I was driving home from the gym last night and had just turned into the neighborhood, when out of nowhere a name from long ago suddenly popped into my conciousness. “Winford Boynes.”
I had not thought of Boynes for decades. If I had, I don’t remember it. That his name would break the surface of my brain and spill out into the cool air of a sedate Phoenix evening all but blew a synapse or two.
For the rest of the drive home, I wondered what had triggered the moment. The only thing I could think of was that I was half-listening to a radio broadcast of an ASU basketball game at the time. I made a mental note to look up “Winford Boynes” on the internet later that night.
If Boynes and I were to meet on the street today and chat, he would have no idea who I was. I was mostly a phantom in his life story. And I, after not seeing him in 36 years, would not recognize him. I might say, “Now, there’s a tall, athletic guy. Bet he played basketball somewhere.”
This seemingly irrelevant stuff must be just laying there in the cranium crust of my mind, waiting for some obscure reason to explode.
In 1974, I worked as a sports writer in Oklahoma City, and Boynes was playing basketball for Capitol Hill High School. At 6-foot-6 with the athleticism to play both forward and guard, he was the most talented, the most highly-recruited player in the state. And he no doubt ranks still among the top 10 basketball players produced in the Sooner State.
While I’d seen Boynes play several times, I can not remember a single performance. I do remember he was always dominant, a teenage man playing among children, stoic and methodical, carving up any defense that tried to stack the deck against him. But it wasn’t until recruiting season that I established a limited contact with him. The readers of The Oklahoman wanted to know what major college would land this phenom and thus so did I. Boynes was the kind of player that could literally overnight turn a losing basketball program into a winner.
It was sometime after the high school season that I showed up one night at the house where Boynes lived not far south of downtown. Recruiting season was coming to a close. Boynes had narrowed his selections to three or four colleges. On this particular night, he was being wooed by Denny Crum, then the head coach at Louisville. By the time, I arrived at the darkly-lit house, both coach and player were gone, off to where only the smirking gods of recruiting knew.
I don’t know what I expected to find. I do remember a pleasant woman invited me inside. I do not recall if it was his mother, a grandmother or an aunt. Maybe a small child was there too. Anyway, I stayed a couple of hours and left. It slowly dawned on me that neither Boynes or Crum was going to return anytime soon and that neither was interested in talking to a newspaper reporter. It was such a nothing kind of experience that I doubt I even wrote anything at all about it.
Why is it then that “Winford Boynes” remains so close to my consciousness? I think it has something to do with the smarmy world of college recruiting, a process done in secret where adults exploit and lure talented teenage athletes with offers of cash, sex, a new car, house rent for mom and pop, easy academic courses and high-paying summer jobs that require no work.
While I do not know what transpired that night between Boynes and Crum, I suspected not everything was on the up and up. And I think it was that gut feeling as I left the house that has stayed with me all these years, though I was not concious of it.
It is not just college recruiting. Cheating and backroom deals seep into every aspect of life in this country. Smoke and mirrors at every turn. Most of us never really know the truth about anything. We act on our gut feelings. Reality is always an arm’s length away. I think of all the conspiracy theories put forth about 9/11, the assassinations in the 1960s, the war in Iraq, you name it, and I always come up a bit empty. There’s something there that Americans don’t know. Or don’t care to know. No one ever pushes. We go on to the next thing. And all the crud recurs over and over.
So “Winford Boynes” is my touchstone for the elusive truths of life. I suppose his name will pop to mind again at some unexpected moment.
As for Boynes, he did not sign with Crum or Louisville. He ended up going to the University of San Francisco, became a star there on some very good basketball teams with the center Bill Cartwright, now an assistant coach here in town with the Suns. One season while Boynes was there the Dons were 29-0 before losing to Notre Dame. Boynes scored 40 points in a tournament game against Arizona State and was the 13th player chosen in the 1978 NBA draft. That he only played three seasons in the NBA, first with New Jersey and finally with Dallas, startled my senses. I thought he was more talented even than another Oklahoman, Alvan Adams, who played 13 seasons with the Suns.
It doesn’t seem possible but Boynes will soon be 53. I did some brief internet searches to see where he is now, but could find nothing.
I hope he’s enjoying a great life, and I wish him well.