An NBA basketball game is probably the only place where people who are around 7 feet tall actually blend in. There are so many tall players in the league, that people who are giants in everyday world are nothing out-of-the-ordinary on an NBA court.
In a world like this, it is very rare for someone to stand out due to height.
But anyone who has ever seen Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues in an NBA game can surely attest that he stands out.
However, Muggsy is not 7’7”, 7’4”, or even over 7’.
In fact, he does not even crack the 6’ foot mark.
Standing at 5’3”, Muggsy is the shortest player to ever play in the NBA. By most standards, he is considered too short for a typical playground basketball game, let alone the professional sport’s premiere league.
But don’t let his height fool you.
Ever since being chosen in the 1987 NBA draft, Muggsy has demonstrated that he can handle himself on the elite NBA level. In fact, he has played against taller opponents for most of his life, and has usually gotten the best of them.
Growing up in the Lafayette Court Housing Project in East Baltimore, Muggsy became basketball obsessed at an early age. In fact, it was on the basketball court that he received the nickname “Muggsy,” when another player took notice of his “mugging” style, and nicknamed him Muggsy after a character from popular Bowery Boys movies.
As a youth, basketball took up most of Muggsy’s time, and was what his life revolved around. In fact, his own basketball ball was his closest companion, and an item that he was seldom without, and often even slept with at night.
And whenever he had free time, he almost always spent it playing ball at his local recreation center, where he established himself as one of his neighborhood’s best players, even thorough he was shorter than nearly everyone he played with.
Looking back at his early years, Muggsy credits basketball at the recreation center as his most important positive early influence, both in shaping him into a future NBA player, and also in keeping him out of the trouble that many youths in his neighborhood often got drawn into.
And that recreation center also turned out to be a source of tremendous competition. Amazingly enough, three other regular players in those games—Reggie Williams, David Wingate and Reggie Lewis—all went on to become future NBA players themselves. In fact, those three players teamed up with Muggsy on Dunbar High School’s varsity basketball team, and formed what was possibly the greatest high school team ever. Muggsy never lost a single game in the two years he played there (high school was only three years long and Muggsy spent his freshman year at another school), and as the team’s leader, he solidified himself as an elite high school basketball player.
One high school match-up in particular that stands out in Muggsy’s mind was a highly anticipated road game his junior year against a another powerhouse team.
When Muggsy stepped on the court for the starting lineup of that game, a packed crowd laughed at him. Afterwards, however, the same crowd flooded him with autograph requests, after watching him lead his squad to an 84-59 win.
After high school, Muggsy played college basketball at Wake Forrest University, where he steadily improved, and quickly became ranked among the nation’s best players. And then following an excellent senior season, year, he was chosen number thirteen overall by the Washington Bullets in the 1987 NBA Draft.
Many fans and analysts, however, were skeptical of the 5’3” Muggsy, and of Washington’s decision to pick him so early in the draft. A debate began over whether a player his height could possibly play in the NBA, and some people went so far as to claim that Washington’s pick was a mere ticket-selling gimmick.
But Muggsy ended up playing a solid rookie season, ranking among the best players of his rookie class, and showing promise with his difficult-to-defend lighting quick style of play. That quick style, however, was not well suited for his teammates in Washington, and caused Muggsy to be moved to the expansion team Charlotte Hornets before his sophomore year.
In Charlotte, Muggsy quickly established himself as the team leader, and flourished as an NBA player. Season after season, he was able to routinely disrupt opposing teams with his amazing quickness, and he ranked among the league leaders in assists per game, steals per game, and assists per turnover ratio. And despite the notion that opponents could exploit his size while he was on defense, Muggsy was actually a consistency solid defensive player throughout his pro career.
After nine seasons in Charlotte, Muggsy bounced around on several teams, and eventually struggled with knee injuries towards the latter part of his career. He finished his solid NBA career with over 6000 assists, 6000 points, and 1200 steals.
And while doing so, he also completely erased the notion that modern NBA players must be tall.
There was no precedent for Muggsy before he entered the NBA. He had to take on the role of being the first player of modern era NBA basketball in his height range.
But nevertheless, he continued to believe in himself as he built a path to NBA success, even though he had very few examples to follow, and many detractors who felt that the notion of him playing in the NBA was ridiculous.
And throughout his NBA career, Muggsy truly showed that he could stand tall even among giants.
“Everyone in life is told they can’t do certain things, we all have things like that to overcome,” Muggsy once said in a 1993 interview for the New Jersey newspaper The Record. “For me, it’s the opinion that you have to be six feet or seven feet to play this game. I’ve been hearing it since high school. I just haven’t been listening.”