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The 1980-81 NBA season was an exciting one for the Boston Celtics. Larry Bird was fresh off his Rookie of the Year season, and the Celtics had just pulled off one of the biggest trades in franchise history to acquire Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.

Lost in the shuffle was Cedric Maxwell. In the early 1980s, Bird, McHale, and Parish were the talk of Celtics basketball. Maxwell, however, was the one who came up big when it counted most. Boston knocked off the Houston Rockets in the 1981 NBA Finals, and Maxwell was named the MVP of the series.

Cedric Maxwell is one of the most underrated players in Boston Celtics history

Boston Celtics player Chris Ford, left, greets Cedric Maxwell as Maxwell leaves the game in the fourth quarter of a game against the Houston Rockets at the Boston Garden in Boston on May 12, 1981. | Frank O’Brien/The Boston Globe via Getty Images.

Before Bird came along, Maxwell put up some big numbers. During the 1978-79 season, he averaged 19.0 points and 9.9 rebounds. He also led the NBA in field-goal percentage. The following year, Bird came along, but Maxwell still put up 16.9 points and 8.8 rebounds. Again, he topped the league in shooting percentage.

In 1980, Boston held the No. 1 pick in the draft and sent it, along with the No. 13 pick, to the Golden State Warriors. In return, the Celtics received Parish and the No. 3 pick. With that pick, they selected McHale, setting up their frontcourt for the future. In their first season together, they won the championship, knocking off the Houston Rockets in six games.

While Bird, McHale, and Parish got most of the credit for Boston’s success in the ’80s, Maxwell shined under the biggest spotlight. He averaged 17.7 points and 9.5 rebounds in the 1981 NBA Finals and was named MVP of the series.

In the 1984 NBA Finals against the rival Los Angeles Lakers, Maxwell came up big again. The Lakers outplayed the Celtics much of the series but didn’t have much to show for it. The series headed back to Boston for a winner-take-all Game 7.

That’s when Maxwell told his teammates to get on his back, and he delivered. Maxwell led the Celtics with 24 points. He added eight rebounds and eight assists in Boston’s series-clinching 111-102 victory.

Maxwell could have done without his MVP reward

These days, when you become an MVP, you’re presented with a new car or you get to tell the world you’re going to Disney World. That hasn’t always been the case. Just ask Maxwell.

The Celtics had just knocked off the Rockets in six games in the 1981 NBA Finals, and it was during the celebration when Max found out he was the MVP of the series.

“We’re all in there celebrating, talking back and forth, and Rick Barry was going up to different people talking,” Maxwell once recalled during an interview with Brian Scalabrine of NBC Sports Boston. “He finally got to me and said, ‘Cedric Maxwell, Sporting News MVP.’

“I was like, wow. All my teammates came over, started pouring champagne and all that. It’s great.”

Scalabrine asked if he went to Disney Land or if he got a car.

“You know what, I got jack,” Maxwell said. “They gave you a watch.”

“Is it a Rolex,” Scal asked.

“Dude, it’s not a Rolex,” Maxwell said, as he pulled it out of the box.

He said he’s never worn it and said he actually had to go to New York to pick it up.

“I ended up showing this watch to Jayson Tatum and all those guys,” Maxwell said. “They all looked at me and were like, dude you got screwed.”


Cedric Maxwell and the 1984 Boston Celtics Were a Reporter’s Dream on and off the Court