Muggsy Bogues: Big game in a small frame
Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues made his living playing a sport where size mattered.
Standing only 5 feet 3 inches tall, Bogues spent 13 years weaving among giants during his NBA career, relying on intangible skills not measured by the human eye.
On March 27 at Davidson County Community College, an emotional Bogues shared his story of becoming the shortest player in NBA history and how he refused to let height stand in the way of a dream.
“It seemed so easy as we sit here today,” Bogues, 48, said to the crowd. “Believe or not, it wasn’t easy at all. I was always this little kid. It’s kind of unbelievable to see me now and how small I really was. But when I got on the court, it always came naturally for me. I would always get laughed at, but when the ball went up I made sure I got the last laugh. I kept that attitude throughout my basketball career.”
Bogues grew up in a housing development outside Baltimore, Maryland, where the dangers of urban life in a big city found him at an early age. A stray bullet hit a 5-year-old Bogues in the arm, nearly ending a dream that had yet to be realized. He would recover physically but his mental health needed some time, as his childhood innocence faded prematurely.
“We grew up pretty quickly,” said Bogues. “I grew up real fast. I didn’t know what obstacles were. I just knew I wanted to play a game everybody else was playing. The day I got shot is the day my world changed. I had pellets all over my body and I still carry one in my arm today as a reminder of where I came from.”
Bogues knew he wanted to play basketball. Despite the taunts and playground jeers, the pint-sized guard from the projects, who molded his game with help from his younger sister, forged a name for himself on the basketball court. As his journey toward the NBA began, Bogues found out he would be chasing his dream short-handed. When Bogues was 12, his father went to prison on drug charges. Left behind were a mother and four children with nothing but a uncertain future laying before them. The adversity, however, strengthened the family and an emotional Bogues wept when sharing his feeling for his mother to the crowd at DCCC.
“I always felt very fortunate to have both parents in my house,” Bogues said. “When you’re 12 and your mom comes to you and says your pop is going away for 20 years and he’s no longer going to be in your life, it was a big blow for me. It allowed me to grow up in a different way. No one was going to tell me what I can and can not have. I kept pushing. Seeing my mother struggle made me want to one day make a difference. Not knowing where food was going to come from one day to the next was tough.”
If his height wasn’t enough to overshadow his skills, Bogues high school teammates certainly were. Surrounded by future NBA players at Baltimore‘s Dunbar High School, Bogues, nicknamed Muggsy from a TV show called the Bowery Boys, spearheaded a high school powerhouse that claimed national notoriety.
“The newspapers started mentioning this little kid,” said Bogues. “I just happened to be on the No. 1 high school in the nation. Today, they say it was best high school team ever assembled. It was such an education in itself and such a key to my journey.”
The exposure caught the eye of Wake Forest, and Bogues soon would take his big game in a small frame to Winston-Salem. Even though Bogues would end his college career as one of the best point guards in school history, his Demon Deacon journey started with many more questions than answers.
“I wanted to leave,” Bogues said of his first year in Winston-Salem. “It was such a step for a university to reach out to a 5’3” guard and offer them a scholarship. I knew what the backlash was. Coming from the inner city of Baltimore to what folks called the country was hard. I never had the opportunity to be around so many Caucasians. It was scary. It turned out Wake Forest was the place for me. I couldn‘t have made a better decision. Wake Forest made me grow up and become the person I am today.”
Very few players under 6 feet tall ever have played in the NBA. For one closer to 5 feet, the odds seemed insurmountable. In 1987, the Washington Bullets made the biggest leap in NBA history by drafting Bogues in the first round, making him the shortest player still to play professional basketball.
“The game was supposed to be meant for the big guys,” said Bogus. “[Smaller players] had to change the perception. The only way to change the perception was to give them another example. We gave them another way of looking at it. I’m still waiting for that one 5’2” guy. I know he’s out there.”
Bogues, who retired in 2001 on the same day his mother died, played for four teams during his career, competing against the likes of Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. His determination and dedication made him a role model for an entire generation of vertically challenged children who dared to chase their dream.
“Muggsy took the opportunity to show our campus community that anything can be accomplished through hard work and dedication,” said Lynne Watts, director of student life and leadership at DCCC. “I believe our students and community can easily take his message and relate it to their life experiences – school, work, personal life and more. After all, he is living proof that amazing things can be accomplished when you don’t give up.”
Bogues played for four teams during his NBA career - Bullets, Charlotte Hornets, Golden State Warrior and Toronto Raptors - and retired ranked 16th on the all-time assists list. He now coaches at United Faith Christian Academy in Charlotte. His presentation of “Succeed on Your Own Terms” was part of DCCC’s Campus Speaker Series.