The Paradox, III
Boykins' rise above scrutiny spanning 12th NBA season
By Truman Reed
"There are definitely advantages to being the smallest player, because when I step out on the court, I'm always the smallest," Boykins said. "I don't have to adjust to anybody. Whoever I'm playing against always has to adjust to my game."
Plenty of players in the 64-year history of the National Basketball Association have become hoops answers to baseball's Archibald "Moonlight" Graham, whose story is chronicled in the film, "Field of Dreams."
They worked their way to the pinnacle of their sport, made a brief appearance there and were gone before most people noticed them.
After scaling the peak of the best basketball league in the world, though, 5-5, 133-pound Earl Boykins proved he deserved to stay there.
He saw action in just 58 games in his first three NBA seasons, but surpassed that total in his fourth season, playing 68 games with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Now in his 12th NBA campaign, he has played over 600 games in the league, wearing the uniforms of the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets, Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards in addition to those of the Nets, Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks.
Boykins enjoyed his best statistical season during the 2006-07 campaign, in which he played 31 games for the Nuggets and 35 for the Bucks. He averaged a career-high 14.6 points, 4.6 assists, a career-best 2.1 rebounds and ranked sixth in the NBA in free-throw percentage at .898.
Boykins scored a career-high 36 points for the Bucks against the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 24, 2007, becoming the shortest player in NBA history to score that many points in a game.
During the course of his years in basketball, Boykins has no doubt heard the phrase "matchup problem" more times than he can remember. But he has managed to make that a two-way street.
"There are definitely advantages to being the smallest player, because when I step out on the court, I'm always the smallest," Boykins said. "I don't have to adjust to anybody. Whoever I'm playing against always has to adjust to my game.
"And going through the years, I've never had to change positions. A lot of guys, the higher the level they go up in basketball, they have to learn new positions. Being a point guard, I've always played the game the same, so that definitely has helped."
Boykins signed a free-agent contract to begin a second go-round with Milwaukee this fall. His minutes were sparse during the early months of the season, but after second-year point guard Brandon Jennings was sidelined by a broken bone in his foot December 19, opportunity came knocking on Boykins' door and he responded with an emphatic answer.
Pressed into duty during a West Coast road trip, Boykins sank four of five 3-point tries and dropped 22 points as the Bucks stunned the Lakers 98-79 in Los Angeles on December 21.
He followed that performance up with 19 points in an 84-79 win at Sacramento on December 23 and netted a team-high 26 points and six assists in a 99-87 victory over Dallas on January 21.
Boykins was asked how he was able to deliver the way he did at a moment's notice after not playing at all in 10 of the team's previous 26 games and seeing limited duty in most of the others.
"I just stay prepared," he replied. "Mentally, it's a long basketball season. I've played this game for a long time. You know everyone's going to get that opportunity. It's just a matter of what you do when you get that opportunity. I've always been one who's been mentally strong, so when that happened, I was ready."
Boykins said he follows a routine whether he's getting regular minutes or not.
"I never prepare differently," he said. "When you don't play, you have to ride the bike, but other than that, my preparation is always the same."
In Boykins' return to Milwaukee this fall, he was reunited with veteran forward Corey Maggette, his teammate with the Clippers during the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons.
Maggette still expressed amazement at what Boykins has accomplished since Jennings was injured.
"Man, it's amazing," Maggette said. "I played with Earl for several years in L.A. and now we're back together here. He's really earned my respect. It's amazing to see what he does, and the will he has to play and the will he has to win. He knows that he's undersized, but he doesn't let that disturb his confidence. He's unbelievable."
Maggette acknowledged that the average fan doesn't fathom what Boykins has been able to accomplish as a 5-5 player in the NBA.
"He's very skilled," Maggette said. "He knows his angles. He knows where he can get his shot. He knows where the big defenders are going to be. He knows because he's been playing the game his whole life. It's unbelievable to watch what he does. He's just a tremendous warrior."
Maggette has drawn inspiration from watching Boykins' faith at work.
"As far as his faith is concerned, when you're a strong man of faith, you're going to go beyond," Maggette said. "I've always believed that. Regardless of all the downs and tough situations, you're going to have a situation where your time comes when God is going to let you shine and let you take off. That time is going to come. This has been a great situation for him.
"For me and him being in the same category where we weren't playing a lot in the beginning, we always kind of consoled each other in staying strong, remaining men of faith and just continuing to go out there. He has always been a guy who comes into practice every day and doesn't complain. When he gets his opportunity to shine, bang! It's all about faith."
Maggette can attest to the fact that faith can move mountains. And he has seen Boykins challenge 7-foot, 300-pound mountains for years.
"That, for me, has always been a big thing," Maggette said. "With the situation here, it's been up and down. But my faith is still strong, regardless of everything. And it's been great to see Earl through all of that. He's a great guy and I'm extremely happy for him. Guys on other teams know that, too.
"He's such a good guy. A lot of times, good guys finish last, when you think about it. But he's a really good guy who's seized his opportunities. It's such a blessing to be his teammate."
Boykins hopes he can inspire youngsters to let their faith carry them, too, through both basketball and life.
"In the summertime, I run three basketball camps in Cleveland," he said. "I just try to show kids that, `Here I am, at 5-5, and I play in a league amongst giants. But if you work hard at this game and learn the fundamentals, you can do the same thing I've done.'
"Faith is very important. It's the biggest reason why I am where I am. I have an unbelievable faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and I know that I've been blessed. I believe it's my duty to go out there and play in a way that's respectful, and to show everybody the talent that the Lord has blessed me with." And with that, Boykins headed out to the Bradley Center court ... to answer duty's call.