BEVERLY HILLS — Seated underneath The Farm’s awning while taking in the warm California breeze, Boston Celtics legend Cedric Maxwell is cool, calm, and collected as he watches me approaching the restaurant’s outdoor seating area adjacent to a busy crosswalk.
Maxwell notices I’m flustered almost immediately. The agitation that comes rushing moments after one realizes they left their phone in an Uber is hard to shake off; therefore, it’s written all over my face.
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“These kinds of things happen, man. You’ll get it back,” Maxwell assures me before taking a spoon-filled bite of his hot oatmeal.
Before diving into one of the more interesting underlining themes of his new autobiography If These Walls Could Talk: Boston Celtics: Stories from the Boston Celtics Sideline, Locker Room, and Press Box, co-authored with Mike Isenberg, Cedric recommends I kick back, relax and enjoy the environment around us.
“I love this place. Dude, we’re on Rodeo Drive. Out here on Rodeo Drive, we’re in Beverly Hills,” he says. “It don’t get no better than this, man.”
Larry Bird On Cedric Maxwell: ‘He Got His Money & Quit’
For Max, California always triggers fond memories of his playing days. The championship battles against the Los Angeles Lakers, including his second title in 1984, are forever ingrained into his memory. He also played two seasons for the Los Angeles Clippers.
Nostalgia washes over the 1981 NBA Finals MVP — which is ideal for a conversation about his estranged relationship with Celtics icon Larry Bird.
Ahead of the 1984-85 campaign, “Cornbread” inked a new deal with the Celtics, per UPI.com, before suffering a left knee injury in February of that season. Maxwell underwent arthroscopic surgery before returning to the floor as a shell of his former self. Far removed from the player that impacted the 1984 NBA Finals, Max and the Celtics lost in six games of their 1985 best-of-7 rematch against the Lakers.
For Max, it was his last season in Boston. The Celtics traded him, and a draft pick to the Clippers in exchange for Bill Walton.
“He got his money and quit,” Larry Bird wrote, per his book “When The Game Was Ours,” co-authored by Magic Johnson.
Bird’s words have bothered Cedric for years. In an attempt to set the record straight, he wanted to tell his side of the story.
“We had just won the championship and then I was starting to feel a pain in my knee almost before the season, really, in ’84 and I didn’t really think of it no more than regular aches and pain,” Maxwell said. “The one day I thought it was really different was the night I was in bed. I was asleep, and all of a sudden I turn and I heard somebody scream, like in pain and I was like ‘who was that?’ Then, I realized it was me.”
Cedric Maxwell: ‘The Doctors Didn’t Know I Was Hurt’
It was too late for Max to sit out and recover by then. Celtics medical staff ultimately decided he needed to undergo a minor procedure on his left knee.
“I think the big thing was the doctors didn’t know I was hurt because my knee wasn’t swelling up because I didn’t swell,” Maxwell added. “So, therefore he was like, “maybe it’s just in your mind” and I knew it wasn’t but it was just hard to get guys to believe me. That was frustrating.”
As his numbers dramatically dropped in the postseason from 11.9 points, 5.2 rebounds a game in 1984 to 3.8 points, 2.4 rebounds in 1985, per Basketball-Reference.com, Maxwell was ultimately demoted to the bench for Kevin McHale. However, the severity of his injury didn’t shake who Max was and still is as a person.
I, for one, am not surprised. If Max had lost his phone in an Uber instead of me, I’m confident his response to the matter would have remained the same.
“These things happen, man,” Maxwell said as I sulked phoneless in the corner.
And even though customer service connected me with my driver, which led to me retrieving my phone, and ultimately triggering Max’s “I told you so” face-and-a-smile, Cedric understands his positive vibe at all times approach isn’t for everyone. Stripped of his starting duties, the happy-go-lucky forward remained chipper throughout the Celtics’ 1985 postseason run, albeit his playing time dipped from 32.7 minutes per game to 11.9 minutes a night — which didn’t sit well with some of his teammates.
However, until that point, Max had never experienced any significant injuries or setbacks throughout his career, which made it more difficult for him to cope.
“I think that’s just how it came across,” Maxwell said about his speculated careless approach. “It was just translation, which came across as the way I was acting it seemed like I didn’t (care), and I fault myself for that. But, I can’t fault what my personality is.”
Maxwell: ‘Bird Was The Greatest Player I Ever Played with’
In 2020, amid the COVID-19 shutdown, Maxwell said he and Bird reconnected over the phone. They’ve buried the hatchet as the two came to a civil understanding of what transpired over 35 years ago.
“Bird was the greatest player I ever played with. He and I were one of the best forward combinations in the NBA,” Maxwell wrote in his new book. “We weren’t the best of friends, but we were basketball friends; that’s the best way I can put it. We loved the game, and our competitive juices made each other better.”