IT'S A scene that 5'5" Earl Boykins has lived through dozens of times. Upon arriving at an arena he's stopped by a security guard asking to see I.D. "People aren't used to seeing a normal-sized guy playing in the NBA," says the second-shortest player in NBA history. (At 5'", Muggsy Bogues leads the list.) Boykins, raised by his 4'11" mother, Charlene, and his 5' 8" father, Willie, in Cleveland and two inches shorter than his sister, Charnella, has endured small indignities along the way. When he was three, Willie carried him to the rec center in a duffel bag; at Central Catholic High an Eastern Michigan recruiter thought Boykins was a ball boy; at his last NBA stop, Golden State, Boykins couldn't quite see eye-to-eye with 5'6" coach Eric Musselman. And it was in Golden State that the sound man would play It's a Small World when Boykins checked into the game--until the point guard told him to cut it out.
The 28-year-old Boykins, who has a four-year-old son with his wife, Keyan, dwells on the positives. He's strong--he can bench 315 pounds--and quick, and he surprises opponents. ("You think you have a passing lane, and then, boom, Earl races in to take it away," says Magic center Tony Battie.) He also gets 50plus fan letters a week from parents thanking him for inspiring their undersized kids. "I don't look at my height as a disadvantage," says Boykins. "I'm unique. So's Shaq, and he's won three championships." --Chris Mannix