Earl Boykins: The Other Side of Evolution

Basketball writers always seek players who can bear the burden of the word 'evolution'. When Magic Johnson debuted as a 6' 9" point guard, he was 'the future', even though, behind the no look passes, he sported a set shot straight out of Hoosiers. When Kevin Garnett entered the Twin Cities out of High School as a 6' 11" small forward, that was supposed to be 'the next'. Now Dirk Nowitzki shooting Euro-Disney style rainbow threes, or even Yao Ming - and his potential to sell a billion Big Macs (or launch a billion sweat shops) in the far east, will define, we are told, the new hoops millennium.

This is all dead wrong. Basketball's true evolutionary leader is the baller you are most likely to look over. Literally. His name is Earl Boykins, and if you haven't noticed him yet, bend your head slightly downward, and recognize. Boykins is averaging 12.2 points per game for the surprise Denver Nuggets. He doesn't start the game, but often finishes it, leaving gold plated free agent Andre Miller rusting on the bench. The Earl is fast, fearless, and he plays mean. Oh yeah, he's 5' 5" inches and weighs 133 pounds. There are runway models that weigh more than 133 pounds. Boykins was undrafted out of Eastern Michigan even though he was the NCAA's second leading scorer. One scout commented that he would be 'fired if [he] drafted someone who looks 10 years old." But this '10 year old' can bench-press over 300 pounds, more than double his body weight. If Shaq could do that, he'd power lift Rhode Island.

The Earl floated in and out of Pro Ball purgatory for years before finally getting some burn last year with the Golden State Warriors. But this isn't just some heartwarming tale of the little guy who gets his shot. Earl Boykins is nobody's 'Rudy'. He's also nobody's Muggsy Bogues. The 5' 4" Bogues was a pied piper, attracting streams of young children for hugs and autographs. If you tried to hug Earl Boykins, he looks like he would go Joe Pesci on you. But it is really their play that separates Bogues from Boykins. Unlike Muggsy, the Earl can put the ball in the hoop at will when it matters the most. He is a basketball Blade Runner completely without fourth quarter fear. He will take the ball into the teeth of Mount Mutombo and sink tear-drops to make Mark Jackson weep.

Boykins is every guy at the YMCA under 5 feet 6 inches who plays like the Tasmanian devil and gives his opponents fits. We all knew a guy like this. He would dominate with speed, shooting ability and an ego fit for a rock star. At my local Y his name was Astor Chambers. One game after he scored the winning bucket over my outstretched arms, I trudged off the court only to see him walking next to me, handing me the ball, as if to say, 'Since you can't carry my jock, carry this." I hated the guy, but I respected the hell out of him. Earl Boykins carries the hopes of all these guys told they have no business dominating a big man's game.

Earl Boykins can be more than the little man's Jackie Robinson, blazing trails for future shorty shooters. He is Rosa Parks, sitting in the middle of the court for four years, not listening to anyone yelling in his ear that he lacks the 'necessities' to have a seat on the bus. Recently Boykins was asked by a reporter if he was 'satisfied overall with the way [he's] playing?' He gave a five word answer. 'I don't think I'm ever satisfied.' Maybe not, but anyone who likes basketball games that flow with speed and daring are sated with his every stone-faced drive down the lane. And maybe Astor Chambers' son will get a size-seven foot in the door because Earl Boykins always stayed hungry.

Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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