He was a four-year letterman for Eastern Michigan from 1994-98, and an honorable mention All-American as a senior. Earl Boykins will be the fourth EMU basketball player to have his jersey retired. Boykins’ No. 11 jersey will join former men’s greats George Gervin, Grant Long and Kennedy McIntosh along with women’s standout Laurie Byrd as the only basketball players to have their jerseys retired.
Boykins was honored at halftime of the EMU-Western Michigan University Mid-American Conference game. The in-state rivalry game had all the excitement of a playoff contest. The crowd came to see Boykins and was energized.
“It was a bit overwhelming for me,” said Boykins. “As a player, you don’t think about playing to get your jersey retired. It’s definitely a humbling experience to be considered one of the best to ever play at the school. It’s an honor.”
He became a starter as a freshman and the point guard saved his best play for his senior year. He finished second in the nation in scoring at 25.7 points a game, earning the Mid-American Conference Most Valuable Player Award at the league tournament. The Eagles were 20-10 that year, winning the MAC Tournament title and earning another NCAA Tournament bid.
Longtime EMU Sports Information Director, Jim Streeter added, “My best memory of Earl is how he dismantled Duke in the first round of the 1996 NCAA Tournament.”
Boykins at 5’5” won the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award in 97-98. The annual college basketball award is given to the best shorter–than–average player in the United States.
In the summer of 1997 he played on the gold medal winning USA Team in the World University Games in Italy.
Incredibly, Boykins started 121 of the 122 games that encompassed his career at Eastern Michigan University. “I remember all the smells at Bowen Fieldhouse, said the honored guest. “The smells would energize me before the game. It was a great old place to play,” added Boykins. He scored a buzzer-beating three point shot against the University of Toledo in the last game played at Bowen Fieldhouse.
“When I came to Eastern, I just wanted to be on a team that won 20 games a year. As far as having my number retired, this is beyond belief,” added Boykins during the pre-game alumni reception. “The school and the community of Ypsilanti have always been supportive of me, as well as the basketball program. It was a great showing of support.”
Playing at the highest level of basketball, Boykins has showed over and over that height is not the most important attribute. The fast and diminutive ball-handler will often go under players to score when he drives the lane. Throughout his career he has demonstrated that heart and speed can be paramount. He has played 10 seasons in the NBA for nine different teams and one year in Europe with Virtus Bologna. This year he is with the Milwaukee Bucks and averaging eight points a game.
After the 2007–08 NBA season, Boykins was an unrestricted free agent. Instead of signing with an NBA team, he decided to play basketball in Europe, as he signed a one-year, $3.5 million net income contract with Virtus Bologna of the Italian Series-A League. The one-year deal made Boykins the highest-paid basketball player in the Italian League. In November of 2009, Boykins made his return to the National Basketball Association when he signed with the Washington Wizards.
Ben Braun, now at Rice in Houston said, “Earl Boykins was the most competitive player I ever coached. He plays smart at both ends of the court.” Braun coached Boykins at Eastern Michigan for the first two years and Milton Barnes coached his last two seasons. Barnes was on hand along with many former EMU basketball players to honor the former Eagle playmaker.
The well traveled veteran still has a lot of quality games left in him. The EMU basketball supporters remembered and honored Boykins for his college game. They will be watching as he makes more basketball memories with his continued NBA play.
Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Knight