Vernon Maxwell is best known as the quick-tempered two guard and two-time champion who played for the Houston Rockets in the early ’90s. He played for eight teams in 13 years and, depending on who you ask, was either one of the boldest or one of the more reckless players of his era. “Mad Max” was afraid of nobody, be it Michael Jordan or rowdy fans who, in his view, crossed the line.
Now 55 years old, Maxwell lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he follows each morning’s 20-mile bike ride with a round of golf before he gets in the gym to train his 14-year-old son. And he usually finds a way to get on Twitter, where his own brand of savage hilarity is well-received.
Bomani Jones recently praised Maxwell for having “the most underrated account on twitter,” and ESPN NBA writer Zach Lowe has referred to it as an “absolute must-follow.” Maxwell holds nothing back, in a way most current and former athletes wouldn’t dare. Earlier this week, GQ caught up with him for a conversation about his approach to social media, why he doesn’t like Utah, James Harden’s future with the Rockets, and more.
GQ: What did you make of the Rockets losing as badly as they did to the Lakers?
Vernon Maxwell: I mean, I wasn’t surprised. They were overmatched against the Lakers. And then playing that small ball, I just don’t understand that. You’ve gotta have a big. Your tallest guy on the court can’t be 6’7”. That’s just not gonna work against AD and LeBron. All they were doing was playing bully ball. I said it before the series started, I felt like the Lakers were gonna win that series in the fashion that they did. I pretty much knew that.
You took a bunch of threes when you were in Houston. During the ’91 and ’92 regular seasons, you made more than any other player, and in that ’94 championship run you led the postseason in attempts. How would you do today, on a team that bombs away like these Rockets did?
I mean, shit, that’s the style of play I love. Back when I was with the Rockets, that’s what Don Chaney and Rudy T encouraged us [to do]. Because Coach Rudy T, he wanted us to keep all the guys away from Dream and just let Dream operate down low by himself. You couldn’t double team Dream when you played against us, because we had three guys on the perimeter who could knock your head off any night. So it might not be me this night. It might be Kenny Smith. It might be Mario Elie. It might be Sam Cassell. It might be Robert Horry. But every night somebody stepped up.
But as far as playing nowadays, I feel like I’d have a field day, because, shit, you can’t touch nobody no more. I’d stay on the free throw line. Back when I played, we used to hand-check, and now it’s just, every time I turn around, they turn their hand in the air. I don’t know what the hell that means. I guess, “Let’s take a review and look at this shit.” And they look at every goddamn play. I get so tired of that. When they turn their hand in the air: “Look at it, look at it!”
The game has changed so much, but I feel like I’d be an All-Star if I played in these times.
Mike D’Antoni is out as head coach of the Rockets. You’ve been petitioning for your former teammate Sam Cassell to replace him. What about Cassell makes you think he’s the best option?
I just feel like it’s his time. He’s been on the bench as an assistant coach for 15 years [Cassell started coaching in 2009]. I get tired of these owners and general managers, they just recycle all these goddamn coaches. You’ve gotta try something new. You’ve gotta give them a chance to see what they can do, and I don’t think that’s fair to guys like Sam. They need to give him a chance and a legit shot. Let him bring in his people that he wants and I think he’ll do fine. He’s ready now.
You played with Sam and know him well. What about him makes you believe he’ll be an effective head coach?
He’s been on the sideline behind great coaches. I know Doc hasn’t been finishing series the way he should but Doc is a great coach. Sam is a jolly personality. He’ll keep the team upbeat. I think he’ll do real well with the Rockets, with the guys that they have on a team. They should probably bring in a big, though. That’s first and foremost. Gotta get him a big. But other than that I think he’ll do a great job because he’s a people person and he’ll be just fine if given the opportunity.
James Harden hasn’t been able to get over the hump in Houston. Does he need to play differently or change anything about his approach?
I love James Harden. That’s my guy. I can’t say nothing bad about him. He’s the franchise guy. He does what he do. He gets buckets. I think you’ve got to continue letting him be him. You can’t say all of a sudden, ‘OK James you need to start passing’. Nah nah. You made that bed so now you’ve gotta lay in it. James Harden’s gonna be James Harden. He’s a great competitor, very articulate guy. Other guys gotta step up around him. They also weren't gonna beat the Lakers, man. Let’s be 1000 about it. They weren’t gonna beat the Lakers.
What do you think about the possibility of them trading James Harden?
That’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard. That’s crazy as hell. I mean you’re gonna move the best player on your team? I don’t have any problem with Westbrook either. I love him, too. I love his motor. He’s gonna play hard every night.
They pay these guys and then they talk about how they don’t do what they suppose to do, but in today’s NBA, they look at this “upside” shit too much for me. Everything is “upside.” They don’t go off what a man is doing right now today. They don’t go on that. They just go on that upside shit. When I played,Houston told me you have to do that shit again, what you did last year, then you’ll get your money. There was no “upside.” It’s just different now, but they paid those guys. They made their bed, now they’ve gotta lay in it.
And that would be crazy as hell if they got rid of James Harden. Anybody would love to have James Harden.
How do you think you would’ve handled being in the bubble, from a mental and physical standpoint?
Man I can adapt to anything. If I’m getting paid the millions they’re getting paid nowadays I’m good with it. Shit, we can play under the ground. Shit, I’ll be right. Just give me my money and I’ll play hard, I’ll run through a wall for you. Those guys get paid crazy amounts, so you’re just going into a bubble for two months, three months? Man, come on. I can miss my wife. My family. It’ll be hard but I’ll be able to do it. Those guys make crazy money. In one year they make more than I made in my whole career. I love the game so much. I would never, ever disrespect the game. So it wouldn’t be a problem with me. I just love playing basketball and I love competing against somebody in another jersey that’s not my color.
Let’s talk about your Twitter account, which is mostly you making fun of other fan bases, especially Utah. When did you first get on there and decide it could be a way for you to settle scores, so to speak?
I forget the year I got on there, but I just don’t have shit else to do. When I get to have a drank or two, I’ll think about something to say. Everybody always said I’m a funny guy. Everybody said ‘you're a funny guy, Max. You need to be a comedian.You just bring shit straight off the dome.’ I’ve thought about stuff I’ve said about Utah because their fans were just so racist to me when I was out there. There are racist fans in the NBA — besides Portland — so that’s where I felt like I wanted to stick it back to them, because of the things that still stick in my mind they were saying to me. The people spitting. When they walk by people would spit on you. There are so many bad memories about Utah. I know it’s a long time ago, but I’m like an elephant. I don’t forget shit.
What are some of the things they’d say to you when you were a player?
Crazy nigger. Curse words. Talk about your mama. Talk about your kids. Just a lot of bad things they were doing. You’d try to tell security guards to go handle this stuff and the security guard would say ‘that man paid his money for that ticket, he pretty much can say what he wants.’ But shit, I’m a human being, too! I know we’re out on the court and everybody think we’re supposed to be invincible but nah, that’s not the way it is. I’ve got feelings, too. That shit hurts down deep inside.
What’s the response you get from Jazz fans now on Twitter?
Death threats, all that shit. They want to kill me. I can’t come to Utah. They hate me. I don’t hate nobody I don’t know. I’ve gotta know you to hate you, because you must’ve done something to me to hate you. It’s hard for me to have hate in my heart, but that’s the way they feel and that’s fine with me. I don’t have a problem. If they do come at me, when they come they better come for real. Shit, they’ll print this shit back up and I can get back to being Mad Max again. I’m Glad Max now.
I’d like to read one of your tweets back to you and wondering if you could just tell me what you were thinking when you wrote it:
I really thought about that one. I took time. I was patient with that one. It took me about two days to come up with that. But I really meant that shit. There’s nothing out there to do. There’s flat land out there. It’s hot as hell. And they’ve gotta go to Blockbuster to find something to do. I don’t know a lot about Oklahoma, but we had preseason games out there and I made it my business: I got kicked out the game in the first, shit, the first five minutes because I just couldn’t get the right energy out there. It was boring as hell. I was like ‘woah how they live out here?’ All they got is cows and shit?
I really sat and I thought about that [tweet]. I really did. That was one of my better ones, too, besides the one where I did the camp out there in Utah and the kids weren’t making no shots. I just found that footage out there, man. I threw it all together. I can get very creative if I have time, and that’s what I did.
Do you ever feel like you wrote a tweet that crossed the line, or do you ever type something out and then put it in your drafts folder or erase it altogether?
When I hit send I don’t regret it because I’ve really thought about it. Like I said, some of the tweets I’ve had, I get creative and I think about them for two, three days sometimes. And once I put it all together and I look at it myself. I’ll be like ‘shit, that’s a go’. And I shoot it on out there. I don’t regret not one tweet.
What’s the reaction you get in real life?
People love my twitter account: ‘It’s hilarious, man. Keep doing what you’re doing.’ Everybody loves what I do except Utah and probably Oklahoma City now. When I go back to Houston everybody is cool with it. No complaints. [Houston Rockets] President, Tad [Brown] is not saying ‘Max you’ve gotta cool down with your tweets.’ It’s more, ‘man we love your Twitter page.’ So nobody’s ever said anything to me about it. I just do what I do. I don’t have anything else to do.
Originally Appeared on GQ