By Brian Taylor
November 19th, 2004.
Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past year and a half, you probably remember the above day being a red-letter date in basketball history. It goes right up there with Rudy T being knocked senseless by the Lakers’ Kermit Washington. It was the day NBA fanaticism and players crossed the line, and we had to re-think, collectively, how we view sports. Sure, Ron Artest was a character, and so was “the Worm”, but as always, someone had that gig before, and it came in the form of one Vernon “Mad Max” Maxwell.
Most of you remember Vernon from his days as a Houston Rocket. Alongside Kenny “the Jet” Smith, Hakeem Olajuwon, Otis Thorpe and a rookie from the University of Mars (Sam Cassell), Maxwell won a title in 1993 and later in 1994 after teaming up with Clyde Drexler. “Mad Max” was one of the NBA’s “most-clutch-players-you’ve-never-heard-of” mainly because of his crazy off the court antics, but ask John Starks or anyone from the 1995 Orlando Magic, and they’ll tell you the same. Coming out of Florida, Max was bounced around a bit until he found a spot in the Rockets’ system. Rudy Tomjanovich was one of the only coaches ever to harness his anger, excitement and energy into a positive effort on the basketball court. Defensively, like Artest, Vernon was a true stalwart, even holding MJ to well below his season averages whenever the two matched up. That first title year in Houston, he had 125 steals, along with a 13 point scoring average. His quickness and effective three-point stroke opened up the paint underneath, so “the Dream” could go to work on putting opponents to sleep. Vernon Maxwell was one of those “loose cannon/renegade cop” type of guys where you couldn’t bank your life savings on which version would show up that night.
If you thought Ron-Ron was looney, you have another thing coming. Maxwell’s list of detonations reads like Rodman, Artest and J.R. Rider rolled into one. At the University of Tennesee, Mad Max looked listless, sleepy and went scoreless. After being asked about the performance, then-coach Norm Sloan admitted that Maxwell “was probably drunk”. Going into the stands to punch someone? That one was Vernon Maxwell all the way. The Rockets were in Portland, and there was a guy on the baseline who’d been razzing Max all night. Most NBA players shake it off, some encourage it, but not Vernon. Like Ron-Ron at the Palace, Maxwell went berserk and charged into the crowd to knock the guy out. The fine he got matched the highest ever in NBA History and the suspension he got was second longest (until the Pistons met the Pacers that is). He had the usual “NBA Drama” of late child support/deadbeat dad issues and “strapping up for the haters” (gun charges), but Max had some other goings-on as well. In 1995, Maxwell took a 14-day leave from the team for “personal, family reasons” only to let it known later that he “just needed a break” (sound familiar?). He tried to nail Carl Hererra, a teammate, with a free-weight in a minor beef that escalated into a brawl at the Rockets’ training facility. After an arrest in Georgia, he told law enforcement his name was “Kenneth Shaw”. Oh, and you can’t forget that he knowingly infected a woman with the “gift-that-keeps-on-giving”, coughing up a half million in the judgement because he failed to show up in court (*cough* Michael Vick?). Eventually, the Rockets tired of his tom-foolery and hijinks and once more, a past-his-prime veteran made the NBA “World Tour”, with stops in Philly (twice), Orlando, Seattle, San Antonio, Sactown and Dallas before calling it quits in 2001.