OAKLAND, Calif. -- At 5-foot-5, Earl Boykins doesn't have a lot of weight to throw around. Yet that's exactly what he did shortly after the Golden State Warriors signed him.
In one of his first practices, Boykins stood in front of his new teammates and lectured them on the importance of desire and tenacity. After all, Boykins has shown an excess of both while scratching out an NBA career as the shortest player in the game.
"He just stepped up and let us have it," Warriors guard Gilbert Arenas said. "You respect it when a guy like that says something, even though he hasn't been with the team for very long. You just look at him, and you know he knows a lot about toughness.
"Now, it's like that on the court, too. Whenever he comes out, everybody looks to him and says, 'Oh, it's Earl! Let's see what he can do!"'
Earning respect is nothing new to Boykins, who weighs 133 pounds -- nearly all of it heart, according to Warriors coach Eric Musselman, who's barely 5-foot-8 himself. Between Boykins' outstanding play and Musselman's good work in his first season with the team, it's a good year to be small in Oakland.
A crowd favorite
Boykins became a crowd favorite in the CBA and in each of his previous four NBA stops with New Jersey, Cleveland, Orlando and the Los Angeles Clippers during the 3 1/2 seasons since he went undrafted out of Eastern Michigan.
His size was one of several factors that kept him moving along, but he never quit -- and he even raised his standards. After being cut loose by the Clippers last summer, Boykins waited to sign until another team offered him a chance to play regularly.
"I think a lot of teams are afraid, but this organization allowed me to come in and play the way I'm capable of playing," Boykins said. "I'm just trying to pay them back for giving me a chance."
In just a month with Golden State, which signed him largely because of second-round draft pick Steve Logan's baffling refusal to reach contract terms with the Warriors, Boykins has become the perennial losers' sparkplug and emotional leader. What's more, he has been on the floor for nearly every important fourth quarter since the day he signed.
"I'm having fun," Boykins said. "It's easy to play with guys who get along, and everybody gets along here. When I come in the game here, the crowd gets up and cheers every time. I just try to make an impact."
So far, Boykins' impact on the Warriors has been remarkable. He averages more than 10 points and four assists per game, and he's unafraid to take big shots down the stretch for a team with precious little toughness in crunch time.
Just three days after he signed with Golden State, Boykins was on the floor in the closing minutes of a game against Denver. He scored 20 points and made seven steals, hitting several big shots to clinch the Warriors' victory. Since then, Musselman has depended on Boykins deliver in the clutch.
"He's a tough player with a lot of courage," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said after Boykins drew a charge with 10 seconds left in the Warriors' win over Los Angeles last month.
"He probably has the biggest heart in the league," said Antawn Jamison, the Warriors' leading scorer. "He's a lot more calm and poised than anybody else in the last 6-7 minutes of a game."
The missing ingredient
The Warriors have shown signs of life during Musselman's first year, with a series of home victories over good teams. But until Boykins arrived to add depth behind Arenas at point guard, the Warriors still were learning about the mental toughness necessary to grind out wins during the exhausting NBA season.
Boykins has made an immediate impact everywhere. Besides telling his teammates about toughness and then showing it during games, he already makes rotation and play suggestions to Musselman, who was an assistant in Orlando during Boykins' one game with the Magic in the 1999-00 season.
"I just try to make sure that we get a good shot on every possession," Boykins said. "I don't want us to settle for jump shots or to lose our aggressiveness. I play with a lot of aggressiveness in my game, so hopefully I can bring that to this team."
The pros and cons
Boykins' height has advantages and disadvantages. Opposing point guards take extra care with their dribbles around him, but nearly anyone can post him up if a team is patient enough. But even that can be turned into a positive.
"If some team is trying to use its point guard in the low post because Earl is in there, you've already taken them out of what they normally do," Musselman said. "It's just about adjusting your plan to make sure Earl is a disruptive presence."
One of Boykins' greatest assets is his basketball savvy -- a quality not shared by many of his young teammates. The Warriors have five players with less than two years of NBA experience.
Arenas still is the Warriors' point guard of the future, and he has started every game this season. But Boykins' place in Golden State seems safe for the season, and he's never thought beyond the near future.
"It's a little bit unbelievable how well he has fit in," Musselman said. "He has been the epitome of a lot of things we were lacking."
Boykins isn't pleased with everything in Oakland, however. During Golden State's victory over New Orleans last month, the Warriors played the song, "It's a Small World After All" before he shot a free throw.
"Yeah, I've got to talk to those guys," Boykins said. "It irritates me. Tell them never to play it again. I'm serious. Made me miss a free throw."