Vernon Maxwell had a difficult end to his Houston Rockets career. After the Clyde Drexler trade, Maxwell’s playing time began to shrink until he had a typical Mad Max-style blowup in the first round of the playoffs of Houston’s second title run that got him sent home from the team. He would eventually be released in the offseason.
So it may seem strange to have a guy like that this high, especially when there are other guys out there from the title teams that could also be considered. Specfically, Robert Horry, who some might consider as a snub on this list. But remember, Horry didn’t get extremely popular in H-town until after he left, a classic case of “You don’t know what you got until its gone.”
Many fans were happy (admittedly, this one included) when Horry was traded for Sean Elliott for being too passive (a trade which was cancelled after Elliott failed his physical), and the legend of Big Shot Bob, while it got its start with several huge shots for the Rockets, didn’t fully form into true mythical status until well after he left town. I know Horry has a historic place on this website in particular, but fans were hot and cold on the OG stretch four while he was actually in town. Sometimes we loved him, other times (getting repeatedly torched by Shawn Kemp), not so much.
Max, on the other hand, was wildly popular up until the end of his Rockets’ tenure, has since made amends with his inglorious exit from the team, and has a ton of fun ribbing old rival the Utah Jazz and their fans on Twitter. He’s a must-follow for any Rockets fan, in particular those who distinctly recall that heated rivalry from the ‘90s.
Oh, and he could hit a last-second shot or two himself. Anyone remember this one?
And he was also clutch in the playoffs, when it counted most. In the first title run in 1994, Maxwell scored 34 points on 14-24 shooting in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Phoenix Suns, sparking the Rockets to come back from a 2-0 deficit that had initially earned them the “Choke City” moniker. “Clutch City” likely doesn’t even exist without Mad Max’s performance.
He also went for 21 in Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the New York Knicks, including the title-clinching triple with time running down in the fourth quarter. Make no mistake, Max was every bit a crunch-time performer during his time with the Rockets.
He was loved for his fiery competitiveness and was well-known for his ability to get under the opposing team’s skin. He would even get Michael Jordan riled up and was often known for occasionally taking MJ out of his element while the Rockets were racking up a 5-1 record against the Bulls in the early ‘90s. Maxwell legitimately felt there was no one better than him out on the court, Jordan included. Max was the only guy out there crazy enough and with the full confidence to go directly at Mike. Maxwell said:
I wanted to fight him, really. I tell everybody ‘Google it.’ Michael Jordan goes around telling everybody we never would have won the two championships if he wouldn’t have went and tried to play baseball. I say just Google the times we played them. They couldn’t beat us. It was like we couldn’t beat Seattle. If we could have gotten past Seattle, we would have knocked Chicago off. We were a team they just couldn’t match up with.
Jordan used to talk to me all the time during the games. He’d say: ‘Aw Max, this is what the media wants to see. Don’t mess anything up. Don’t do this. You don’t have to do that. Why you doing this? Let’s just play the game.’ That’s why I knew I was under his skin. Oh yes, I know it. When I came up, my grandfather always told me ‘ain’t no man better than you. He put his put his pants on just like you. Don’t be scared of no man.’ That’s the way I lived my life. So I always loved playing against Michael.
On a team primarily of quiet, let-your-play-do-the-talking guys like Hakeem Olajuwon, Otis Thorpe, Kenny Smith, and Horry, Maxwell was the attitude, the nasty, the shit-talking in-your-face player that gave the Rockets their edge.
He was turbulent, but he was the right man, at the right time, on the right team, and Houston fans loved him for it. He brought the intensity every night. And for that, Mad Max is number two on our Top 10 list.