When former Celtics forward Cedric Maxwell was a child, he and his family were on a summer road trip from their home in Kinston, N.C., when they stopped at a gas station in Waycross, Ga. Maxwell and his brother went to the bathroom, but they were small and no one really noticed them.
“My mother was waiting with my sister outside to go in after we came out, and the guy in the gas station said, ‘No, miss, your bathroom is outside, in the grease pits,’ ” Maxwell recalled Monday. “My father, who had been serving in Vietnam, went off. He said, ‘I fought for this country. I got wounds. I almost died and I can’t even use the damn bathroom?’ ”
On another trip from North Carolina to Georgia, the family stopped in Atlantic Beach, S.C. Maxwell, who was about 8 years old at the time, was stunned when he saw a barrier going from the start of the beach deep into the water, separating blacks from whites.
Maxwell thought of those chilling moments this weekend, as protests erupted across the country after George Floyd died in police custody last week when an officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. As Maxwell proudly watched Celtics such as Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Enes Kanter, and Vincent Poirier join in peaceful demonstrations, using their social media channels to rev up support in real time, he wondered what life might have been like if he had had access to similar platforms.
“To have my voice heard,” he said. “For me to have gone someplace and been a popular athlete and said, ‘There is a beach in South Carolina which is segregated, and they put a chain-link fence in the water and you have to swim all the way out to go around?' I was thinking as a little boy like, ‘Damn, was the water different? If you went past this area, what would happen?’
“But I’d love to go back, and I’d love to be like these guys. Now they have a bigger platform and I think it’s great. I’m so happy our younger players were able to step out on that ledge and show that they’re part of society and contributing to society.
"This is everybody’s problem, and I think that’s what Jaylen, Kanter, and Marcus were saying.”
Maxwell, the 1981 NBA Finals MVP and radio commentator for Celtics broadcasts, was particularly moved by Brown. The fourth-year forward said he drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta last weekend to lead his own peaceful protest in his home state. Brown, 23, put out a call on Twitter and Instagram and was joined on his march by about 100 people, including Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon.
“I think that was beautiful,” Maxwell said. “For him and Brogdon to be able to do that and pull that off is great.
"One thing with Jaylen Brown is you really see that person, that guy where you go, ‘Man, I really admire what he does from a personal standpoint.’ He gets it and understands who is he is and appreciates his community. For him to do that was special.”
Smart, Kanter, and Poirier took part in the Boston protests Sunday. Those demonstrations were peaceful and well-attended. Maxwell said he was pleased by that, but frustrated by what transpired later in the night, as looters took over swaths of downtown Boston.
“One thing I hated about what was happening in this riot here yesterday is protesters had the moral high ground, they really did, until last night,” Maxwell said. “Then you had all the looting and stealing. What Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Enes Kanter did was all admirable, and what they did was tarnished because of some idiots.”
Nevertheless, Maxwell is hopeful the right message will endure as a long, important process continues. It pains him that he has to give his own sons instructions about how to respond if they’re approached by a police officer. He tells them that if he is pulled over, he immediately puts his empty hands outside his car window, “to make sure there is no mistake.“
“I just don’t think things are going to happen overnight,” Maxwell said. “It’s going to take conversation. It’s going to take work. It’s going to take opening up people’s minds.
"But I think a good part about these protests was that if you looked at the crowds, especially most of the peaceful crowds, it was decorated like a rainbow. There were all kinds of colors.”