our uniforms at halftime while the Lakers remained all sweaty.
Prior to Game 7 you told your teammates to “climb on my back”, then you went out and scored 24 points to help win the title: how were you able to play your best when it mattered the most? I have done that for most of my career going back through high school and college: that is the only way you can be named MVP while on the losing team. I have never been afraid of the limelight. Antoine Walker once said, “when the lights are on and they put some more butter on the popcorn, that is when I am ready to take the challenge”. I was more afraid of failure, which motivated me to be a winner.
In Game 1 of the 1985 Finals against the Lakers you scored three points in the “Memorial Day Massacre” (a 34-point win by the Celtics in one of the most lopsided games in playoff history): what was it like to be in the locker room at halftime with a 30-point lead? I was hurt that year and did not play as much so I was more of a fan. To eventually lose that series to the Lakers made me extremely sad.
You did not play in the decisive Game 6 (an 11-point win by the Lakers): what was the feeling like in the locker room afterward? I remember myself, ML Carr, and Quinn Buckner looking at each other and knowing that we would not be back the following year: we shed some tears.
You currently work as a radio broadcaster for the Celtics and co-host a sports-talk radio show: how do you like the gigs, and what do you hope to do in the future? I absolutely love it! I have done TV and radio so I get interviewed all the time, which is a wonderful way to still be involved in the game without getting on the coaching carousel where you have to live and die with every game. More money = more pressure. I might want to do more TV for the Celtics in the future because I have enjoyed being in the media.