EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – History was made on Thursday night in Denver, Colo., as the Denver Nuggets played in the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, winning game one over the Miami Heat, 104-93.
In El Paso, UTEP men’s basketball assistant coach and 13-year NBA veteran Earl Boykins was taking in all of the action with a lot of pride.
Boykins played in the league from 1998-2012, as the second-shortest player in NBA history at 5’5. His best years as a pro came from 2003-2007 with the Nuggets, when he averaged double-digits in scoring for four straight seasons on Denver teams that made the playoffs every year Boykins was on the team, led by Carmelo Anthony.
“It was definitely an exciting time to be there. To make the playoffs our first year was a lot of fun,” Boykins said.
Because of his stature and role as the Nuggets’ energizer bunny off the bench as the sixth man, Boykins still has a cult following in Denver and ties to the current Nuggets team playing in the NBA Finals.
He retired in 2012, but stayed in Denver until 2019 as a high school coach before heading to the collegiate ranks. He got to watch the current Nuggets firsthand as they were reconstructed from the ground up with two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray as the building blocks.
“I think you could see it building to where it is now,” Boykins said. “The front office has done an unbelievable job as far as drafting well, but also acquiring free agents that fit what they were trying to do. To see the Nuggets in the Finals is definitely exciting.”
Boykins still keeps in touch with Nuggets’ first-year general manager Calvin Booth, who is a close friend of his. Boykins said he texted Booth when Denver advanced to the Finals to congratulate him and also still keeps in touch with former Nuggets coach George Karl.
He hopes to make it up to the Mile High City at some point during the Finals, but may not be able to because of UTEP’s recruiting efforts.
He also sees a bit of himself in Denver’s current sixth man, Bruce Brown, who had 10 points and five rebounds in the Nuggets’ game one win over Miami.
“He’s steady every game and he plays his part whether it’s defense or scoring a timely basket. He’s definitely the closest to what I was when I was with the Denver Nuggets,” said Boykins.
In 2019, Boykins said on a Denver TV station that the Nuggets would make the Finals by 2022; due to some injuries to key Nuggets players, his prediction was off, but only by a year. Now… Denver is Boykins’ pick to win the 2023 championship.
“I do believe the Nuggets are going to win it,” Boykins said. “They play a very unselfish brand of basketball. Going into this series, I think Miami is a tough team with a great culture, but the Nuggets are just too deep.”
Denver and Miami will square off in game two of the 2023 NBA Finals on Sunday night at 6 p.m. MT at Ball Arena in Denver.