“If I had listened to all the people who told me you are too small to play basketball, I wouldn’t be in the NBA today. Always believe.” Muggsy Bogues
1980 – Dunbar High School – Baltimore, Maryland: Muggsy Bogues was shooting basketball in the school gym when an assistant basketball coach walked in and said, “Son, you are not supposed to be in here. The gym is only open to varsity players.” Bogues responded, “Coach, I’m one of your new players. Head Coach Bob Wade invited me to come here.” The assistant laughed, “Son, we have cheerleaders bigger than you. Now you need to leave.” On his way out the door Muggsy commented, “I’m small coach, but I have a big heart.”
Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues grew up in the Lafayette housing project in East Baltimore, Maryland, surrounded by drugs, guns and violence. At age 5, he was roaming the streets after midnight with some older kids when they broke a window in a bar. The bar owner shot into the group with buckshot from a double-barrel shotgun and Muggsy was hit in the arms, back and legs. He almost died. When he was 12, his father was sentenced to 20 years in prison for armed robbery, leaving his high-school-dropout mother to raise four children.
By then, Muggsy knew basketball was his only hope to escape the ghetto. He found healing and hope at the Lafayette Recreation Center. Center director Leon Howard became the father the young man desperately needed. Muggsy was there every day after school and on Saturday playing basketball. When he wasn’t at the center, he shot baskets until it was too dark to see at a bottomless milk crate he nailed to a pole.
In 1980, after being asked to leave the Dunbar gym, 15-year-old Muggsy quickly proved that he wasn’t too small to play basketball. The Dunbar Poets won 60 straight games in 1981-82. In Muggsy’s senior year, the team went 31-0, won the state championship and was voted the No. 1 team in the country. With four future NBA players on the team, some believe they were the best high school team ever.
Despite his incredible high school basketball accomplishments, Muggsy was not heavily recruited by major colleges. Most schools weren’t willing to risk a scholarship on a kid who was 5’3” and 130 pounds. Muggsy eventually got a tryout at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. But when he showed up on campus several players assumed he was a recruit’s little brother. Muggsy had to prove himself again.
Despite his size, he became a three-year starter at Wake Forest averaging 15 points and nine assists per game as a senior. He won the school’s Arnold Palmer Award as the most valuable athlete. Today he remains the Wake Forest basketball leader in both steals and assists.
In 1987, the Washington Bullets selected Muggsy Bogues as the 12th player in the NBA draft. The franchise received criticism for choosing a 5’3” 140-pound player in a league of giants, where the average height was 6’6”. Some accused the Bullets of pulling a publicity stunt – the team had the tallest player in the league, 7’7” Manute Bol, and they would have the smallest, too. A year later, they traded Muggsy to the Charlotte Hornets, a new NBA expansion team.
Muggsy’s diminutive size, incredible speed, passing ability and heart made him a fan favorite. His knack for stealing the ball made him one of the most feared players in the NBA. No one wanted to get stripped of the ball at midcourt in front of 18,000 screaming fans, especially by a player half their size.
Muggsy Bogues’ NBA career spanned 13 seasons, 10 of those with the Hornets. In the 80-year history of the league, he remains the smallest ever to play. Today the 58-year-old former player says, “I wasn’t going to give up because of my size. My mother always told me don’t worry what they say about you. They don’t know how big your heart is.” Three decades after Muggsy Bogues left the playgrounds of East Baltimore, his story still inspires and encourages undersize kids on basketball courts across America.