Why There’s Much More to Muggsy Bogues Than Height and Numbers

by Sam Perley

Tyrone ‘Muggsy’ Bogues doesn’t want to only be remembered as the Charlotte Hornets’ all-time leader in assists and steals or for being the shortest player to ever make it to the NBA. Personally, his legacy and how he views his career is pretty straightforward.

“A guy that never backed down, believed in whatever he thought that he could accomplish and when he was out there, we would accomplish it,” Bogues stated in an interview with hornets.com. “Somebody that had empathy for others, but at the same time, took a measure of character in each and every thing that he did.”

Topping out at just 5’3”, Bogues played with the heart, tenacity and ferociousness of a player twice his size. His 10 years with the organization were highlighted by plenty of on-the-court accomplishments (both individual and team), but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

A native of late ‘70s, early 80’s inner-city Baltimore, Bogues was raised in the Lafayette Court projects by his single mother, Elaine. Much of the surrounding area was overrun with violence, drugs and other gang-related activity. Safe to say, the odds of making it to the NBA were already stacked against Bogues from an early age.

Bogues became a star on the legendary Dunbar High School team that included future NBAers, Reggie Lewis, Reggie Williams and David Wingate. He landed a scholarship at Wake Forest after leading the Poets to a combined 60-0 record his final two seasons and a number one national ranking. After becoming the ACC’s then career leader in assists and steals, he was drafted 12th overall by the Washington Bullets in 1987.

One year later, the Hornets scooped up Bogues in the expansion draft, which unknowingly at the time, set in motion one of the best careers the franchise would ever witness. The team only won 20 games its inaugural season, but watching the pesky speedster Bogues race up and down the court dishing head-spinning passes and swiping steals certainly was a bright spot.

Maybe it was because of his height or that trademark grin, but Bogues’ popularity quickly began skyrocketing as his NBA career unfolded. Even today, the relatability Bogues provided countless young players who ever dealt with similar adversity isn’t lost on him.

“I understood my path and what I meant to the game and what I mean to kids,” he said. “Not only kids, but individuals around the world. Folks that didn’t think that the game was meant for smaller people. For me, I always felt that tall or small, the game was for all.”

Opportunities away from basketball began opening up for Bogues as he appeared in movies like Space Jam and Eddie, as well as on Saturday Night Live. With teammate Larry Johnson going through a similar transition into mainstream media, the Hornets had blossomed into an unforeseen cultural phenomenon.

“I never thought that would happen,” recalled Bogues. “Our main thing was playing basketball and just trying to win games. Doing that was a representation of who you are and people wanting to associate themselves with you. That’s what you want to keep sharing with the players in today’s world. Knowing that you represent yourself and your family each time you step on the court and to be the best at it because you never know where it leads to after it’s all said and done.”

But making movies and appearances never slowed down Bogues on the court. He used his diminutive height to his advantage, whether it was by weaving around taller defenders, putting the basketball where it couldn’t be stolen or setting up teammates with only passes they could receive. Bogues was never going to be a player who dominated by scoring or rebounding, although he always found other means to control the game.

“Playing with Muggsy, I’m amazed,” said former teammate Rex Chapman, who was with Bogues from 1988-92. “I went on from [Charlotte] and played with Scott Skiles, Kevin Johnson, Steve Nash and Jason Kidd. I can absolutely say with confidence that none of those guys were better than Muggsy. None of them. Yeah, he’s small, but he’s the fastest man in the world end to end and faster with the ball. He just lived to give guys sugar handing the ball out. What a leader. It’s one of the thrills of my life playing with him.”

Another former teammate Earl Cureton added, “I had an opportunity to play with Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, Moses Malone, Isiah Thomas and all these great guys. I tell the kids every day, ‘I can’t wait until he gets his call to the Hall of Fame because there’s never been anything like Muggsy Bogues.’ It’s solely amazing what he’s done and he’s an example.”

Bogues would start nearly 80 percent of the 632 career games he played for the Hornets. His franchise records for career assists (5,557) and steals (1,067) have been virtually unthreatened for the last 20 years. His 19,768 minutes are also the most in team history and his mark for career starts (501) was only recently surpassed by Kemba Walker back on Dec. 5.

“I knew what I brought to the table,” he said. “For me, it was just a matter of going out there and playing my game and understanding what the game plan was. I always felt like I belonged no matter what size I was. I had to bring something each and every day… to get the respect of my teammates, but more so also the respect of my opponents.”

The Hornets parted ways with Bogues shortly after the start of the 1997-98 NBA campaign, trading him to Golden State. He totaled four more NBA seasons before playing his final game with the Toronto Raptors in January of 2001. There certainly aren’t any hard feelings, only unbelievable memories and moments from a marvelous NBA career many said would never transpire.

“Nothing lasts forever. We had something really special here during that time I was here,” he reminisced. “Selling out nine straight years. To see the Hornets leave and come back under Michael Jordan’s ownership, recapture the city, give fans a product they can be pleased with, watch the transformation of Kemba Walker becoming a star in this community, that’s the beauty in seeing it back in 1988 to seeing it now. Folks had given up on it for so long, but knowing how special this brand is and knowing that they keep continuing to feed the community and serving that community, that’s what I continue to remember.”

It was that very same Charlotte community where Bogues believes he made the biggest impact during his time with the franchise.

“I remember having to dress up as Santa Claus to go Christmas shopping. I picked out 10 families and I used to just surprise them. They didn’t even know if they were going to have Christmas. Being able to impact and put smiles on kids’ faces, that’s what stands out more than anything on the basketball court. The basketball court was something that was a safe haven for me, but for others, it was looked on as a challenge. For me, it was a safe haven place where I was able to live my childhood as well as my adult dream.”

Bogues hasn’t played NBA basketball in Charlotte in over 20 years, yet his popularity has never wavered amongst the city’s fans. It’s rare to find somebody with Bogues’ achievements, who is also as humble and down to earth as he is. Recollections of his time with the Hornets bring about only feelings of gratitude and perspective.

“I’m just proud of being able to play the game. I was able to go out there and play it with the best of them. I was able to generate whatever numbers I was able to generate. Being able to compete against the best, having success against the best and to be included with the best, that’s something I really relished whenever I got on the court.”

He’s unquestionably a player all basketball fans relished watching on the court and certainly one of the best in more ways than one.

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