Tuesday, September 18th, 2007 at 11:57 am  |  23 responses

DITC: Football Edition

Back in the day, when men were men and Vernon Maxwell was something else.

by Russ Bengtson

This piece—or a variation thereof—may have run in SLAM 10. I don’t have a copy on-hand to check, but a search of the archives revealed a Vernon Maxwell piece in there. Anyway, given the time of year, I thought it was worth revisiting. You’ll see.

The first official NBA event I ever attended with a SLAM credential was Sixers training camp in October of 1995. They held camp at the University of Delaware (for the first and only time, I believe) that year, and as a recent graduate I was still living in the area. Jerry Stackhouse was a rookie, and Shawn Bradley, well he was already Shawn Bradley. One of my strongest memories of camp was Bradley tripping over the midcourt line during a scrimmage—and the entire crowd laughing at him. This did not bode well for his future in Philadelphia.

It was a dark era for the Sixers, the short period after Barkley and before Iverson. John Lucas was the GM and the coach back then, and he filled out the roster with reclamation projects, most noteably Richard Dumas (who had been a teammate of Barkley’s in Phoenix) and Vernon Maxwell. Mad Max. A supremely talented guard, Maxwell already had a bit of a reputation. This is a guy who, after taking two weeks off from the defending champion Houston Rockets in 1995 for “personal problems” announced afterwards that he’d just needed a vacation. He wound up in Philadelphia shortly afterwards. And there, even in the preseason, Maxwell lived up to his nickname:

We’re in the locker room at Sixers training camp and Vernon Maxwell is talkin’ football. It starts with a perfectly innocent question about Eagles’ running back Ricky Watters, one thing leads to another, mainly “Hawk,” V-Max’s high school football nickname, and the next thing you know Vernon’s talkin’ about trading his high-tops for cleats. The following surreal exchange takes place:

“I might try out for the Eagles next year”
“Are you serious?”
“I’m serious, I want to try, at least.”
“As what?”
“Free safety.”
“Would you quit basketball to play free safety?”
“Nah, I just wanna get a shot before I get too old.”
“When was the last time you played free safety?”
“My senior year of high school, I had opportunities to go to college — what y’all fail to realize I was first-team All-State defensive back in Florida coming out in ‘88. I was recruited by Florida, Florida State, Auburn, Kentucky, you know LSU, all the SEC schools. I just didn’t go. I just thought I’d have longevity playing basketball.”
“Do you watch free safeties a lot on Sundays?”
“I like cornerbacks and safeties, that’s my favorite position.”
“Can you have played both at Florida?”
“Yeah. I got asked to play both, but … ”
“How long would it take you to re-acclimate to that game?”
“I would need just a summer. To work out. If I just worked out with a team, I feel like I’d be OK. I just wanna give it a shot.”
“Just to prove to yourself you could do it.”
“Just to prove to myself I could do it … I know I could do it.”
“Do you want us to call [Eagles head coach] Ray Rhodes for you?”
“Call Ray Rhodes and tell Ray I need a shot, I want a shot next year. I mean it, too. I’m serious.”
“Have you ever talked to any coaches?”
“I was gonna go to the combine, and work out.”
“You mean coming out of college, or recently?”
“I was in the NBA, but it was gonna be like I was a rookie. My agent was gonna set me up with a chance to go to the combine and work out for the NFL.”
“How recently was that?”
“About three years ago, but then the Rockets were like, ‘Naah, I don’t think so.’”
“If you went to do that, would you have to be Mad Max again?”
“Yeah, I’d have to be Mad Max. I’d have to be crazy to do that, yeah.”

Six-foot-eleven center Scott Williams, changing at the locker next to Vernon, is listening in. “I’ll be a long punter for the Eagles,” he says. “the way I kicked that one yesterday.” Williams did boot a high, hard one over the bleachers after a blown play that came within a thin sheet of plexiglass of wasting a cameraman. Knowing the Eagles needs at tight end, I ask power forward Clarence Weatherspoon (6-7, 240) if he’s ever thought about playing football. “No, man, I haven’t thought about playing football.” “Why not?” “Do they get guaranteed contracts?” “Uh, no.” “That’s why.”

The Sixers went on to go 18-64 that year, and Lucas was fired. Philly got the first pick in the ’96 Draft, which they used on Georgetown guard Allen Iverson. Unfortunately they didn’t do much better in their first year with Iverson and new coach Johnny Davis, finishing 22-60 in ’96-97.

That was it for Mad Max in Philly as well. He went on to play five more seasons with seven different teams, finishing up with a 24-game stint back in Philly in ’00-01. The Sixers went to the Finals that year, but the 35-year-old Maxwell wasn’t on the playoff roster. And he never did play a down for the Eagles. (Although oddly enough, another Vernon Maxwell DID play in the NFL around the same time. Not the same guy.)

Maxwell’s been out of the League for over seven years, but he stays in the news. In August of this year, he was jailed on a probation violation. Unfortunately for Mad Max, this was nothing new.

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  • Keith

    How do you trip over a halfcourt line?!

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Shawn Bradley managed to do a lot of things that were somewhat unbelievable. Unfortunately not many will ever appear in a highlight video. Well, at least not HIS highlight video.

  • matteo

    in slam, and i’m sure in other magazines too, the players always make so many fantastic claims that i had always wondered how the writers could keep their cool and not start laughing in their face when they interview them.
    apparently they can do that because they know that 12 years later they will run an article making fun of them

  • matteo

    am i right russ?

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    It’s pretty easy to avoid laughing at a ripped 6-4 guy whose nickname (for good reason) is Mad Max. Not to mention it wasn’t a one-on-one, the entire Sixers beatwriter contingent was on hand as well (and they were as startled/amused by the whole thing as I was). Mostly, Matteo, it’s just a matter of being a professional. You learn VERY quickly in this business that NBA athletes are gonna say some out-there sh*t almost every time. And if you’re ever going to laugh, laugh WITH them, because otherwise the interview’s gonna end real quick.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    And this wasn’t meant to make fun of anyone really (except for Shawn Bradley). I honestly think that Maxwell COULD have played free safety in the NFL. All it takes is a balance of athletic ability and insanity, and he had plenty of both.

  • matteo

    so i guess that when a slam journalist writes that he is fam with some nba player, it just means that he is more easily allowed to laugh with them, not that he can in any way point out to them some of the incredible stuff they say

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at. If someone made a truly outlandish statement, like “the sky is green” or “Britney sure was great at the VMAs,” I’d call them on it. But if it’s something relating to basketball and their own abilities/performance, who am I to contradict them?

  • Dennard

    That was awesome. I hope Mad Max gets it together, but people have been saying that for years.

  • http://www.cfpf.org.uk/articles/rdp/caasqp/caasqp.html Tarzan Cooper

    i wonder if shawn bradley has nightmares. “NOOO, DAMN YOU TMAC!” “VIIIIIIIIIIINCE!” probably not though, he got used to it.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Speaking of Shawn Bradley, I came across a tremendous interview I did with him for Dime Drop back in the day. Not sure how much of it ran in the mag, but I’ll go ahead and post the whole thing tomorrow. You can never have too much Shawn Bradley.

  • Jason

    Clarence Weatherspoon’s response was not surprising.

  • Boing Dynasty

    Yes, you can.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    That’s what YOU think. Muhahahaha. According to my SLAM archives list, the Bradley Dime Drop never ran, and the full interview transcript is 2,300 words. BEWARE.

  • http://why-bother-reading.blogspot.com/ H to the izzo

    Shawn Bradley was too much Shawn Bradley

  • http://breadcity.wordpress.com Jake

    Great story. Still have never seen an issue of “BLITZ,” though I’m always on the lookout.

  • http://slamonline.com mutoni

    me likey this feature. looking forward to the shawn bradley epic.

  • matteo

    russ, what i mean is that if you think that a player has said some out-there sh*t, maybe you could avoid using it as a blurb on the article.
    ( if blurb is the right word for the quotes in capital letters that you use on slam here and there on the page of an article)
    for example,if a player says that he is unstoppable, don’t hype that so much; maybe you could just report it in the article.
    i mean there’s never been an unstoppable player. except maybe for wilt or mk

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Uh, if they say it, we’re gonna run it. And if it’s insane, all the better (and bigger–we journalist-types call those ‘blurbs’ pullquotes, by the way). Anyway, I don’t work out of the office anymore, so that’s more Ben’s concern.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Matteo lost me.

  • matteo

    ah ah i really did?

  • http://myspace.com/mrdyalekt d.Y.

    ahhh mad max. i was glad to have him on the sixers back then. crazy is at least interesting. that was a horrid era… dana barros became a sympathy all star… nice uni’s tho, i don’t know why they changed em after ai’s rook year.

  • bigmike407

    Vernon Maxwell was a decent player who just had way too many mental issues to stick in the NBA. I remember when the dude went in the stands when a fan was clowning him about his wife delivering a stillborn baby. I think he would have been a good safety in the NFL, but Paul Tagliabue would have had to fine him many times.