On Wednesday afternoon, I had the opportunity to spend about an hour chatting with the Celtics’ Cedric Maxwell.
Cornbread’s autobiography, If These Walls Could Talk, written with Mike Isenberg, is now available on Amazon.com.
During our conversation, Cedric talked about how he’d like to see Jaylen and Jayson develop some on court attitude, “as great as those two players are, and I think they’re great players, they have to get that ... nastiness,” adding that this attitude will trickle down to the players below. “Every great player in the league has some of that ‘nasty’ in them.” Cedric also talks about whether Jaylen and Jayson can be truly complementary players, saying, “are they the same player at the end of the day? Can they make the guy beside them better?”
He also talks about how he, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish very nearly ended up being Warriors instead of Celtics. Reps from Golden State visited Cedric in Charlotte and told him that they planned on signing him as a free agent and drafting Kevin McHale. How that plan got turned around so that all three of those guys ended up with the Celtics has to be the premier example of Red Auerbach’s skill at convincing other GMs to do him a favor while thinking they were doing themselves a favor instead.
Cocaine was widely available in the NBA during the 70’s and the early 80’s, and Cedric talks about how he avoided getting caught up in that subculture of drug abuse, including an unexpected late-night visit by a fellow NBA player in search of baking powder and ammonia. “I was never a follower,” Cedric says. “When I got to the pros,” he added, “my standard at the time was that I didn’t need to get high to have fun,“ “I just had fun being in the league and being with my friends and playing ball.”
When the subject turns to growing up around basketball, Cedric says, “AAU has really created some monsters, and you don’t have people telling you no. Your focus is play basketball and travel,” Cedric observes. Growing up in Kingston, North Carolina was nothing like that for him, “we played basketball, then it was baseball season, then it was football season. I had so many more interests in my life.”
We talked about the competitive fire that made Larry Bird great. “He was consumed by the game, and the game consumed him.” “I had great games, but I could never get to that level that Larry Bird was at.”
Cedric also talked about playing with Dennis Johnson, “he was such a dominant player.” “I watched him harness that energy that he had and he was just brilliant,” he adds. “I was so happy when they put him in the Hall of Fame,” Cedric says, before adding, “I kind of hate the fact that he was never able to see that.”
At the moment, Cedric is the only Finals MVP who isn’t in the Hall of Fame (although this is probably in part because Andre Iguodala is still playing), and he shares his thoughts on whether he believes he belongs there. “There are just levels to it, you know,” he says, noting that he doesn’t believe he played consistently at the level of a Hall of Famer.
We talked about the importance of glue guys, and how the Celtics might have been better off keeping Jae Crowder instead of signing Gordon Hayward, “if you look back on it,” Cedric observes, “Jae Crowder might have been a better player for this team than Gordon Hayward, with his toughness and his ability to stay healthy.”
Cedric talks about how better sports medicine, health care and nutrition has changed the game. “The team would tell you, ‘don’t lift weights, you don’t need muscles, because now you’re going to lose your flexibility.’” He also shares that the Celtics team doctor during his career did nothing more than a hernia check before clearing players for the upcoming season. “I didn’t know what a real physical was until I got traded to the Clippers.” While talking about nutrition, Cedric reveals what he ate before his ‘climb on my back, boys’ performance in Game 7 of the ‘84 Finals.
When asked what he’d like to bring into today’s game from his career, Cedric says, without hesitation, that he’d like to see more physicality. “I wouldn’t oppose a little fisticuffs every now and then.” “Just to get the juices flowing,” he says, before quickly adding, “I don’t want anybody to get hurt.” I asked him what part of today’s game he’d like to take back to his career, if he could, and he responded that he wished he’d made more use of the three-point shot.
Talk of big men shooting threes leads to the subject of Al Horford, and how much he does to make the Celtics a better team. Cedric compares Al to vanilla ice cream, but good vanilla ice cream, and the interview closes with a cameo appearance by Sunday the cat.