Rivers, who describes Maxey as “sunshine,” remembers how upbeat Maxey was even in the days after his house caught on fire on Christmas Eve 2021. “He’s on the train going to D.C. with the team,” Rivers tells me. “I walked into the back where they were playing cards and it looks like he’s having a grand old time. I’m like, ‘What the hell?’ It’s just who he is.”

Tyrese Maxey Will Drop 40 on You With Glee
Tyrese Maxey Will Drop 40 on You With Glee

Maxey’s ascent comes at a fascinating time in the NBA, with a new generation of players eager to snatch the reins from their predecessors. Think of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander trolling Stephen Curry, Tyrese Haliburton mocking Lillard’s Dame Time celebration, and Anthony Edwards refusing to take Draymond Green’s shit, just as a few recent examples. Maxey considers himself part of this group, noting that they play with an edge and joy. “The Tyreses, the Ants, the Lukas—they have their heads on right,” he says. “Those guys are competitors who want to win. And guys are doing it with smiles on their faces.”

Although Maxey has an edge to him (he wouldn’t have made it from blue chip to blue blood to borderline All-Star otherwise), he’s not abrasive or antagonistic. “You can have an edge without being a jerk,” Calipari says. “You can have the will to win without being an a-hole.”

It’s not all basketball, all the time for Maxey. He likes to slow his fast-paced life down whenever possible. “We live in the limelight: when we’re on the road, we’re always in the city, we’re always downtown, we’re always around other people,” he says. “When I’m here, I like to spend time with my family. I spend time with my uncle. My best friend’s here. I like to spend time with my dog. Now I go bowling sometimes. Other times, I just sneak out. I go grab some dinner. But I’m really low-key. I really be chillin’, especially during the season.”

His weekend plans? He’ll watch Kentucky play Penn at the Wells Fargo Center with Harris Jr., Brandon McKay, his uncle, and former Kentucky teammate Immanuel Quickley. He’ll watch Haney fight Regis Prograis. And he’ll watch the Cowboys play the Eagles at Jerry World. Things, it seems, are coming up Maxey: all three win.

Still, Maxey’s basketball-related goals are always top of mind. The sour taste of last season’s postseason loss to the Celtics lingers. “​​Once you sign up to play here, it’s a real thing,” he says of the Sixers-Celtics rivalry. His takeaway from that series—and honestly, every postseason experience—is cut and dry: “Single possessions matter.” Hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy in triumph during a parade on Broad Street remains atop Maxey’s list. “The ultimate goal is to have one of those banners up there,” he tells me, pointing to the trio hanging from the rafters—the most recent of which is from the 1982-83 season.

Embiid turns 30 in March, and though he appears happy for now, NBA superstars can have a short fuse. Would-be Sixers saviors have fallen by the wayside: Butler has dragged the Heat to the Finals twice since he left Philly. Harden is back home in L.A. Back to back first overall picks Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz have found homes elsewhere, too. Right now, Maxey, who slipped out of the lottery and into a perfect home in Philadelphia, looks like the answer.

The Sixers believe so. The rest of the NBA is seeing it, as well. And Maxey? He has zero doubt in himself. “I’m always up for the challenge, whatever it is,” he says.

Lately, Nurse tells me, a funny thing has begun happening. He’s noticed that, when he gets off the bench to give Maxey a play to run, his budding superstar point guard already has one cued up. And the way Maxey’s been playing, Nurse explains with a chuckle, he’s earned the autonomy: “I let him roll with it.”

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