Earl Boykins helped launch Denver Nuggets' playoff streak
Speedy guard now working to help young players build fundamentals
During the spring of 2004, the Denver Nuggets found themselves in unfamiliar territory – in the midst of a playoff race.
For a franchise that had won 17 games the previous season and hadn't reached the postseason in nine years, it was a welcome change for the players, the coaches, the front office and the team’s fan base.
Earl Boykins was among those enjoying every moment.
After joining the Nuggets as a free agent, Boykins served as a steady sixth man in 2003-04, averaging 10.4 and 3.6 assists while playing in all 82 games. He was a key member of the team that began Denver’s streak of 10 straight playoff appearances.
“The best memory was the first time we made the playoffs,” the former Nuggets guard recalled. “It was so unexpected. People thought we would be improved but no one expected us to make the playoffs. The first year, it was so much fun.”
Boykins went on to play three-plus seasons in Denver before being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks in 2007. He retired from the NBA in 2012 after 13 seasons with 10 teams.
Denver still remains Boykins’ adopted home.
“The people of Colorado are very genuine,” he said. “They’ve always treated me and my family very well.”
Boykins is returning the favor. Last fall, he started the Boykins Basketball Academy for seventh- and eighth-grade boys and girls. Based in southeast Denver, the academy recently added sixth- and third-graders, with plans to expand to fourth- and fifth-grade this summer.
“I’m really into the teaching of fundamentals,” Boykins said. “Of course I had speed, but the major reason for my success was my basketball IQ. I always understood the game and was really high on fundamentals. All the moves I did were fundamental. They weren’t flashy. The things I used in the NBA are things any player can use.”
Boykins said he never attended basketball camps while growing up in Cleveland, but he credited his high school coach Jim Serluco with teaching him the fundamentals of ball-handling, passing, moving without the ball and playing as a team.
Boykins averaged 27 points as a senior at Cleveland Central Catholic High School and went on to star at Eastern Michigan University, where he averaged 25.7 points as a senior.
“When I got to college, I was prepared to play because of Jim Serluco,” he said. “That’s what I want to do. I want to prepare kids for high school, so they have a legitimate chance to play college basketball.”
Despite his college success, Boykins went undrafted as NBA teams had reservations about his size (5-foot-5, 135 pounds) and durability.
Boykins did not share those same reservations.
“It never bothered me. I always knew where I was as a basketball player,” he said. “I knew I was good enough. It was a matter of getting an opportunity. I never got frustrated with it. It actually was funny to me.”
Boykins started in the Continental Basketball Association and then caught on with the New Jersey Nets following a training-camp invite before the 1998-99 season. His five-game stint with the Nets marked the start of a journey that took him to Cleveland, Orlando, Los Angeles (Clippers) and Golden State.
After one year with the Warriors, Boykins received some long-term security when he signed a five-year deal with the Nuggets in 2003.
Boykins became a fixture in Denver’s playing rotation and helped the Nuggets reach the playoffs in each of his three seasons before being traded to Milwaukee in exchange for Steve Blake on Jan. 11, 2007.
Boykins finished his career with the Houston Rockets in 2012.
“My biggest thing was getting the respect of the opponent and the coaches in the league,” he said. “Even though I lived it, I still can’t believe how blessed I was to play at that level and to have the success that I had.”
A communications major at Eastern Michigan, Boykins has been doing some radio work on 104.3 FM, but his passion and primary focus are centered on his basketball academy.
“I just want people to know it’s for kids of all skill levels,” he said. “I’m really into the development. If your kid’s not good enough now, he will become good enough to make the team . . . My motto is ‘Hard work.’ If you put in the effort, you’ll become better.”
He has a 13-year NBA career to prove it.