Maxwell made an impact in his second season with the Celtics. While Boston was mired in an otherwise awful 1978-79 season, as they awaited Larry Bird’s decision to sign with the franchise, the second-year power forward averaged 19.0 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. The Celtics would go just 29-53 on the year, but the young Maxwell’s potential, along with the promising addition of Bird and others, set the stage for what would become an NBA dynasty.
Maxwell was best known for his moves near or beneath the basket. He was very effective in the low post, faking defenders into the air, drawing contact, then making high percentage shots (and sometimes drawing a foul) using either his jump-hook close to the basket or going up against the glass. It was rare that Maxwell took an outside jump shot, especially when Celtic teammates like Larry Bird or Tiny Archibald were on the floor. This helped the Celtics run a balanced offense with a formidable inside game that was hard for most teams to defend.
Maxwell, in addition to being a dangerous scorer and a colorful character, was a clutch performer in the playoffs. Despite being overshadowed by such stars as Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish, Maxwell was named MVP of the 1981 NBA Finals. Three years later, Maxwell scored 24 points against the Los Angeles Lakers in the decisive game-seven victory during the 1984 NBA Finals. Before the game, he told his teammates to “climb on my back, boys.” Maxwell’s colorful side was also on display in the series as he mocked second-year Laker forward James Worthy’s inability to make free throws during overtime of game 4 by walking across the lane between free throws with his hands around his own neck, suggesting Worthy’s choking under pressure. Maxwell also made fun of Kurt Rambis prior to Game 4 of the 1984 Finals, wearing Rambis’s trademark glasses and inadvertently missing a long range shot in front of loyal Rambis fans known as the “Rambis Youth”.
Maxwell was traded, with a draft pick, on September 6, 1985, to the Los Angeles Clippers for center Bill Walton. Maxwell spent a season and a half with the Clippers before being dealt to the Houston Rockets in January, 1987, for two draft picks. He finally retired from the NBA after the 1987-88 season, having scored 10,465 points and pulled down 5,261 rebounds over the course of 11 seasons, which averages over the course of his career to 12.5 points and 6.3 rebounds a game.
Maxwell received the nickname “Cornbread” from his college teammate Melvin Watkins after the pair went to see the movie Cornbread, Earl and Me, in which a 12-year-old boy is traumatized by the murder of his friend, a star basketball player. Watkins thought that Maxwell looked like the title character (played by Jamaal Wilkes) and so began calling him Cornbread. Since Maxwell did not like the nickname, it did not gain widespread use until Maxwell was named MVP of the NIT tournament in 1976, when, according to Watkins, “The New York media picked up on [the nickname].”
Kinston (Kinston, North Carolina)
1977 / Round: 1 / Pick: 12th overall
Selected by the Boston Celtics
Los Angeles Clippers
Long Island Surf (USBL)
Career highlights and awards
2× NBA champion (1981, 1984)
NBA Finals MVP (1981)
No. 31 Retired by the Boston Celtics
Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year (1977)
No. 33 retired by the UNC Charlotte
10,465 (12.5 ppg)
5,261 (6.3 rpg)
1,862 (2.2 apg