Muggsy Bogues may be the biggest underdog in sports history.
Despite standing at just 5-foot-3 and being surrounded by giants every night, he produced at a high level over the course of his 14-year NBA career.
As if his story wasn’t already inspirational enough, Bogues nearly died at just 5 years old when he was shot in the back and in the arm. He grew up in a very dangerous part of Baltimore where most individuals didn’t expect to live past 20 years old, according to Bogues.
Fortunately, the point guard was able to relocate his family after he produced in the NBA. Over the course of his career, he totaled 6,858 points, 6,726 assists (which ranks No. 21 in NBA history) and 1,369 steals (No. 60 in NBA history).
HoopsHype caught up with Bogues to discuss his playing days, his rough upbringing, his thoughts on today’s NBA, his legacy, All-Star Weekend coming to his stomping grounds in Charlotte and more.
I know you’re excited about All-Star Weekend being in Charlotte, so let’s start there. You’re a fan favorite there after spending 10 years with the Hornets and working as an ambassador for the organization. How nice is it to be embraced by that community and how exciting is it to have All-Star Weekend here?
Muggsy Bogues: The fans have been unbelievable since the day I stepped foot in Charlotte in 1988. I mean, it’s been an overwhelming amount of support for myself and my family. They really made us feel welcome. These fans mean the world to me. I was fortunate enough to have some successful years while I was there playing for the organization and, on and off the court, it’s been a match made in heaven with these fans. I’m truly honored to be appreciated by the community and the fans.
And I’m so excited that we’re hosting the 2019 NBA All-Star events in Charlotte. We had it once upon a time, back in ’91, but we were a young city that didn’t know much; we were still being educated. Now, we’re so far from that. We’re excited to show how much we’ve learned and how far we’ve come as hosts of this event. The entire city – from the mayor, Ms. Vi Lyles, to Hornets owner Michael Jordan, to Hornets president Fred Whitfield – couldn’t be more excited to be hosting this event in Charlotte.
It’s always fun when the host city is represented in the All-Star Game and Charlotte obviously has Kemba Walker, who’s been fantastic this year. You’ve watched his development up close. How impressed have you been with his improvement since he entered the league in 2011?
MB: Everybody loves Kemba. This is his town. This is his city now. He has really put the franchise on his shoulders. The season he’s having is an All-Star-caliber, MVP-mention kind of year. I mean, that’s the type of season he’s having. It’s such a treat to have him as one of the All-Star participants in his hometown… He deserved to be a starter this year with the way he’s been performing and the way he’s put this franchise on his back.
Before you were a household name and constantly getting recognized, how much fun was it back in the day to destroy cocky opponents who thought they could easily beat you because of your size? Did you humble a lot of guys?
MB: Oh man, it was exciting. When folks would first see me, they’d think they could take advantage of me because of my size. Then, once the game actually starts, you realize you have no advantage at all. If anything, you’re more so at a disadvantage because the ball is closer to me more often than it’s closer to you. It was fun. I’d get a little chuckle out of it when I was going up against someone like that. I knew what I was capable of and they had no idea what was coming.
I’ve heard you say that your size affected the way you approached the game. You’ve said to make up the height difference, you knew you had to be a pest on defense, put a hand in their jersey and not let up at all. Do you ever wonder how your game may have been different if you were, say, 6-feet tall?
MB: I just took advantage of what God gave me and learned how to use the body I have to the best of my ability. If God would’ve made 6-feet, I would’ve taken advantage of that height as well. I don’t think anything would’ve changed in terms of my approach to the game, but I probably would’ve been a little more dominant! (laughs) But that’s neither here nor there. I never get caught up in the “what ifs.” I just worked with what God gave me, and I always felt good about my size and who I was. I never had any hang-ups about it.
You’ve inspired so many shorter players who came along after you. I’ve talked to Isaiah Thomas and Nate Robinson and Earl Boykins – not to mention countless collegiate athletes – who looked at you as proof that they could achieve their dream despite their lack of size. When you’ve talked with those guys, what are those interactions like and what does it mean to you to have inspired so many people?
MB: It’s a warm feeling, knowing that you paved the way for these guys and that [they appreciate] the guys who came before them. That’s what history is all about – understanding the people who came before you and how they paved the way and how they made it a lot easier for others to do the same things. The conversations I’ve had with the guys like Earl Boykins and Isaiah Thomas and Nate Robinson have been such a treat for me – knowing that they looked at me in that light and they were inspired because of the things I was able to do. I love that it gave them the confidence to go out there and do the same things. That’s a good feeling and a real honor when some people feel you helped them [become successful].
You mentioned some of the advantages of being 5-foot-3 like the ball being closer to you, being able to protect the ball since it was close to the ground, your quickness and so on. But what were some of the hardest parts of being 5-foot-3 and facing NBA giants night after night? Were there certain things that gave you trouble?
MB: I didn’t feel too troubled. I was always playing the game within the game, where you’re planning against your opponent and figuring out what they’re trying to do. For example, when some guys would try to back me down, it would often be challenging for them and actually a disadvantage for them because they didn’t do it often, so they weren’t used to playing with their back toward the basket. So they may have thought they had the advantage, but they were out of their comfort zone. I just loved the competition. I loved competing against the best players in the world. To be my height and be included in that [group], it was just such a treat.
You presented so many unique problems for an opponent and you would frustrate the hell out of guys with your defense and stamina and hustle plays. What was it like when you were in a player’s head and clearly getting to them?
MB: I had to know what frustrated folks. I needed to know their strengths and weaknesses. I would study these players and I’d see that guys rarely change their tendencies. I understood that [and took advantage of it]. Guards like to have a cushion when they’re bringing the ball up; they don’t want someone challenging them for the ball. When you’re facing a guy [like me] who’s constantly full-court pressing all day and challenging you for the ball, that becomes annoying. I’d see guys get really frustrated, which is what you want when you’re a pest. Those are some of the things that come with the game – you need to know what each player can bring to the table… It was unique for these players to go up against a guy who’s my size; a lot of them had never played against a guy my size.
Being in Space Jam probably introduced you to a whole new generation of fans. How did your role in that movie come together and what’s it like to be part of a classic film?
MB: Space Jam was – and still is – such an iconic, classic movie. That’s not even something we thought about. The fact that it’s still relevant today is incredible. It was a family movie so everyone could enjoy it, from the parents down to the kids. Having the opportunity to take part in it was surreal for me. Michael [Jordan], Patrick [Ewing], [Charles Barkley], [Shawn Bradley] and myself all had the same agent: David Falk. I don’t know how it all came about behind the scenes. They felt like I should be one of the cast members. But, believe it or not, I got hurt and I needed surgery, so they actually brought in Tim Hardaway to read my lines and I think they were going to go with Tim [for the part] because of my injury. But once I read my lines and they felt comfortable I could work through my injury, they actually created a little dolly to pull me on so it looked like I was walking. They made it work. I was thankful that they made it work.
Not many people know this, but you were shot in the arm and the back when you were just 5 years old. Did having a traumatic, near-death experience at such a young age change your approach to life?
MB: I believe it changed my entire mindset. It changed so much about me – being that young, so young, just 5 years old. Even though we knew the life expectancy was about 20 years old where we were living, you don’t think [about how your life] could just be over [in an instant]. It changed my mindset and I think that’s what allowed me to become the guy I am today. I didn’t care what other people said or thought about me. I just stayed on my path and believed in myself, knowing what I could accomplish.
You had a tough upbringing in Baltimore. What did it mean for you to be able to purchase a home for your mother and take care of your family members once you made it to the league?
MB: It meant the world to me. The world. I was blessed to change the narrative of my family. When I had that opportunity to buy a home for my mom, I mean, [it was a no-brainer]. That’s what a son should do! It was great being able to give back to her because she’s someone that gave me so much. The atmosphere we were [living] in wasn’t conducive and I knew she needed to get out of there. I’m just so glad that I was able to grant her that wish [to live elsewhere]. She had no idea it was happening. I’m just so thankful I was able to do that for her because she was so special.
How do you think you’d fare in today’s NBA?
MB: Oh! I think I’d fit in fairly well! I think I’d do really well, considering the rules: you can’t hand check anybody and you can’t touch anybody. I feel like I can get anywhere I want with the basketball and the lane would be wide open because there’s no big man just planted there. I could penetrate a lot more and have a lot more opportunities. And [I’d benefit] from the way guys are shooting the basketball today. I love finding guys who can score and I’m able to put them in the right position to score more times than not. [That shooting] helps everybody – the whole team –and it would definitely help me too. I think I could fare well in today’s game! I’d like to challenge some of these guys’ handles too. Some of these guys are showcasing the basketball and dangling it right in people’s faces. That would be a good challenge for me. I’d like to see people try to put the ball in my face like that.
Of all your opponents, which players stood out as the toughest for you to match-up against? Who were the guys you didn’t look forward to playing?
MB: For me, I loved playing against them all. They were all different. One night, I’d be facing a 6-foot-4 Fat Lever. Then, the next night, I’m up against a 6-foot-8 Penny Hardaway. Next, I’m matching up with 5-foot-7 Spud Webb. Then, suddenly, it’s 6-foot-1 Isiah Thomas. For me, it [was a new challenge] every night in terms of my opponent. You get accustomed to playing against guys of all different sizes. The thing for me was always understanding each guy’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s a different challenge facing the bigger guys I alluded to, like a Penny Hardaway, versus a quick guard like an Allen Iverson or Tim Hardaway or Spud. Those guys present different types of issues and you have to do different things to counter them. It was nice, getting to play against the best of the best, night in and night out. Everybody brought something different to the table.
The Golden State Warriors are a potential dynasty and I often see people label their fans as bandwagoners. Every winning team obviously attracts some bandwagon fans, but I remember seeing how passionate and supportive Warriors fans were during the rough times. You played two seasons in Golden State. Did you enjoy your time there and what did you think of the fan base?
MB: The true Dub fans – and they know who they are – are really loyal. They have had stretches where there was a lot of excitement like with the Run TMC era with Don Nelson and the boys Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin. Then, things went in a different direction when those guys left. Then, you have PJCarlesimo come in and that’s where he and Latrell Sprewell had their [choking] incident. I was there and it was a dismal time, but the fans came out and supported us. Night in and night out, they showed up. They showed that they love their team, that they deserve their team and that they’ll support their team until all is said and done. Then, they had another really exciting time when Baron Davis and the “We Believe” Warriors picked things back up and that was a lot of fun. Now, you have their most recent transformation. They were able to acquire a young Stephen Curry and knew what he was going to be. They had Monta Ellis there as well and they had a make a decision about what direction they wanted to go in. Well, they decided to go in the direction with Steph and they haven’t looked back ever since. But with Dub Nation, the fans will always continue to be supportive.
You’ve known Steph since he was a little kid since you played with Dell Curry. I know you’ve told stories about how your daughter, Brittney, used to hang out with Steph back when they were really young. What are some of your earliest memories of Steph and did you ever think he’d become the player he is now?
MB: Well, back then, [nobody] was thinking about Steph being the type of player he is today. You knew he was interested in the game of basketball, but that’s it. Him and my daughter grew up together and spent a lot of time together since they’re around the same age and Dell and I are close friends. Steph just wanted to play basketball; it was a hobby for him. He wanted to play like his dad. He was never the biggest kid out there, but he’d see a guy like myself out there playing against bigger guys so he never got discouraged or distracted [about his size]. Now, he’s one of the best shooters in the world, if not the best. It’s just a remarkable story. I remember picking him up and giving him airplane rides in our locker room when he was 5 years old! Now, he’s a two-time MVP and three-time champion. It’s such a blessing to see.