Hey! Whatever Happened To: Vernon Maxwell

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.

Comments (32)

  1. Mary

    Wow Brian, you made him sound more interesting than when he was in the league. I swear I thought he was just one of those guys you have heard of but can’t really remember anything great about him. I suppose he couldn’t really be the “bad-boy standout” being in the league during Rodman’s prime. Well done…

  2. Ryan

    great job Brian! I followed the Rockets during their “championship” runs – everyone knows that those aren’t true titals because if MJ was around the Bulls would have won in those years – but I didn’t realize/remember how big of a headcase Mad Max was off the court.

  3. I feel bad that he wasted so much talent. Hew was actually one of the great players in the NBA during his tenure. You hate to see a man, especially someone with so much potential go to ruin. Michael Jordan once said that the two players that he had the hardest time scoring against was Joe Dumars and Vernon Maxwell. I wish that he would get back involved in the NBA because he needs to finish right. Once you are down, you don’t always have to stay down and society needs to allow him to come back up.

  4. Caceena

    I totally agree with Edward. I followed the Rockets the entire time Vernon was with them. Vernon has the potential to pull himself up and come back. I would support him.

  5. dee

    You can say what you want about “mad max” but he had a positive influnce on me. in 1993 when I was in high school in houston he used to just show up at the park and shoot around with us. After that he would give all of the grown folks beer and just leave. He was the only NBA player to come to 3rd ward and do this. regardless of what he did bad in life I owe my college and overseas carreer to him.

  6. dee

    Oh by the way mad max held jordan to 9 points. the lowest point total of his carreer. he was also very flustered I’ve never saw jordan like that.

  7. james

    I agree with the 3rd ward guy. I had a similar experience with max. He has a good spirit. As a teen he let me ride him 2 the the playground n he hooped wit us. He’s as real as it gets.

  8. SAM JONES

    JUST TO PIGGY BACK ON DEE AND JAMES ABOUT HOW REAL V-MAX IS, AS ONE OF HIS HOME BOYS FROM G-VILLE, HE HAS ALWAYS BEEN THIS WAY. WHEN HE ENTERED UF HE WOULD ALLOW ANY OF HIS HOMIES TO VISIT THE DORMS AND HANG OUT IN THE COLLEGE SETTING WITH HIM. HE ALWAYS HAD A OPEN DOOR POLICY AND HE ALWAYS HAD YOUR BACK. I CAN AGREE THAT HE HAS MADE BAD DECISIONS AS MANY AS OF HAVE, BUT I WILL DISAGREE WITH THOSE WHO WANT TO CALL HIM AN OVERALL BAD PERSON. UF IS A BASKETBALL NAME NOW BECAUSE OF BILLY D BUT IT WAS V-MAX WHO MADE IT A CREDIBLE PLACE TO PLAY BALL. BEFORE V-MAX AND THE OTHER 2 M&M BOYS, MOTEN AND MONTGOMERY, FLORIDA BASKETBALL WAS GARBAGE. V-MAX IS THE NAME WE CALLED HIM BEFORE THE NBA.

  9. Matt

    Want you fail to mention about Portland incident is the fan said something about Vernon’s dead baby. You seem to think that’s OK.

  10. scott

    The portland incident was not about a dead baby. Maxwell went to the N word card to defend his actions and there was not one person even on the Rockets that heard the Portland fan say this.

  11. JW

    Regarding the Portland incident,

    The razzing ended after the heckler made a comment about Vernon’s stillborn daughter – the one he wrote a msg on his shoes for every game he played after her delivery date – and Vernon went off after him.

  12. elaine olsen

    vernon maxwell you have a beautiful little girl named mia please see about her she needs you

  13. J DUB

    I can tell you guys that V is a good person. I had a chance to hang out with V a lot in ATL. I played a lot of golf with him and hung out with about everyday for year. It is very easy to judge a man but we can’t for get we have never walked in his shoes. He was a great b ball player and very down to earth. So if you read this V J DUB says whats up.

  14. Say what you want about Vernon Maxwell, he was one of the greatest NBA player in his time, in his season, his moment. To Mr. Taylor, who said you never knew which one showed up, you may not have known, but it didn’t matter which one show up, they SHOWED OUT!!!. He was a good spirited guy, real people. Yes he does deserve a second chance. He will always remain one of my favorite players. God Bless You Maxwell!!!

  15. forner nba player

    This article is off by far. The fight in Portland had more to do with the guy scream insults about vernon daughter who had been in the hospital with a battling illness. Vernon and the ref ward the guy more than twice to “keep his child’s name out of his mount”. At one point the guy ask what if he didn’t. Max told him that the next time he did he be in the stands to beat his ass. Well the next trip down after being fouled the guy repeated negative things about max and his daughter. Well Max was true to his word and went into the stand and beat the guy’s ass. Now what many don’t know Robert also when into the stands not to stop Max but to get in a shot as well. Not saying this is right but being a former player some people (fans) go to far and because they have the right to voice their feelings they should keep it to the game and not personal or family.

    No you misspoke about the Tennessee event Max played for UF. So before you spit something about someone get all the fact together and write the truth. Max had issues we all do just as a players ours are out for everyone to see them. We don’t get to deal with our personal stuff in private.

    If joe blow carries a firearm and does something stuff with it he’s not on the news he gets to deal with it and move forward. Max made a lot of mistakes but post some of your and let us examine them in the open and see how well you like being under that microscope.

    So get it right. I agree with S. Simon some what. max well always be one of the greatest – there was only one of him with a lot of heart. I take a young Max today and put in on anytime and it would be nothing but heart. There are not too many former players who would not want Max on there team!

  16. Tennille

    I met Vernon Maxwell for the frst time when I was 12 years old. He was helping Calvin Murphy run a kids basketball camp at a community center in Houston. He was sweet and attentive and he really wanted to help each and every child. Over the next few years I ran into Maxwell several more times and he always remembered me and my sisters and spoke to us like we were old friends. I remember seeing him shut Jordan down in the summit. I dont care what anyone says about Vernon Maxwell. Im a huge fan. LOVE U VERNON!!!! KEEP YOUR HEAD UP

  17. D. Jean

    I’m raising his daughter, I would like for her to meet him. Is there anyone out there can help me locate him.
    Thank you

  18. Max,is a cool dude..I met Max hanging out a club in MY HOME TOWN IN BALTIMORE..HE WAS WITH SAM CASSELL..MAX SPOKE AN I FELT LIKE HE WAS SOMEBODY I HAD KNOW ALL MY LIFE..THIS IS A TRULY RESPECTABLE MAN..STAY COOL MAX..

  19. Mychael

    Today is June 4th, 2011. I’m a native Texan,
    Currently married with children living in New York.
    I woke up this morning, read a few articles about the current
    NBA finals, and thought about my beloved Houston Rockets.
    I was in attendance at the Summit at both NBA finals against
    The Knicks(my current hometown team) and who can forget the sweep
    Of the Younger, Faster Orlando Magic.. Sweet Memories & Vernon Maxwell was my Favorite Player on the team.
    I personally feel Mad Max doesn’t get the credit he deserves
    For his defensive tenacity on the court. Like many other Rocket Fans
    I was troubled with his off the court News, but he will always be in my Top 5 players I enjoyed paying to watch on the court. On the other hand
    I wouldn’t pay the extra .25 cents to put cheese on a Whopper
    To see a majority of players today. Top of that list is Charles Barkley
    And he seems to get away with his antics and continues to get paid, and with all of his ” expert analysis” he never won anything.
    Mad Max has 2 rings, that he definitely contributed too!
    Does he deserve a open door back to the NBA in some coaching capacity? 100% YES!!! Whatever Vernon Maxwell is up to these days, I want to Extend my Sincerest Thanks for the great memories he gave me
    And thousands of Rockets fans when he played for Houston.

  20. Robert

    Its really bad to see these guys go broke after they are done playing sports

  21. Barb

    I met Vernon briefly when he was going to take a CLAST test at UF and I wouldn’t let him in because he didn’t have his picture I.D. He was highly upset because I didn’t know who he was. Even asked if I followed basketball. Told him no, only my son’s high school games. Needless to say, next time he came, he had his I. D. with him. Had a feeling if his attitude didn’t improve he would have problems in life… Guess my feeling turned out to be right. Shame – such a waste of God given talent.

  22. Don

    Mad max was a spur before he played for the rockets

  23. Buff

    Maxwell was the ultimate competitor. He D’d up Michael regularly and made it tough on him. A lot of people want to put an asterisk in front of the Rockets championships because Michael wasn’t around, but that wasn’t the teams fault. You can only beat the teams that you play. No speculation on others. Max will always be remembered positively by me!!

  24. A Maxwell

    My name is Armand and Vernon Maxwell is my uncle. I wont lie I haven’t seen a lot of my uncle highlights, But i I have seen him off the court a lot when he come back to Gainesville to visit. He is a truly my favorite uncle and a role model to me. I mean he Uncle V how can you not get along with the guy. I love you Unk. (((P.s Buchoultz wrong for taking all your records you broke for them. The University of Florida wrong for taking your 3 point record. Last but not least the NBA wrong for not helping you out in your financial problems after all the good games you played for them. But its all good You know we love you.)))

    Love the Maxwell’s

  25. Naomi

    Vernon Maxwell was a super basketball player with a good heart.

  26. David P

    Max was one of my favorite players on the Rockets championship teams. There is nothing really I can add to the comments about him personally – I wish him all the best.

    What ticks me off is the revisionist history, and the comment that the Rockets championships were not legit because Jordan was out of the league. This is absolutely false.

    In the 1994-1995 season, a player for the Chicago Bulls put 55 points on the New York Knicks. A following Sports Illustrated issue featured this player on the cover with a headline that read, “He’s Back!” That player was Michael Jordan. His team was defeated in the playoffs by the Orlando Magic, who went on to face the eventual champions, the Houston Rockets, in the Finals.

    This brings us back to Maxwell… I truly wish Jordan could have gotten the Bulls to the Finals. That way, the rest of the world could have seen what we had been seeing in Houston for years – Michael Jordan getting shut down by Vernon Maxwell. During the 3-peat before Jordan’s “retirement,” the Rockets went 5-1 against the Bulls.

    Yeah, it would have been an interesting matchup. It isn’t the fault of the Rockets that Jordan had to retire to tend to his gambling issues. People who diminish their titles are only speaking as fans of Jordan, not as people who really understand the game.

  27. chris

    Armard or who ever where is vernon at these. Days i want to met him i hsve idolized max my whole life growing up any infowill b great thanks

  28. Travis

    I grew up in Houston throughout the 90′s and early 2000′s, and my father is a retired Harris County Sheriff’s deputy. I remember when my dad had a few Houston sports greats in the prison he worked at, such as then Astros player Ken Caminiti (R.I.P.), as well as one of our favorite Rockets, Vernon Maxwell. My dad didn’t have a bad thing to say about him, just that he got to spend some down time here and there just talking with Vernon about life, and to just shoot the breeze. Unfortunately I was too young to carry on any depth of a conversation, because looking back, I’d love the chance to communicate with Vernon and hear his story… FROM HIM, in HIS WORDS.

    He said Vernon was well behaved while serving his time, so he was given employment and trust throughout the prison.

    Oh well, at least I even have those memories. I wish him well and pray for him.

    Stay strong Vernon.

  29. guiness

    I know verne well and he is a class act in every way. Respectfull and totally approachable

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