"Mad Max" still convinced his Houston Rockets teams of the mid-1990s could have toppled the Chicago Bulls' juggernaut in a series
POSTED: Mar 20, 2015 8:15 AM ET
Fiery Vernon Maxwell was the hero of the 1994 Finals, hitting a clutch 3-pointer.
HOUSTON — They gathered to relive the memories: Hakeem Olajuwon's fingertip blocked shot on John Starks in Game 6 of the Finals; Mario Elie's "kiss of death" dagger out of the left corner in Game 7 the following year at Phoenix.
But with the members of the 1994 and 1995 teams honored at halftime Thursday night and reminiscing about all the big plays and games that won back-to-back NBA titles two decades ago, one old-time Rocket couldn't help thinking about the one that got away during the glory days.
"I wanted to fight him, really," said Vernon Maxwell.
Olajuwon: 1994 Finals Top 10
A look at Finals MVP, Hakeem Olajuowon's Top 10 plays from the Rockets 1994 NBA Championship.
And the take-no-prisoners guard is still willing to mix it up with anyone that believes the Rockets only got to raise two banners because Jordan walked away from the game for 1 1/2 years to chase a baseball career.
"I tell everybody 'Google it,' " Maxwell said. "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 couldn't match up with. I hear what he's saying. I hear what everybody is saying. But I just don't believe it. Just Google it and the numbers don't lie."
Yes. Yes. Yes. One time ... I would have loved to have had that. It would have been a dream to me to have a seven-game series with Michael Jordan. Yes, I would love that.
– Ex-Houston Rockets guard Vernon Maxwell
The numbers do say that during Chicago's first "three-peat" from 1991-93, the Rockets were 5-1 against the Bulls. The scene on the court often showed Jordan frustrated by Maxwell's style of ruthless, fearless defense and the Bulls unable to stop center Hakeem Olajuwon from scoring in the middle.
"(Jordan) used to talk to me all the time during the games," Maxwell said. "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. A lot of people back in my era of going against Michael, they didn't want to play again him. But I loved that. Because I wanted to play against the best. I want to see what the best got. See where I'm at on the totem pole.
"He was tough. I lost a lot of sleep the night before the games. He was a tough cat to guard. He was strong, physical and everything. He got away with a lot of stuff. But I just loved to compete with him."
The only regret was not getting to do it head-to-head in The Finals.
"That's what I wish. I wish. I wish," Maxwell said. "Yes. Yes. Yes. One time ... I would have loved to have had that. It would have been a dream to me to have a seven-game series with Michael Jordan. Yes, I would love that."
What brought out different emotions in Maxwell on Thursday was a chance to heal old wounds left over from his ugly break-up with the Rockets that came less than a year after his clutch 3-pointer with less than two minutes to go that all but clinched the Rockets 1994 championship and sent teammates piling on top of him at mid-court.
The following season with the club struggling to regain form and trading for Clyde Drexler on Feb. 14, Maxwell's playing time diminished. He eventually boiled over after Game 1 of the first round of the 1995 playoffs at Utah. He played just 16 minutes, shot 1-for-7 from the field, missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer in a 102-100 loss and was kicked off the team the next morning.
I got pride. I just couldn't take it.
– Vernon Maxwell, whose frustration boiled over early in the 1995 playoffs
"I got pride. I just couldn't take it," Maxwell said. "I handled it the wrong way now that I've thought about it and everything that went down. I shouldn't have left the way I left. I got upset because they brought Clyde in and nobody ever said anything to me about the trade. I just felt like they disrespected me. Then we went to Utah and we played the first game and I really didn't play and I felt disrespected again.
Olajuwon: 1995 Finals Top 10
A look at Finals MVP, Hakeem Olajuowon's Top 10 plays from the Rockets 1995 NBA Championship.
"I had a meeting with Rudy (Tomjanovich) and the coaching staff and told them I just didn't feel like I could play. My mind wasn't in the right frame of mind and what had happened the first game. Me playing (16) minutes and Rudy T putting me in the game and (expecting) me (to be) hitting the game-winning shot. I just felt a certain kind of way and over-reacted like I normally do.
"It was a bad decision. I wish it wouldn't have happened. But that's what it is ... I probably just got over that about 2-3 years ago."
Maxwell went on to play six more NBA seasons for seven other teams, but vowed to cut his ties with the Rockets and the city for good.
Looking fit, content and dapper in a navy blue suit, powder blue shirt and a bow tie, with his 50th birthday looming, it was the healing, more than anything else, that made the day for the guy once known as "Mad Max."
"It's a good feeling," he said. "It's surreal. I'm excited. I haven't been in Houston for forever. The city's done changed on me. I don't know where I'm at. But I'm enjoying it. It's nice.
"It helps me out a little bit, because of the way I left and haven't been back here since. It helped me. I kinda closed the door on this chapter of my life as far as Houston, Texas. I said I would never ever go back to Houston, Texas ever again. But I opened it back up again and I showed up. So I'm cool. I'm good. Ain't nothing missing."
Except that long ago shot at Michael Jordan.
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