“Come straight through the door,” the Voice said. My son-in-law and I had walked halfway around Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb. My wife and I were visiting his family in early August, and as a special favor to me, he had taken me to see the venue where the Nebraska Cornhuskers play their home basketball games. The front door was locked, of course; but not to be deterred, David had started around the building, checking each external door as we went. After all, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
We finally came to a fence that prevented us from going any farther around the building. The door at that point had a buzzer to press for entrance into the facility, so David tried it. We scarcely expected anyone to answer after quitting time on a week day in the off-season, and after a moment of silence we had turned and started to walk away. Then we heard the Voice, so we cautiously pushed our way into the building.
We were met by a distinguished-looking black gentleman in his mid-70s. He obviously was the security guard. We explained to him that we were just tourists wanting to get a peek at the Huskers’ arena. He began to talk with us, evidently trying to discern if we were what we had presented ourselves as being. After a few minutes of that, he then took us to the tunnel where the players enter the arena, and we were able to see as much of it as was visible in the dark. The actual floor was only concrete, because the basketball surface had not yet been re-installed.
As we visited, our host casually mentioned that he had played high school basketball with “the Big O.” Being a generation older and a long-time basketball fan, I explained to David that Oscar Robertson was one of the all-time great players at both the college and NBA levels. (I found out later that not only had this man played with Robertson, but also had been the best man at the Big O’s wedding.)
Needless to say, I was hugely impressed. His name was Albert Maxey, and this quiet, unassuming man had played with Robertson on one of the greatest high school teams in the history of the basketball-crazed state of Indiana. The 1956 Crispus Attucks High School squad was in 2006 inducted as a group into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame after going 31-0 and winning the state championship. (In those days the Indiana tournament lumped all the classes together.) Maxey himself had been inducted into the Hall as an individual in 1992.
Obviously, any team that could boast The Big O on its roster was going to be very good. He went on to a magnificent career at the University of Cincinnati and in the NBA with the Cincinnati Royals and the Milwaukee Bucks, and made a solid case for himself as the best all-round player ever. (His first three seasons in the NBA, he averaged a triple-double.) Maxey earned a place in the Nebraska Basketball Hall of Fame after two All-Big 8 seasons there. So, we can safely assume that the 1956 Crispus Attucks team was indeed as good as history has recorded them to be. In 2015 the Indianapolis Star named them as one of the top five teams in the rich history of Indiana high school basketball, which is saying something. Robertson graduated after that season, but the next year Maxey led CAHS back to the finals of the tournament.
The impact of the Maxey family in Nebraska has gone far beyond basketball. Albert became a homicide squad Sergeant, and eventually a Lieutenant on the Lincoln police force, the first black officer to hold that rank. He studied art in college and is an accomplished painter, with his works on display at a local gallery. His wife, JoAnn, was the first black member of the Lincoln School Board and the first black female state legislator. (One of the Lincoln elementary schools bears her name.) Daughter Michelle became a track coach at the University of Toledo.
It is on the basketball court, however, where Albert Maxey’s name is forever etched. After all, when a man is in the Hall of Fame in two different states, and played on what probably is one of the best high school teams in U. S. history, it would be hard not to be remembered for those accomplishments. Beyond that, however, I will remember him as a polite, accommodating gentleman who was not ashamed to be a security guard at the arena of the program he loved and where he had been a star.