Maxwell embraces role of being godfather of Kinston hoops

Maxwell embraces role of being godfather of Kinston hoops

Cedric Maxwell was the first player from Kinston to make it to the NBA. He retired as a two-time champion and 1981 NBA Finals MVP. Photo by Junious Smith III / Neuse News

Kinston hasn’t recently become a basketball hotbed.

The city has produced seven NBA players over the years and countless college athletes. Currently, there are two players from Kinston in the league — the Detroit Pistons’ Reggie Bullock and Los Angeles Lakers’ Brandon Ingram — and Memphis Grizzlies assistant coach Jerry Stackhouse, who carved out an impressive 18-year career.

The man who started it all may not be as well-known as Bullock, Ingram and Stackhouse, but Cedric Maxwell certainly etched his name in not only Kinston lore, but the NBA. Maxwell is a two-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics and stands alone in the city as the winner of the 1981 NBA Finals MVP.

Maxwell also has his jersey retired with one of the greatest franchises in the league, along with UNC Charlotte, as he helped lead his college to heights the school has never seen before or after his tenure.

What makes Maxwell’s story even more impressive — and shows how strong basketball has been in Kinston for decades — is the fact he was cut from the Vikings his junior year.

“We had great players my junior year,” Maxwell said. “At that time, the coach didn’t know who I was and my mom, who played basketball, called him up and asked, ‘What did he do wrong’ because she knew I could play. He said, ‘He didn’t do anything wrong, he just wasn’t good enough.’

“Then the next year, I happened to grow from 6-3 to 6-7 and a half and the coach asked me if I was going to try out for the team. I said, ‘Why, so you can cut me again’ and he said ‘I don’t think you’re going to be cut this time.' We turned (the season) into a very special unit, led by guard Reggie Jones, and I just started to develop game after game. (We) ended up going to the state championship and the story was beginning for me.”

Maxwell headed to UNCC, where he carved out a storied career, including Sun Belt Player of the Year honors in the 1976-77 season — his senior campaign — after averaging 22.3 points and 12.1 rebounds per game. In the same season, Maxwell led the 49ers to their first NCAA tournament berth and only trip to the Final Four. The 28-5 record for UNC-Charlotte is still the greatest in program history and for his efforts, Maxwell was selected 12th overall in the 1977 NBA draft by the Boston Celtics.

Maxwell averaged 12.5 points and 6.3 rebounds in his 12-year professional career — eight with the Celtics and two each with the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers — with nine seasons in double figures scoring and career highs of 19.0 points and 9.9 rebounds during the 1978-79 campaign.

Two years later, Maxwell had a team-high 17.7 points and second with 9.5 rebounds in the 1981 NBA Finals when the Celtics played the Rockets. With the series tied after four games, Maxwell had 28 points and 15 rebounds in a 109-80 Game 5 win before following up with 19 points, six assists and five rebounds in the 102-91 Game 6 clincher.

Maxwell said Holloway Recreation Center was the place where it all started. The Neuse News recently sat down with Maxwell at Holloway for an exclusive interview.

“This was like going to Madison Square Garden, and if you could play here you could play anywhere,” Maxwell said while sitting on a chair at one of the venerable building's free throw lines. “Basketball was king and we played half-court here in Kinston — most other places play full-court. That made you a better player because everybody had to handle the basketball, you weren’t getting tired and you were on a spotlight. If you lost a game, you weren’t playing until maybe the next day — you had to be really good because there were three, four, five, six teams waiting.

“We’ve had so many guys that were so competitive and it all derived essentially at Holloway. As small as this town is, everybody was so competitive with that little round ball. Not only was it a status for what you did in the community, but basketball was that vehicle that would take you to the next level.”

Greg Laws, Maxwell’s childhood friend, said basketball was definitely big in the community. The two also played on Adkin High School’s freshmen basketball team in the 1969-70 campaign, one year before Adkin (the city's African-American school) and Grainger High School -- the white school -- combined to form what is now Kinston High School.

“If we weren’t playing at Holloway, we would play ball outside at Carver Courts or Southeast,” Laws said. “It was very competitive and everyone knew everyone. At Holloway, there was a little end and a big end and if you could graduate to the big end, you felt like you could play everywhere.”

Maxwell, who has been broadcasting games for the Celtics for the past 22 years, said there has been plenty of change in Kinston from his childhood -- and not necessarily for the better.  

“Kinston was such a dynamic, mobile city,” Maxwell said. “We had an airport, which nobody around here had, (and) there were different industries at the time. There weren’t many homes that weren’t occupied. Flooding changed the complexity of the city too — a lot of the history when I was coming up is now gone.”

Maxwell certainly has optimism for the city.

“The infrastructure is still good (and) the people are really good and hungry about working,” Maxwell said. “There has to be better jobs here. You don’t see a lot of people coming back and even (then) I remember saying ‘I’d never come back.’ I think about two years ago, I found a house that I almost wanted to purchase that wasn’t far away from the country club. I think you have to give people an idea, things to do which will make it better later on.”

Longtime Holloway staffer Skeet Davis said Maxwell has done plenty for the community.

“It makes me feel proud,” Davis said. “A lot of guys who get famous don’t come back or give back. He’s still Kinston and always going to be Kinston.”

Maxwell has embraced his role as the “Godfather” of Kinston basketball, but said he’s fine with not being the first one the general public remembers when it comes to the city’s storied hoops history.

“I’ve always realized as a player, as you get older a lot of guys aren’t going to know who you are and I’m OK with that,” Maxwell said. “I don’t have anything that makes me say ‘Oh my God, I was the first player’ but at the end of the day I’m the only player from Kinston to win multiple championships and a Finals MVP. I have my stones already and I’m not braggish, so I don’t get caught up in that.

“It’s more important for (guys like Jerry Stackhouse) to remember who I am than the average fan because it’s always about reaching back for the next player. They say per capita Kinston has had more NBA players than any other city in America, so when you think of it that way that is absolutely outstanding.”

Overall, Maxwell said he wants to keep a positive legacy with a focus on positivity and grit.

“I think the biggest thing is staying with it — being in the spirit of playing the game, not giving up,” Maxwell said. “To be cut from the team as a junior in high school and become the Finals MVP, you can’t get a better badge of honor than that.

"Don’t give up on your dreams and always continue to play hard.”

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