Back in the 1990s, Vernon Maxwell was known a hard-nosed defensive guard, a prolific if not particularly efficient 3-point shooter, but mostly as a pesky irritant who delighted in making both opponents and their fans blackout-rage levels of irate.
Now, in the 2020s, he still does a bit of the latter as a podcaster and controversial social media presence. Most of his needling these days, though, is directed squarely at one particular group — the residents of Salt Lake City, Utah.
“I‘d like 2 apologize Jazz fans that were offended by my tweets,” begins his pinned tweet. “If I knew u guys had internet in Utah I would’ve never made those tweets.”
It’s a pretty representative example of his social media persona.
It’s not just random trolling for the sake of random trolling, though.
“Mad Max” improbably came to Salt Lake City this weekend, agreeing to participate in the National Basketball Retired Players Association’s “Legends Lounge” on Friday afternoon for All-Star Weekend, and explained the all-too-real source of his vitriol.
“This goes way back to when I played here. When I used to come here and play — I mean, I don’t care what team I played with — I was gonna get abused with the N-word,” Maxwell told The Salt Lake Tribune. “And I used to tell your — God bless him — I told your owner [Larry H. Miller] at halftime, ‘Hey, the fans over here, they’re racist; they’re over here calling me the N-word.’ And nobody ever would do anything or say anything.
“They used to talk about my mom, they used to talk about my kids, they used to talk about my pops — which, I don’t even care about talking about him; I don’t deal with his a-- anyway. But I’m just saying, it was just abusive,” he added. “And when I got a platform that I could say what I wanted to say … I try to roast Utah as much as I can. Because of that.”
He noted that, as a guy who played 13 seasons in the NBA, he’d been to every arena, dealt with every incensed fan base wanting to share how they really felt about the proud agitator.
And all of the worst incidents he encountered except one — that infamous time he punched a Trail Blazers fan in the face — occurred in Utah, he explained.
“I mean, I went into the stands one time and I smacked that guy in Portland, and that was probably the only time [that rivaled comments in Utah] — and that guy was talking about my stillborn daughter,” Maxwell said. “… But other than that, it’s always Utah. Every time I came here. I don’t know, I guess I had a bull’s-eye on my back or something with the fans. I guess I was ‘Mad Max,’ and they want to see if they could unravel me or rattle me or whatever it was they were trying to do.”
His experiences with the Jazz weren’t universally bad.
Maxwell considers Karl Malone a close personal friend. And he retains a ton of respect for the way the team played in those notorious Jazz-Rockets matchups.
He acknowledged that Utah’s backcourt was one of the tougher groups to defend.
“Tough guards. You know they’re gonna run their system and never deviate away from their system. They’re gonna run their system — Karl Malone-John Stockton pick-and-roll, and [Jeff] Hornacek coming off those screens, shooting off one leg. I mean, I don’t know how he used to make all those shots,” Maxwell said. “They were a great team. I mean, Stockton and Hornacek, man — those guys … I never thought I’d be saying this, but those two white boys could play. Them two white boys, they was problems. So yeah, I gotta give them credit.”
He also felt like those Jazz teams were talented enough to have won an NBA championship, but that the timing and circumstances simply didn’t align as they needed to.
As an example, he pointed to Houston’s first title, won in 1994. He more or less equated the top teams in the Western Conference that year to a rock-paper-scissors situation — the Jazz could beat the Sonics, the Sonics could beat the Rockets, the Rockets could beat the Jazz. Seattle was the No. 1 seed that season, but improbably was knocked off by the eighth-seeded Nuggets in the first round.
That opened the door for Houston, and slammed it shut on the Jazz, in his mind.
“When they lost, that’s when we knew we were going to the Finals in ‘93-94. When we saw Seattle lose, oh we were good. We said, ‘Oh, can’t nobody in the West beat us now.’ We knew that. I mean, we had y’all on lockdown — we knew we could beat y’all,” he said. “We were gonna beat Utah, we were gonna Clyde [Drexler], we were gonna beat [whoever]. I mean, we had it on lock with the big African in the middle [Hakeem Olajuwon], because nobody could guard him and then all of us 3-point shooters. So we knew when Seattle lost, it was a wrap. We knew we were gonna win it.
“[With the Jazz], it was just a timing thing,” he added. “Yeah, that’s what it’s all about, it’s all about timing and things of that nature.”
Speaking of which, apparently All-Star Weekend was the right timing for him to make his own return to SLC.
The league office had apparently reached out and asked him to come to town for some projects.
He still can’t quite believe he agreed to it, though he conceded it’s all gone smoothly thus far, and he’s even loving the attention his visit is drawing.
“I was like, ‘Wow, this is kind of weird,’ because of the way I have been abused in Utah for a long time. So it was kind of weird. And then I said, ‘Well, it’d be funny, too,’ just for me to be out here in Utah,” Maxwell said. “But I’m looking forward to it. So far, it’s been fine and I’ve been having fun in Utah — and that’s surprising.
“… But Utah, it’s been good for me so far since I’ve been here,” he added. “Some people said they’ve been looking for me. They’ve got some poster boards or some s--- saying, ‘Where is he now?’ I’m here. Everybody, I’m here. Let everybody know I’m here.”
He also wanted to let people know that he’s maybe even mellowed the tiniest bit toward SLC in his social posts.
Which doesn’t mean he’s going to stop.
“I’ve backed off a little bit — I don’t do it as much,” Maxwell said. “But any chance I do have to roast this city …”