Muggsy Bogues, From the Projects to the Pros
Journey through the land of the giants
Big things come in small packages.
At 5’3, Muggsy Bogues was the shortest player ever to be drafted into the NBA where he spent 14 seasons (1987-2001) as point guard.
In high school, the hoops star helped lead his team to 2 perfect seasons before heading off to Wake Forest University on a scholarship and then joining the Washington Bullets as the 12th overall pick.
For 6 consecutive years (1989-95), Bogues finished in the top 7 for assists, and for 3 of those half-dozen years in the top 10 for steals. He retired averaging 7.6 apg and 1.5 spg.
As an undersized point guard, Bogues possessed unique defensive skills that confounded the best on the court, including the likes of Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing.
His quick darts inside and around the orbits of the big men created havoc for his opponents who would suddenly and unexpectedly find themselves without possession of the ball.
On offense, Bogues controlled games and dribbled the ball so low that it was nearly impossible to take it away. His 44-inch vertical leap only added to his arsenal under the basket.
The compact-framed basketball handler became a fan favorite and an inspiration for smaller guys who aspired for the pros but were traditionally shut out from a tall man’s game.
This past summer Bogues released a new autobiography, ‘Muggsy: My Life from a Kid in the Projects to the Godfather of Small Ball’. The book opens with two forwards, one by Stephen Curry and the other by Alonzo Mourning.
In his story, Bogues delves deep into his life and career, reflecting on his battles with the NBA legends of the 1980s and 90s.
It wasn’t an easy journey for Tyrone Curtis Bogues who grew up in Baltimore’s rough neighborhoods. His small stature in the playgrounds only added to the challenges of his youth.
“The kids were cruel and it was hurtful. I got picked on a lot,” he tells Sports History Weekly.
When it came to basketball, “Trying to pursue a game that many thought should only be played by tall people was very frustrating,” he adds.
With an absentee father, Bogues’ mother was an anchor in her son’s life, offering uncompromising love and dispensing maternal advice “without knowing how impactful it was,” he stresses.
He was 7 years old when he met Leon Howard, Director of the recreation center in the projects where he lived and the man he calls “his blessing.”
Howard took Bogues under his wings, mentoring and training him on the fundamentals of basketball and most importantly, how to dribble and shoot over tall players and how to be “a pesk on defense.”
Soon enough, Bogues was making his reputation on the court, especially in stealing the ball, and the kids nicknamed him ‘Muggsy’ because he was ‘mugging everyone’.
He attended Dunbar High School, which under Coach Bob Wade reached national prominence, and in Bogues’ senior year (1983) was ranked No. 1 in the country by USAToday.
The petite hoopster was part of a highly talented 4-man unit that included David Wingate, Reggie Williams, and Reggie Lewis- all future NBA players.
The team went 29-0 during his junior year and 31-0 in his final year. Bogues credits Wade for building the team’s chemistry and setting everything in motion.
“He made sure we checked our egos at the door,” he says of his former high school coach. After 10 years at Dunbar, Wade went on to lead the men’s squad at the University of Maryland.
At Wake Forest, Bogues started in his sophomore year and graduated as the Atlantic Coast Conference leader in steals and assists. In his senior year, he averaged 9.5 apg and 2.4 spg.
His most memorable college game was against North Carolina State in February of 1985 when he took on another jumping jack prodigy, 5’7 Spud Webb.
Broadcast live on national TV, it was the little men’s showdown among the giants and Bogues proved to be the bigger of the two. He scored a career-high of 20 points and handed out 11 assists.
With the small guys dominating the match, Al McGuire, who was calling the game on air, referred to the excitement on the floor as one of the best he had ever witnessed.
Bogues’ most cherished memory in his basketball career was hearing his name called out at the 1987 NBA draft. He explains, “Small guys don’t get the opportunity to shake hands with the Commissioner, so having that opportunity was always a surreal moment for me.”
At the time of his draft, Bogues was 16½ inches shorter than the average NBA player. He spent his rookie year with Washington Bullets (precursors to the Wizards) and despite starting in only 14 games, he led the franchise in both assists and steals.
The Bullets paired him with Manute Bol, a 7’7 Sudanese import who resembled a gangly mythical creature playing an earthling’s game.
The unlikely duo represented the shortest and tallest members in the NBA, but the synergies didn’t materialize and the Bullets still posted a losing season.
Though, Bogues claims there was chemistry between them that allowed him to take more chances knowing that his teammate was there to protect the rim.
Asked about this supposed ‘sideshow’ with Bol, Bogues responds, “I felt that the Bullets were using us as a gimmick to get people into the stands, but we didn’t let it affect us.”
Bogues went on to spend the bulk of his professional playing career with the Charlotte Hornets (1988-97), an expansion team that he led to the playoffs 3 times (1993, 95, 97).
It was the era of some of the best players the NBA had ever produced and the Baltimore native proved himself a serious contender. “I felt that I belonged amongst the elite,” he thinks back.
Far from being intimidated, his strength was seeing through and around and he knew how to confront the Magic Johnsons and Scottie Pippens of the day.
At a 1993 post-season match against the New York Knicks, the 5’3 warrior managed to steal a shot from 7’1 Patrick Ewing, appearing from nowhere to swipe the ball and drive it down the opposite end of the court.
“I happened to be at the right place in the right time. I was right there to block it,” he remembers.
In Game 1 of the 1995 playoffs against the Chicago Bulls, even Michael Jordan had problems getting past the vexing Hornets guard.
With Bogues tightly on him, reaching and poking inside, Jordan lost the ball on an attempted jump shot. The play was called for a defensive foul, but it reinforced Bogues’ fearless presence.
After his playing career, the NBA veteran spent time coaching the Charlotte Sting, a WNBA franchise, and mentoring the boys high school team at the United Faith Christian Academy.
Comparing the men and women’s hoops style, he notes that women have a greater focus on the IQ of the game and are “fundamentally superior to the men”, who concentrate more on the skills and athleticism behind the sport.
Today, Bogues lives in Charlotte and continues to serve as brand ambassador for the Hornets and for the NBA. He also runs the Muggsy Bogues Family Foundation, which provides underserved communities with access to education and job training.
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