Jake's Take: 8/23/10

August 23, 2010
Jake LeRoy

Inspiring the Undersized

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  • Inspiring hope among a particular group of people is no easy task for anyone. It takes a special collection of attributes to have a significant effect on an individual. A certain je ne sais quoi. Some of the most difficult subjects to inspire are aspiring young athletes who lack the prototypical size to compete in their sport of choice. Specimens like LeBron James are most definitely the exception and not the rule. Guys who are 6-foot-8, 250 pounds and move like Barry Sanders are one in a gazillion. Your average male checks in at around 5-foot-9, 190 pounds, give or take an inch or a pound, which is significantly smaller than your typical professional athlete. This is why average-sized folks like me need a little extra inspiration during our formative years.

    Enter Earl Boykins, and every other undersized athlete like him. Boykins, the newest addition to the Milwaukee Bucks, spits in the face of the NBA stereotype. He stands just 5-foot-5 and weighs a mere 133 pounds -- more than a foot shorter and 80 pounds lighter than the average NBAer. Boykins hasn't let his less-than-ideal size prevent him from having a successful career up to this point.

    His career has been one of a journeyman, but not because of a lack of production. His career averages of 9.1 points and 3.3 assists over 11 seasons -- including a career-best 14.6 points and 4.4 assists while splitting time between Denver and Milwaukee in 2007 -- are nothing to sneeze at, and everything an aspiring, yet undersized, young athlete needs for that little extra inspiration.

    As someone who didn't hit their growth spurt until late in high school, I looked up to the point guards of the NBA, both literally and figuratively. Tim Hardaway and his UTEP 2-Step was my point guard of choice at the time, but it just as easily could've been guys like Muggsy Bogues or Terrell Brandon.

    Each of these players had successful NBA careers and neither cleared six feet, so for someone who stood just 5-foot-1 as a 17-year-old high school senior, these were the guys that I needed to emulate. Fortunately, I grew 10 and 1/8 inches over the next two years. Unfortunately, my crossover wasn't nearly as artful as Hardaway's, my quickness was half of Muggsy's, and my mid-range jumper was about 15 to 20 percent less proficient than Brandon's.

    Bogues, who was briefly one half of the greatest teammate tandem ever, carried the torch as the NBA's biggest little giant from the late 80s through the 90s. Boykins became the torch-bearer at the turn of the century and bridged the gap between Bogues and Nate Robinson, who has become the leader in the little man clubhouse. Without Boykins, though, there would've been a five-year gap when undersized teenagers were left without someone to pattern their games after.

    Boykins is a member of a very exclusive family of vertically-, and in some cases, horizontally-challenged athletes who have overcome the odds to fulfill their dreams. Here are a few more from around the world of professional sports.

    Kirby Puckett
    Puckett gave hope to short, slightly chubby guys everywhere. Puckett was a bowling ball of energy on the baseball diamond. He stood just 5-foot-8, but weighed approximately 215 pounds. His dimensions bring the word "stout" to mind, to put it as tactfully as possible. That certainly didn't stop him from being one of the most dynamic centerfielders of the last quarter century, though. I actually modeled my childhood leg kick at the plate after Puckett. He made 10 straight appearances in the All-Star Game, was the best player on two championship teams and was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Did Puckett go 6-foot-2, 230 pounds like fellow centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr.? No, but he still produced a career that's the envy of baseball players of all sizes.

    Doug Flutie
    Ask any NFL scout what he wants out of a franchise quarterback, and his list of musts will likely include Peyton Manning's dimensions of 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds. That's about 7 inches and 50 pounds heavier than Flutie. While Flutie's career will never be mistaken for Manning's, that doesn't mean he didn't carve out a nice career for himself. The early seasons of his NFL career were nothing to write home about, but he found his groove when he crossed the Canadian border. Upon his return to the States, he promptly ripped off four consecutive seasons of at least 1,700 passing yards, peaking with nearly 3,500 yards in 2001 and finishing with nearly 15,000 for his career. And he did so while playing at a size normally reserved for place kickers.

    Tiger Woods
    I'm going to flip it on you and take this example in a little different direction. Prior to Woods' arrival on the golfing scene, the sport was reserved for the likes of Craig Stadler, or as he's more affectionately known, "The Walrus." Average-sized kids everywhere thought there was no way they could play professional golf because they were too in shape. Then Woods came along and showed that people who frequented the gym could play golf as well. He showed that golf is a sport for people of all sizes. Woods has revolutionized the game of golf in a lot of ways. One of the lesser known ways has been by opening the ropes to even the fittest of athletes.

    I don't see as many public service announcements on television as I once did. The days of frying an egg to prove a point have passed us by. Those commercials have been replaced by guys like Boykins, who is a living, breathing PSA all by himself. Every time Boykins takes the court, he announces to the general public that with some hard work and determination, it's entirely possible to do what would seem to be entirely impossible. By doing so, he inspires hope in not just the undersized, but among any aspiring athlete who thinks they don't have what it takes. And that's one powerful undertaking.

    Note: These are the views of the 6th Fan Blogger. Thoughts and opinions expressed in this articles are not necessarily the views of the Milwaukee Bucks.