PHILADELPHIA — Doc Rivers was not expecting guests one day this summer when members of his staff turned up uninvited at his house with a direct demand of the Philadelphia 76ers coach: Tyrese Maxey needed an intervention.
It was true.
Maxey needed help getting out of the gym. So a pair of coaches tried to persuade Rivers to talk Maxey into slowing down.
The third-year guard found a court, a pick-up game, anywhere with a basketball in his travels this summer and hooped about every day from dawn through lunch through late nights in a never-ending chase at professional perfection.
Yeah, Rivers said, no dice.
“It’s hard to shut a guy down like that, it really is,” Rivers said. “They’re young and you kind of let them do it.”
Who knew? The one way to get a player like Maxey to actually play less basketball was get him to training camp. Maxey laughed Wednesday as he counted the hours sequestered in the team hotel from the night before, from “like 4:30, 5 o’clock to 11 o’clock” with teammates Joel Embiid, James Harden, P.J. Tucker, Tobias Harris and others playing cards, videogames, basically bonding the way Rivers envisioned when he moved camp from team headquarters in New Jersey to the Citadel. The only way Maxey was getting close to a ball was if one showed up on a gaming console.
Alas, it was mostly Madden and FIFA.
Those games belonged to Embiid.
“They’re way too competitive in those things,” Maxey said, laughing. “It was fun, though.”
There are Philly sports legends with a complicated history with the city -- it was Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, after all, who said “Philadelphia is the only city where you can experience the thrill of victory and the agony of reading about it the next day” -- but few have ignited an unbridled devotion from the start of a career quite like Maxey.
The smile. The field trips to Union and Phillies games. That Allen Iverson-style of leaving it all on the court on every play endeared him so much to fans to the point that his No. 0 jerseys at times at games seemed to rival those for Embiid. Sixers fans about panicked like Ben Simmons facing an open Game 7 dunk when it was hinted over the summer he could be packaged in a trade to Brooklyn for disgruntled start Kevin Durant.
He hosted a basketball camp in Philadelphia, played in an annual Philly summer basketball tournament (had a double-double, of course), struck the drum at a Union game and joined the Phillies broadcast booth for a game this summer.
He squeezed in those extracurriculars when he wasn’t in the gym -- or at the gym.
“No matter where I was, if I was in LA, Dallas, if I was back in Philly, I knew I was lifting four times a week and I was going to do it no matter what happened,” Maxey said. “In Dallas, I had to go to different spots because they didn’t have a lot of equipment. Sometimes I’d have to go to SMU, sometimes I had to go to where my high school coach works at. It’s just the consistency of it, that’s my main motto.”
Does Maxey feel like he sprouted 24-inch pythons?
“I feel a little bit stronger,” Maxey said, laughing as he checked out both biceps.
The 21-year-old guard out of Kentucky was pressed into service as the starting point guard last season once Simmons’ lingering holdout turned into a full-blown trade for Harden, and he averaged 35.3 minutes and 17.5 points. He broke through in the playoffs and had Sixers fans roaring “Maxey! Maxey! Maxey!” after each electrifying play in a 38-point effort against Toronto that included five 3s overall and 21 points in the third quarter of a Game 1 victory.
He followed up with 23 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in Game 2. He added 21 points in a Game 3 win the next round over Miami. With each big basket, his Philly following only grew -- and got louder from inside the Wells Fargo Center.
His playoff performance only fueled his motivation to hit the gym, a passion that started in the 10th grade when he joined a few friends called The Breakfast Club for 4:30 a.m. workouts and pickup games. Once he got to Kentucky, he organized the before-sun up activities.
“Everybody has their own thing,” Maxey said. “My thing is, that’s how I get a psychological advantage over my opponent. I feel like, nobody else is getting up in the summertime at 5 a.m. when you can sleep in and do the same thing at 10, 11, 1 o’clock. I’d rather have somebody tell me you need to reel it back in than someone tell you I need to ramp back up.”