Legendary NBA Point Guard, Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues, represents more than the American Dream. He represents a universal truth and a promise to each of us that our dreams are only as far off as we allow them to be, and that the power of belief supersedes any ideas society may hold for what is possible in our lives. Raised in the Lafayette Court Housing Projects in Baltimore, Muggsy witness poverty and violence during much of his early childhood, culminating with a gunshot wound he suffered at the age of five when he was hit with a stray buckshot. His father was incarcerated for much of his younger life as his mother struggled to make ends meet for he and his siblings. Soon enough, the game of basketball beckoned, providing hope and structure for Bogues’s young life. His late mother and sister Sherron’s unwavering faith and encouragement in his athletic ability allowed him to shut out the naysayers who taunted him, both on and off the court, over his smaller 5’3” stature.
Muggsy studied the game and mastered his defensive moves and vertical jump (an impressive 44 inches off the ground). With his Dunbar High School basketball team becoming ranked the number one high school basketball team in the nation, Bogues rode that wave throughout his career-making plays at Wake Forest University, ultimately becoming the shortest player in history to get drafted into the NBA as the 12th overall draft pick in 1987. After a season with the Washington Bullets, Bogues was traded to the Charlotte Hornets in 1988, where he would ultimately find his footing, helping to lead the Hornets to the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, and putting the franchise on the map alongside his teammates, Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson. It was with the Charlotte Hornets that Mogues also met lifelong friend, Dell Curry, during which he mentored Curry’s two sons, Stephen and Seth, who went on to play in the NBA. After nine years with the Charlotte Hornets, Bogues rounded out his career playing for the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors, before retiring in 2001 after fourteen seasons in the NBA.
Now, at age 58, Bogues, a devoted husband, father and grandfather, spends time speaking and helping to run his Muggsy Bogues Family Foundation in his adopted home of Charlotte, North Carolina. The Foundation provides essential resources and educational opportunities to underserved communities in the area. His memoir, MUGGSY: My Life from a Kid in the Projects to the Godfather of Small Ball (Triumph Books), recounts his extraordinary life in vivid detail, providing an inspirational blueprint for beating the odds and living with passion and purpose.
Editor’s note: This interview is from a transcript from a video conference call. It has been edited for clarity.
Allison Kugel: What’s the difference between you and the tens of thousands of guys who loved playing basketball, loved the game, but thought, “I’m just not tall enough, so it’s not going to happen for me. Why bother?”
Muggsy Bogues: I think as a small guy, I accepted what I was and who I am in terms of how I need to play the game. I think a lot of us as undersized players, we play the game a little different. But some try to play the game like the bigger players. But I knew my best abilities and what came with [my size], in terms of making guys around you better, and being able to be an extension of the coach. It was about, defensively, just being a pest. Make sure they have to work to get the basketball across the half court, because the Point Guard is the guy that really starts it all. If you can disrupt him and make it difficult on his behalf at the beginning, it gives you a better chance of being noticed and being out there. I understood the game. A lot of people didn’t really understand the IQ level I had on that basketball court, but my peers did. I think that separated me from a lot of the small Guards that tried to pursue this game and try to make it to the highest level, which is the NBA.
Allison Kugel: Let’s talk about the power of belief. I read your memoir (MUGGSY: My Life from a Kid in the Projects to the Godfather of Small Ball, Triumph Books), and your childhood was no bed of roses. You had many challenges. You are one of those people who understood the Law of Attraction and the power of belief well before it was a part of our cultural zeitgeist. Where did that come from?
Muggsy Bogues: Growing up in the city of Baltimore, I think the trauma that I went through, being shot at [age] five was a part of it. When I used to go onto the basketball court and hear all the negative words, like, “You’re too small. Why are you pursuing this game?” It really had a major impact on my confidence. After that traumatic experience [of being shot], I didn’t think anything was devastating, and it definitely wasn’t words. It just gave me the confidence and the belief to pursue what I was dreaming, and what I believed in. Luckily, I met Mr. Leon Hardwick, who gave me the information on how to navigate [the basketball court], and how to play the game. Preparation then allowed me to continue to believe in myself, and gave me the confidence to not worry about my height. I just didn’t care what they thought. I let that negative energy go in one ear and out the other. I stayed on my path and on my journey, just believing what I wanted. I knew that if I can have confidence in myself it will rub off on others.
Allison Kugel: Do you know who the actor Michael Rappaport is?
Muggsy Bogues: Yes. He sent me his book (laugh).
Allison Kugel: I love what he says about you. He was on The Rich Eisen Show talking to your former Charlotte Hornets teammate, Rex Chapman, about you and he said, “Muggsy Bogues is one of the iconic players. He’s 5’3” and he played in the league for I think 15 f*cking years. Why is Muggsy Bogues not doing TED Talks and motivational speaking? Because when you think of outside-the-line thinkers and someone with a powerful brain that overcame things, it’s Muggsy Bogues.”
Muggsy Bogues: I really appreciate him saying those kinds of words [about] me. It all comes from just believing, and as we talked about, believing in yourself. I make sure when I’m speaking to kids, and I do a lot of speaking engagements, I always want to let them know that it starts within. It starts with them. When you look at yourself in the mirror and don’t like that reflection, you really need to love it, because that is what God has created. We all get a special gift, and we all need to understand and hopefully find that special gift that God has created. I always tell the kids, and anyone I come into contact with, “It stars with you. It starts with confidence. If you don’t have it, it’s very difficult for anybody to believe in what is inside of you, and what you are trying to spill out.
Allison Kugel: Do you believe that we all plan our lifetime before we incarnate into this life? Do you subscribe to that at all?
Muggsy Bogues: In some ways, I think we do. Subconsciously, the things that we think and the things that we believe, we start taking actions behind them. Those actions lead to that thought or that subconscious seed that has been planted for you. I always believed in that and I always go with that, because that is something that you can’t second guess. God sees us before we have it and before we even think it. A lot of folks go to school and get good grades, and you get a job outside of what you go to school for. You wonder, why is that? It comes back to that thing that is set for you, that you have not even envisioned for yourself yet.
Allison Kugel: Yes! I hear there were only two players in the league who you had trouble guarding. Do you know who I’m going to say?
Muggsy Bogues: Who? I’m curious…
Allison Kugel: It was actually Rex Chapman who said, “The only two players Muggsy had trouble guarding were Gary Payton and Magic Johnson.” Is that true?
Muggsy Bogues: Magic was one of them. I’ll give it to Gary, too. Gary was a handful, because of the way he played the game. But it was more or less Magic, because Magic liked to pass and because of his size, at 6’9”. I had the ability to play a bigger guard and plan well with his back toward the basketball, because normally they are not accustomed to playing that way. Magic was totally different. He had the ability to see guys in his peripheral [vision] from behind his head, and he caused me a lot of problems. And there were a lot of battles between Gary and I, so I can understand why Rex went with Gary as well.
Allison Kugel: Your sister, Sherron, you credit her with introducing you to the game of basketball. Tell me about that.
Muggsy Bogues: She was my biggest [supporter] and my older sister. She was small statured as well, and she was fearless. She played all sorts of sports. She played baseball and football, as well as basketball. By me being small and seeing her tenaciousness and her competitiveness, going out there and competing against the boys, it made me want to go out there and play, and be fearless as well. Seeing how she was having success out there gave me that feeling that if my sister can do it, I can do it. That is what really introduced me to basketball and made me want to get out there and pursue it. When I played, and when I continued to climb that ladder and play in college and the NBA, she was always at the games hollering for me behind the bench, “Shorty, shoot the ball!” I loved her for that, because that is where you get your true criticism from, the ones that love you.
Allison Kugel: During your time with the Charlotte Hornets, you and Dell Curry became as close as family, and your kids grew up together. You knew Seth and Steph Curry from the time they were toddlers.
Muggsy Bogues: Yes. Our families grew up with one another. It was the Currys and the Bogues. Dell and I played eleven years with each other throughout my fourteen years in the NBA; nine in Charlotte and two in Toronto. Stephen and our kids grew up being around the game. Stephen and Seth were like little sponges, soaking up all that information. I recall a video they have of me giving Stephen a little airplane ride in our locker room when he was small. He was just such a joy, he and Seth, both. No one even knew they would turn out to be the type of players they are today, even in high school. They were so scrawny, skinny and small. They were compared to me. [At the time] they were just a little taller, but slender. No one even gave them the credit, but to see them now and see how they transformed, not only on the court, but off the court. I’m so proud of the both of them.
Alison Kugel: Did Stephen look up to you, because he saw you as also not having the typical stature of a basketball player? I read that he was only 5’6” in high school and with a narrow build. Did he look to you as an example of somebody who could succeed in the game, not having that traditional large player build?
Muggsy Bogues: Yes, he did. He looked up to me early on. He had seen that a guy who was 5’3” was out there having success, and that is something he always hung his hat on. He always said that I was one of his favorite players, so that always gave me little chills, knowing that. For a kid like that to be around me for that length of time and seeing me able to navigate through all of the nonsense that was being said; it allowed him to see it firsthand. He always alluded to that. For him and Seth, both, to be able to not hear or believe that [negative] noise that they were hearing about themselves, and staying on that path, I’m just loving what I’m witnessing to this day.
Allison Kugel: There is a moment between you and Michael Jordan during the 1995 playoffs that is talked about a lot. There are images of you trying to guard him and him taunting you by holding the ball up high so you couldn’t get it. He’s trash talking you and all of that stuff. Do you think he was actually thrown off his game, because he couldn’t play the way he would normally play when he was playing against you?
Muggsy Bogues: Absolutely. That is exactly right, and that is why Michael, as you listen to one of his interviews, he says he always had trouble playing against the smaller guys like myself, Damon Stoudamire, Allen Iverson, and Rod Strickland, because when you are smaller the ball is closer to you. When the guy is dribbling the basketball, they have to dribble on the ground. Having that understanding, I understood how to play close to the ground and how to affect them down low; how to make them think about their dribbles because that is where it all starts. I used to time the guys’ dribbles, because once the ball goes down, they can’t stop it. That is when I used to shoot the gap and steal it quite a bit. That wears them down, and it’s like, “Man, he’s a pest.” When you play against the best and you have success against the best, then you will now be included with the best.
Allison Kugel: Then in 1996, you were cast in Michael’s now classic movie, Space Jam. There were only five other NBA players cast opposite Michael in that movie. Did he do the casting, or was it a production decision to put you in the movie?
Muggsy Bogues: We all had the same agent. Myself, Patrick Ewing, Michael, as well as Shawn Bradley. David Falk was our agent. Believe it or not, I had surgery during the shooting of the movie. I didn’t think I was going to be in it, but they had me come and read my lines anyway, and I think they had Tim Hardaway in mind as well. You can see me kind of acting like I was walking, and they had me where my shoulders were just moving and they made it look like I was walking.
Allison Kugel: Are there any guys in the league you wish you could have had the experience of being on the same team with, but never had the opportunity?
Muggsy Bogues: I think a guy like Michael [Jordan]. I would have loved to play with Michael as a teammate. Having him on that wing, and his ability, and all the things he could do. That would have been fun for me.
Allison Kugel: I’m assuming your relationship with him kind of smoothed over as time went on?
Muggsy Bogues: It has always been a great relationship. We never had it where it took a dive in terms of the negativity. We have always been pretty good friends and competitors, going all the way back from college days.
Allison Kugel: You have a very unique situation, because you married your wife, Kim, twice. What’s different the second time around?
Muggsy Bogues: I’m smarter the second time around. We were young when me got married the first time. I was 24 and she was 22. We had our first kid, and then my oldest daughter had moved in with us, and then we had my son. Suddenly, we had three kids and it was like she was thrust upon three kids within one year, and that was a challenge for us. I always loved her. She is the mother of my kids, and it’s very fortunate for us to be able to do it the second time with the same person, and to be able to do it again and do it the right way. This is more special, and especially for the kids, that we found our way back to one another. It makes the family that much more whole. I’m grateful that I have a second opportunity with her, because that’s how it should always be when you walk down the aisle and give that testimony to the man upstairs.
Allison Kugel: Would you say the wife of an NBA player is a difficult life?
Muggsy Bogues: It’s a challenge on both parts. For the woman, because they are the ones at home taking care of the kids and keeping the home. And for the person that is on the road, it comes back to a trust factor and understanding that even when we are apart, we are still together. Hopefully temptations don’t lead you down the wrong path and the flesh doesn’t get more beyond where the mind should be, about what’s at home. Even though you are separated, you have to have that mindset and that trust factor that your partner is trusting you as well as you are trusting them to maintain that connection that you share with one another. Again, it’s tough, especially when you are around it. As athletes, so many things are thrown upon you and you have to be strong enough to know that it is a waste of time more than anything, and it’s not that serious to be throwing away what is so important that you have at home.
Allison Kugel: When a movie is made one day about your life, which I suspect that it will be at some point, what do you hope and pray they get right?
Muggsy Bogues: How humble and appreciative I am in terms of the help I got along the way, and the confidence I have within. It’s not being cocky or egotistical. It is just being confident and believing that anything is possible with what you set your mind to. No one has the ability to make a change or a difference in your life, besides yourself. Like I tell my kids, “You can do what you want to do. You can be who you want to be, and the only person stopping me is me.” That does resonate with them, and that is something I always believed in, because no one has any power over me. I didn’t give them that power. I don’t care what they are saying or what they believe. A lot of folks try to spill their negativity they have for themselves onto you. I don’t give anybody that power, so hopefully they get right in a movie [about me], knowing that I was a confident kid, I didn’t care what anybody thinks, and I saw it all the way through.
Allison Kugel: Have you ever had an idea of who should play you?
Muggsy Bogues: I haven’t thought of any guys out there, because it’s hard to find someone as small that plays basketball…. I always say Kevin Hart, but Kevin Hart is too dark. (laughs)
Allison Kugel: (laughs) It would have to be an unknown, maybe.
Muggsy Bogues: Or maybe that little kid from [Amazon ‘s] The Underground Railroad, Chase Dillon. Maybe he could pull it off.
Allison Kugel: Let’s talk about The Muggsy Bogues Family Foundation. Is it run by your daughter Brittney?
Muggsy Bogues: Well, she is the Vice President. I have an Executive Director as well and, of course, board members and so forth. It is something that we are so passionate about. to be able to serve the Charlotte [, North Carolina] community. Our vision is to empower the underserved and youth to live a better quality of life, due to food security, education and workforce development. We also have a scholarship program where we have partnered with CPCC here in Charlotte. They oversee our scholarship for kids to go to a trade school, for kids that have ambition in that industry to further their careers. I know a lot of people focus on the four-year universities, but I wanted to focus on trade-bound schools where kids can go right to work and be job-ready after they are finished, and debt free. They pay great salaries in these types of fields and I just wanted to bring some attention to that and give them the opportunity to where they can benefit themselves as well as their families.
Allison Kugel: Is there anything quirky about you that people would be surprised to learn? Do you have any unusual superstitions or habits?
Muggsy Bogues: I don’t do anything out of the ordinary. I’m just so simple. I’m just a guy that loves playing golf and comes home. We travel. I love eating Twizzlers. I love my candy. Sometimes I have my cocktail and I’ll take my Twizzler and use it a straw. So there’s something (laughs).
Allison Kugel: What do you think you came into this life as Muggsy Bogues to learn, and what do you think you came here to teach?
Muggsy Bogues: I came here to learn how the world operates and how people are all different in their own ways. I came into the world to teach people that we all could be different, but at the same time, not be hateful and not be divisive. We can all get along as we accomplish all we chose to accomplish, once we believe within ourselves. Hopefully, during my time on this earth I can display those characteristics and affect people where they can see that we treat everybody the same; regardless of the color of our skin, or who we are, what size we are, or what gender we are.
Allison Kugel: Would you say you are a living, breathing example that anything is possible?
Muggsy Bogues: Absolutely, one thousand percent. I know I went against the odds and against the grain, being the smallest to ever do it. It’s all because of the man upstairs and understanding His faith and guidance, being a testament of Him, and having the confidence that you can be whoever you want.
Photos by: Atiba Jefferson