The fear Michael Jordan put into the whole NBA with his on-court dominance and off-court influence is what made him such an icon, widely regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time to this day. A few rivals tried going at MJ, showing no fear of him, but in reality, deep inside, they all hoped Jordan would not embarrass them too hard. One of those guys was Vernon Maxwell.
When thinking about those great Houston Rockets teams of the 90s', you naturally first think of Hakeem Olajuwon. But "The Dream" had a tremendous supporting cast behind him, and one of the key components was Vernon Maxwell. Nicknamed "Mad Max" for his eccentric and confrontational personality that brought that much-needed edge to the Rockets, Vernon was a crucial part of their two championships.
"Mad Max" would regularly guard the best perimeter players on the opposing teams, but his biggest challenge was checking Michael Jordan. Vernon's teammate Kenny Smith even once said Max would be the only guy that could irritate MJ and get in his head. That is no small feat, as Maxwell looked like one of the rare guys that wouldn't tremble at Jordan's sight and back down immediately.
But it wasn't as easy as Max made it look. In a recent interview with Gilbert Arenas on the No Chill podcast, Maxwell admitted he would have sleepless nights before playing the Bulls:
"Man, when you look at that sh*t, when they bring out the schedule in the summertime, when they put them goddamn schedules out, you look, and you put that damn mark on Chicago and the night before, you as me, it's sleepless nights man, that s**t be rough. I mean, think about the s**t what you got to do tomorrow, and you don't wanna get embarrassed, and you know this motherf**er don't know how to stop coming at you, just like you, just keep coming and coming, keep that damn foot on your throat man and he just keep coming man."
Vernon Maxwell, No Chill
Who would have thought that even one of the toughest players ever in Vernon Maxwell, would have trouble sleeping before playing Chicago and MJ? Vernon definitely never showed it on the outside, guarding and even getting into it with Jordan when needed. But that's just how impactful and significant Michael was at that time.
If someone like Mad Max feared going up against the GOAT, you could only imagine what went through the heads of the other players that didn't have near the same "dog mentality" in them before going up against #23.