Tyrese Maxey is sitting inside the 76ers practice facility on a January afternoon, giving his best impression of Joel Embiid while telling us the real story of when the MVP declared him as “The Franchise.” It was nearly three years ago, he says, back when Maxey was in his second year in the NBA. He and Embiid were starting to get close, and Embiid had posted a picture of Maxey in his photo dump on Instagram right after the Sixers beat the Brooklyn Nets on December 30. Except there was one small problem.
“Hey man, you can at least tag me in the post,” Maxey told Embiid. “Like, you got a million followers.”
According to Maxey, Embiid went to the media, presumably sometime around when the Sixers beat the Celtics at home on January 14, and allegedly asked them to “Find me a picture of me and Ty so I can post it.” After the game, he posted another flick on the gram, without telling Tyrese. The caption? “#0>>> THE FRANCHISE @tyresemaxey.”
SLAM 248 featuring Tyrese Maxey is available now.
The Process has seen something in Maxey since the beginning. Maxey remembers during the Sixers matchup against the Nuggets on January 9 his rookie year, which was the first game he started, when Joel asked him if he could get 40 that night. “I’m like, Me? Me, get 40? I rarely play,” he tells us, looking back. “I had, like, 39 and I’m like, dang, he said that and I knew I could probably do it, but at the time, like, Man, That’s gonna be tough.” It was the most points scored by a Sixers rookie since Allen Iverson in 1997.
This season, Embiid was the one who pushed him again when the Sixers played the Pacers on November 12. By the fourth, Maxey looked up at the scoreboard and saw that he already had 45 points. That’s when Embiid let him know. “Joel [is like], You gotta get 50, you gotta get 50. I’m not really trying to press it, but he grabs the ball, like, Here, you need to shoot again.
“I always say this, man. Joel is probably one of the first people that believed in me here,” Maxey adds. “He really believed in me from day one.”
Mad Max has come a long way since his rookie year. From coming off the bench to starting full-time, he’s played an instrumental role in the team’s success this season—they’re the No. 3 team in the East at press time. An hour or two before his first-ever SLAM cover shoot, the All-Star voting results dropped and his name was listed alongside some of the best in the L.
By the time the cameras start rolling and we’ve got No. 0 with us, he instantly commands the room, and the camera, all while having fun with it. In between takes, he’s dancing and rapping along to Lil Wayne’s “A Milli.” With a big smile on his face, he sings the chorus. “I’m ILL!”
The moment is giving major main character vibes. And just like Weezy at the end of that video, what’s so fire about Tyrese Maxey’s rise to stardom is that it’s to be continued…
Let’s go back.
Maxey’s basketball career, starting from college, has been unconventional. And yet, he’s somehow been able to handle the chaos—including the Covid pandemic which cut his lone season at Kentucky short. Even after being selected No. 21 in the 2020 NBA Draft, Maxey ended up having to report to training camp late due to a positive test, which left him wondering how that would look to his new teammates, especially the vets. He wondered to himself, How are the vets gonna look at me? Are they gonna say anything to me? Are they gonna mess with me or is this gonna mess up my playing time?
That season, he started six games in January but mostly came off the bench, with the exception of two games in May. After the Sixers lost to the Hawks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, news reports and criticism circulated about his teammate Ben Simmons. By February of the ’21-22 season, Simmons was traded to Brooklyn for James Harden. The new addition put Maxey back to shooting guard. He worked through it and went from averaging just 8 points as a rookie to 17.5 points that year.
But then, in the 2023 offseason, Harden requested a trade. “Now I gotta be back on the ball,” he explains of the sudden positional change. “Then James leaves and I gotta go back on the ball. It’s been a lot but, you know, it’s an ever- changing, adapting environment that we live in.”
Maxey has talked before about how he picked up some things when playing alongside Harden, even shouting him out on NBA TV for the “little James Harden stepback” move he’s added to his bag. Still, he admits that it was tough for him last year when he would start some games but then come off the bench. “That’s difficult,” he admits. “Especially when you wanna win, you wanna do whatever is best for the team, but you also wanna play well for you [and] to help your brothers win. It’s a hard job.”
After all the narratives that have surrounded the Sixers over the years, mostly filled with drama and negativity from the media and fans, Maxey has developed a desire to speak up for athletes and create his own narrative on his podcast, “Maxey on the Mic.” “I just kinda wanna be a voice for some athletes, because athletes go through a lot, as far as just social media, what people say about them. A lot of people don’t know it’s hard. [There’s] pressure out there.”
He also leans on prayer and his family to help him emotionally during those hard moments. He confides in his uncle, Brandon, and his parents, both of whom he watched work extremely hard within their own careers growing up. Before retiring, his father Tyrone coached for 20 years and would be tough on Maxey when he was younger: “If I passed the ball and somebody dropped it, he would yell at me first.” Meanwhile his mother Denyse worked at Blue Cross Blue Shield and started from “the bottom,” he says, and then worked her way up at the company. Denyse, he describes, is also a “tough, tough, tough mother,” but would always tell him, Control what you can control and everything is in God’s hands.
It’s helped him whenever he’s had to deal with major change, including adjusting from former head coach Doc Rivers, whom he says “tried to challenge me early” by having him sit and watch the veteran players, to Nick Nurse. “Coach Nurse, his personality is a lot different,” Maxey says. “He’s a great dude. I love him, and the way he coaches is special. The way he does things, the way he adjusts on the fly has been great.”
His ability to adapt to whatever situation he’s in is just one of his many super powers. Maxey, a huge Marvel fan, told us before he got drafted that if he was an actual superhero, he’d call himself Maximus and would want to have the ability to max out all of his strengths. Now, four years later, he has a few things to add, super speed being one of them. “I’m like, well, I could be faster, you know what I mean?” he says. He’d also max out his vertical. “I just think it’s cool when people jump up and dunk and block shots and stuff. I see so many people like Rayjon Tucker, that’s somebody that comes to mind…Ja Morant, of course. They do cool things when they’re up in the air like that. I feel like I have some type of vertical ability, but not like them, jumping off two feet. It looks so crazy sometimes.”
Athletes are often called otherworldly, and while Maxey is undeniably talented, very, very fast and has a hot hand like he’s Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet, he’s also human. He sees a bigger picture in the type of impact he’d want to have. “I would wanna max out me being positive, like, me having a positive effect on people, because the world is just so [much] better…That’s just something I try to bring, not just [to] this organization, not just this team, [but] my life and [the] people who I’ve impacted in general.
“We’re blessed to be here, we’re blessed to be living, we’re blessed to be walking around in 2024. You know, some people can’t say the same…I get to play the game that I love every single day and I have fun while doing it with a smile on my face. And while I’m doing that, I’m on TV, kids are watching and I’m trying to inspire them to make their dreams come true—not just basketball dreams, but life dreams. I tell everybody that you can do whatever you put your mind to. Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t, as long as you get one percent better at it, you know what I mean?”
Life can be unexpected, but at the end of the day, it’s about controlling what you can control. That’s been Maxey’s true power, and it’s why in Year 4, he isn’t at all surprised by his success so far.
“I just put a lot of work in. It’s like, every shot that I’ve shot this season, I’ve done it before a million times in the gym. Reps over reps. I don’t have to think, you know what I’m saying?…I’m just confident. I wanna help us win, and I’m in a position now that I can have the ball in my hands [where] I feel like I have control over helping us win games.”
SLAM 248 is available now in this exclusive gold metal edition.
Photos via Getty Images. Portraits by Alex Subers.