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Lessons from the NBA’s shortest player

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Earl Boykins playing for the Houston Rockets against the Dallas Mavericks on March 27, 2012 (Credit: Jim Denison)

Last Tuesday, Janet and I were invited by some very dear friends to join them for the Dallas Mavericks’ game against the Houston Rockets. I’ve been a Mavs fan for more than 30 years, but to me, the most interesting player on the floor that night was the shortest.

Earl Boykins stands 5’5″ tall and weighs 133 pounds. By contrast, the Rockets’ starting center is 6’11” and weighs 250 pounds. It’s no surprise that Boykins was not drafted by an NBA team after college. It is a surprise that he’s now played 12 years in the league with 12 different teams. He once scored 32 points in a game, making him the shortest player in NBA history to score 30 or more points in a game.

Boykins didn’t start Tuesday night’s game, but he was there at the end. He’s still an amazing athlete—he bench presses 315 pounds and reportedly can dunk the basketball.

Watching him compete against men at least a foot taller, these lessons came to mind. First, know your strengths. It was fun to watch Boykins use his small stature to his advantage. He can hide behind bigger teammates, use their screens to get open, and penetrate with amazing quickness. And he has an excellent long-range jumper. His height was an advantage to his game.

Second, know your weaknesses. Boykins didn’t try to guard Jason Kidd, the Mavs’ starting point guard who stands 6’4″. Roddy Beaubois, who is two inches shorter and much lighter, is Kidd’s backup. When he came into the game, Boykins came into the game. He didn’t try to guard our centers and forwards, but did well at what he does well.

Third, follow your passion. When Boykins graduated from high school and was asked what he wanted to be, imagine the response when he said he intended to play in the NBA. But he has—the average NBA career is 4.8 years, meaning that he’s in his third generation of professional basketball. He did what his heart wanted to do, and he’s made millions of dollars and dozens of highlight reels doing it.

What passion has God placed in your heart? Abraham Maslow was right: an artist must paint; a poet must write; a musician must make music, if he is to be at peace with himself. Find and follow your passion, doing what you do best to the glory of God.

Earlier today I read John 2, where Jesus turned water into the “best” wine (v. 10). He can do the same with us.