No Small Feat: The NBA's Shortest Player Never Gave Up At 5 foot 3, Muggsy Bogues holds the record as shortest player in NBA history. Criticism of his height started on the basketball courts of the Baltimore projects and continued well into his career.
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No Small Feat: The NBA's Shortest Player Never Gave Up

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No Small Feat: The NBA's Shortest Player Never Gave Up

No Small Feat: The NBA's Shortest Player Never Gave Up

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Time now for the latest installment of our series "My Big Break," about career triumphs, big and small. Tuesday is the NBA's opening night, so who better to talk to than Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues. Remember him? He's the 5'3" point guard who was the shortest player in NBA history.

Muggsy Bogues was drafted by Washington back in 1987 when they were the Bullets. but he's best known for playing with the Charlotte Hornets alongside Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson. Bogues says he comes from a family of five-footers. so when he stopped growing as a kid, it was no surprise.

TYRONE BOGUES: (Laughter) Five-footers, yeah. Actually, but my mom, she was the only one 4-foot-11, you know. But everybody else, we was five-feet. My sister was 5-foot-1. My dad was 5-foot-7 - 5-foot-8 if I give him that. Of course, I'm 5-foot-3, so I always tell people I think my mom had me when I was 5-foot-3.

I don't remember ever growing. I was still Little Ty, Little Tyrone, and I always got this negative feedback from the game of basketball, telling you you're wasting your time. What are you doing? You're too small. You'll never play basketball. You know, why were these people saying this? I know I can play. I didn't get chosen. The guys that decide to pick their teams, you know, the game is being played and we've got to sit over there and watch. And you get tired of just watching.

So I found two milk crates that were - we cut the bottom of the milk crates and we went on the other side and we tied the milk crates on each end of the fence and we had our own milk crate basketball pickup game. And it was a good time 'cause we could me a jump off the fence and dunk the basketball. You had to be creative in order to play and I wanted to play.

(MUSIC)

BOGUES: Very aggressive - I had to play that way because I was small, little kid that just was out there trying to create havoc, just trying to disrupt a lot of things. Then all of a sudden, they were like that little kid can play. Then they start, you know, including me in things and you start fitting yourself in.

All of a sudden, little Muggsy started getting a little reputation in the neighborhood.

(MUSIC)

BOGUES: When I was in high school, I was just fortunate enough to be on one of the best high schools they say was ever assembled. We was the number one team in the nation. People still didn't believe. Well, he played in high school. He had success in high school. But it's a whole other world when you get to college. No one would give him a major Division I scholarship. And of course, that was answered.

Wake Forest came knocking at the door and I accepted that offer. And it changed my life completely. Of course, you know, the first year, the commentators - why did they waste a four-year scholarship on a little kid that's only 5-foot-3 who barely could see over a table? And all this negativity started coming from so many directions. And I told my assistant coach, coach Ness at the time, that I'm done.

(SOUNDBITE OF WAKE FOREST BASKETBALL GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: I wonder what size shoe he wears, about three and a half? They save money on him, though, he sleeps in a drawer of one of the guy's chests.

BOGUES: And we had the chance to play a national televised game against N.C. State. I had one of the brilliant games. I had 20 points, 10 assists. And from that moment on, I continued to keep building that reputation. And there were some great times back then.

(SOUNDBITE OF 1987 NBA DRAFT)

DAVID STERN: Welcome the 1987 NBA draft.

BOGUES: The NBA draft, 1987. I can't remember - it happened on a Friday night. I tell you, it was a miraculous day.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: And let's see what David Stern has.

STERN: The Washington Bullets select Tyrone Bogues out of Wake Forest.

BOGUES: It felt like the whole world was lifted off of your shoulders. You know, you felt like, I have arrived.

STERN: Tyrone Bogues from Wake Forest - 5-feet-3, 140 pounds, 22 years old. He is now the shortest player in the NBA.

BOGUES: All the naysayers, the people saying that you'll never - why are you even thinking about it? A guy my size wanting to pursue a game that was supposed to be meant for, you know, the big guys. That was a special, special moment. It was my big break. That was my big break.

RATH: Retired NBA player, Tyrone Muggsy Bogues. These days, he runs his youth outreach group, Always Believe Inc. in Charlotte. You don't have to be the shortest player in the NBA to have a big break. Send us your story at mybigbreak@npr.org.

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