Five-foot-five, 133 pounds, all heart
Three years ago, the Golden State Warriors P.A. announcer used to play “It’s a Small World” whenever Earl Boykins checked into a game. That is, until Boykins told him to cut it out.The 5-foot-5, 133-pound reserve guard, then with his fifth NBA team, wasn’t laughing at the joke. He already took enough digs from opposing players for being the smallest player in the league. He didn’t need the P.A. guy punkin’ him.After two seasons with the Nuggets, no one seems to be laughing at Boykins’ game anymore. On Tuesday, the fan favorite finished third in votes for the NBA’s Sixth Man Award behind Chicago’s Ben Gordon and Boston guard Ricky Davis.
Boykins really should have finished first, since Gordon, who was drafted third overall last year, was a starter before being benched during the Bulls abysmal 0-9 start. Regardless, Boykins’ value to the Nuggets was on display Monday night after he rebounded from two bad games to lead the Nuggets with 32 points in the overtime loss. Aside from his free throws, all of the baskets came in typical Boykins fashion: beautiful arcing shots drifting over the outreached hands of frustrated defenders. Boykins uses his speed and his basketball smarts to make up for what he lacks in size. He darts between defenders to get open looks. He pushes the fast break to set up his teammates for baskets. He runs circles in the paint until he can draw enough separation and let a shot fly. His most important attribute, however, is something that can’t be measured by NBA scouts: heart. Boykins has more of it than any other player on the floor.Chalk it up to being, well, 5-foot-5 in a league where 7-footers are as common as hush money and Escalades. Chalk it up to being undrafted, then playing in the CBA, then getting signed and waived by three different teams (New Jersey, Cleveland and Orlando), then playing for three more teams (Cleveland again, the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State) before finally getting a bonafide opportunity in Denver.
It ain’t easy being teeny. Boykins knows that. He’s been more productive against the Spurs than Kenyon Martin, even though Martin was signed to a fat seven-year, $91-million contract by the Nuggets in the offseason. He’s also outplayed starting point guard Andre Miller at times. Miller signed a $51-million dollar contract when the Clippers failed to match his offer sheet two summers ago. Boykins’ salary? The Nuggets signed him to a five-year, $13.7 million deal after he left the Warriors. Before that he made the league minimum every year. The more interesting stat might be this: according to RealGM.com, there are 192 players who make more money than Boykins in the NBA.Hopefully, Denver G.M. Kiki Vandegwhe knows he’s getting his money’s worth.
Nuggets fans, too. In the me-first world of the NBA, Boykins is a rarity – a player whose love for the game goes unquestioned. Other guys play for pay checks. Boykins plays to win. He plays to make his teammates better. He plays to prove everybody who said he’d never make it in the NBA wrong. That goes for players, G.M.s, coaches and P.A. announcers.This week, Memphis point guard Jason Williams got in an altercation with a local sports columnist in the Grizzlies’ locker room. The beef: the columnist quoted Williams after the Griz were swept by the Suns as saying “I’m happy. I go home and see my kids and my wife and I’m OK. All this [stuff] is secondary.” One can only wish he was No. 192. Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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