Vernon Maxwell had towering basketball talent, but as a human being he is lower than sludge. Mad Max scored more points than any University of Florida player ever, but greed cost him the record.
Twice in a 13-year, $15-million NBA career, Maxwell won titles with the Houston Rockets, but at 38 he's washed up; busted financially and personally. That's not even close to the worst of it.
It could've been so sweet. Mad Max is a good-looking guy. His smile can have electricity. Vernon should be entering a delightful stage. Nearing his 40s, being cheered when coming back to Florida's arena, respected on Gainesville streets where he grew up, flashing those NBA rings. Instead he is a hometown disgrace, unwelcome on UF property.
It's been a life of lousy choices. Doing drugs. Cheating his family. Smearing his collegiate legacy. Wasting his fortune. Abusing women. Disgusting his children.
High point of Mad Max's basketball experience came in Game 7 of the 1994 NBA Finals. Teamed with Kenny Smith in the Rockets backcourt, Vernon scored 21 points and had four assists. Houston beat the Knicks to win its first championship. Maxwell was toast of the town. There was a repeat in 1995, with Houston beating Orlando. But soon, he would be just toast.
Three years after his Houston glory seasons, Maxwell filed for bankruptcy. As late as 2000, he signed a $5-million contract with Seattle but child support records show Vernon has paid nothing since May 2001 to Myra Jenkins, mother of their 15-year-old son, Dominique.
Last month, Max Max spent five days in a Gainesville jail on charges of failing to pay $150,000 in child support. He was extradited from Cobb County, Ga., after being charged with kidnapping and aggravated assault.
Cobb County police told the Gainesville Sun that Maxwell abducted Belinda Beine, a recent companion. Records say Vernon locked the woman in her Marietta home, then beat her after an escape try. Upon being arrested, Maxwell told an officer his name was "Kenneth Shaw."
A sweetheart, I'm telling you.
Twenty-four hours after Maxwell declared bankruptcy in 1998, a Houston court ruled he should pay $592,000 to Shelia Rias, a woman who said Vernon knowingly infected her with herpes. Maxwell's pitiful story was told at length last Sunday by Sun reporter Kevin Brockway. For 10 years, Vernon was married. He and Rasharita divorced in 1999. She got their $348,000 house in suburban Atlanta plus his Porsche, Range Rover and bank account. But the couple lived together another two years and became parents of a fourth child, daughter Madison.
Dominique is a strapping 6-foot-6 sophomore at Gainesville Buchholz High where his dad was once a hero but the kid chose not to go out for basketball. Coaches pleaded but Dominique's mom told the Sun, "When he found out what his father did, he said he wanted in no way be like him."
Years ago, Myra would write postcards to Dominique and sign Vernon's name, so the boy would think his father cared.
Mad Max reached out once, but that had a foul odor. Vernon took third-grader Dominique for a blood test. He gave $40 to the child as hush money. Dominique told his mother anyway.
Results proved what Myra knew, that the son was indeed fathered by Maxwell. "He's a poor excuse for a human being," Jenkins told the Sun. "A poor excuse for a man."
Gainesville never had a better high school athlete. After being named Mr. Basketball in the state, Mad Max promised the late Jim Valvano that N.C. State was the next stop, but Vernon went partying with UF players and decided to sign with the Gators.
There was sizzle. Maxwell was 6 feet 4, quick and blessed with a gorgeous outside shot. Mad Max helped UF basketball to new plateaus, making two NCAA Tournaments. He hit a last-second shot to beat St. Johns in 1988's opening round. Bad stuff coming. ...
Florida lost in the second round to Michigan. Maxwell, who had been warned there would be a drug test, flunked it and admitted to smoking marijuana before leaving Gainesville. If the Wolverines had been beaten, the Gators would've been disqualified.
Maxwell became the Gator career points leader (2,450), but his final two seasons were erased after athletic director Bill Arnsparger learned Vernon had accepted money from an agent. Mad Max averaged 18.8 per game.
Penalties came from the NCAA. Rumors were thick that Maxwell used cocaine before games, the Sun reported. Word was, coach Norm Sloan knew but refused to act. Sloan later admitted to Jack Hairston, then Sun sports editor, that - in a scoreless, hopeless Mad Max appearance against Tennessee - "he was drunk."