June 2, 2007 Saturday
Young NBA fans may find it hard to believe, but pro basketball was once a team game - not the showcase for flashy individual talent it has become.
And on the great Celtics teams of the 1980s, one of the key contributors to the cohesive and unselfish style was rebounding forward Cedric Maxwell, one of the great clutch performers in team history and the 22nd C's player to have his number (31) retired.
A main cog in what was probably the greatest NBA frontcourt ever - with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish - Maxwell will be saluted Monday by the Sports Museum as part of The Tradition - its sixth annual appreciation for ``the men and women whose accomplishments, contributions and qualities of character and spirit have helped make Boston the best sports town in the nation.''
Other honorees at TD Banknorth Garden include Bruins Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque, Boston University quarterback and Red Sox first baseman Harry Agganis, Patriots wide receiver Stanley Morgan, and the 1967 Red Sox ``Impossible Dream'' team.
In regard to qualities of character and spirit, Maxwell fit the bill perfectly as a guy who was willing to sacrifice personal accolades to help make the team stronger. Fans of the Celts' championship teams of the '80s surely remember the 6-foot-8 Maxwell as a top rebounder and defender of opposing stars like the Los Angeles Lakers' James Worthy. The fans may not remember that Maxwell came out of UNC-Charlotte as a big-time scorer who averaged 19.0 ppg in his second season as a Celtic (1978-79) - one of the few bright spots on a weak team.
The next season Bird arrived, and the Celtics' fortunes - and Maxwell's role - changed dramatically.
In an interview for Celtic-nation.com, Maxwell talked about how he had been the ``go-to guy'' offensively, but didn't mind taking a new approach as the talent around him improved.
``I had always been a team player and I was unselfish when it came to personal statistics and achievements,'' said Maxwell. ``Those things weren't important to me. I wanted to win, so I sacrificed scoring and began concentrating on other aspects of the game.''
Maxwell hardly became a one-dimensional player. Offense remained an important part of his game, and no Celtic was more efficient at putting the ball in the hoop - as evidenced by his 55.9 field goal percentage in eight seasons as a Celtic, and the fact he twice led the NBA in that category.
He was the MVP of the 1981 NBA Finals. And before Game 7 of the 1984 Finals against the Lakers, Maxwell famously told his teammates, ``Climb on my back, boys.'' He went out and scored 24 points to lead the Celts to the title.
His career numbers: 10,465 points and 5,261 rebounds, averages of 12.5 and 6.3 per game, respectively.
Announcing in 2003 that Maxwell's number would be retired, late team president Red Auerbach described Maxwell as a unique player ``in that he was content to play defense and rebound. But there was never any doubt that he could score. Winning was important to him and he did anything he could to make his team better.''
The current NBA could use a lot more just like him.