Q&A: Muggsy Bogues
It’s difficult to digest or quantify what Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues did for the game of basketball. Sure, you can assess the record book -- he’s 18th on the career assist leaderboard, 16th in career assist percentage, 57th in career steals.
Look beneath the record book and you'll find that he had a 44-inch vertical leap, which is analogous to him jumping over himself. He could maintain his handle on the ball when it was millimeters from the hardwood, and keep it at machine-gun tempo while he did it. He took the Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors to the playoffs for the first time, and paved the way for a number of athletes who didn’t fit the prototypical point guard mold. He opened a locked door in a profession that relishes height and, now, positionless athletes; Bogues could only play one, but he did it damn well. At 5 foot 3 inches, Bogues is the shortest person to ever play in the National Basketball Association. It’s only fitting that the biographical section of his website doesn’t mention height -- not even once.
He didn't ride the pine, either: Bogues holds the franchise record for minutes played as a Charlotte Hornet, with 19,768 minutes.
His larger-than-life persona was on display in the Warner Bros. motion picture Space Jam, alongside NBA demigods Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Larry Johnson and Shawn Bradley.
His Hall of Fame résumé doesn’t scream its way off the page, but his life story does. Bogues watched his father go to prison. He grew up in a rough section of Baltimore, where being shot at wasn't at all uncommon. There were thousands of reasons why he should’ve failed along the way and yet he didn’t.
Muggsy Bogues became a basketball icon, and he helped me fall in love with the sport. What follows is our Q&A.
When did you stop going by Tyrone?
I stopped going by "Tyrone" when I was seven years old. Not many people call me anything other than Muggsy, because my dear late mother always called me "Tyrone.”
You grew up shooting and playing pick-up games on a not-so-traditional hoop, right?
I would take two milk crates and cut the bottoms out of them, placing them on either sides of the court, because the big boys wouldn't let me play at first. So I created my own court.
You grew up with your brothers and sister in the Baltimore projects. Your father gets charged with armed robbery when you’re 12. Did you just have to grow up overnight and become the quintessential man of the house?
I have two big brothers and an older sister, so I didn't have to carry that responsibility over growing up overnight.
Was your bond tight with your siblings and mother?
Yes, the bond was extremely tight with my siblings and mother. My siblings and I keep in touch almost daily now.
How did you keep in touch with your father?
I would keep in touch with my father via snail mail. He wrote to me from prison. Once I got to the NBA he was released from prison, so I saw him when he returned home.
Tell me about your high school career. What was it like playing on such a successful team so early on?
It was an unbelievable experience to play on such a successful team with my neighborhood friends who had the same goals and aspirations as myself. The goal was to escape the area we grew up in.
How did you stay straight-edge when you had virtually every reason not to? As someone who has grown up seeing some of the things you’ve seen, going through the things you’ve gone through?
The way I was able to stay focused throughout my 14 years in the league was based on my upbringing. Watching the players before me like Skip Wise, hearing the sad stories, and just not wanting to be another statistic.
Did playing alongside three future NBA players in David Wingate, Reggie Williams and Reggie Lewis put you in a unique situation regarding your preparedness for college and the pros?
Yes, playing along with David, Reggie and Reggie prepared me for college, but I think the most important person who played a role was Coach Wade. He taught us the fundamentals of success.
When guys like Olden Polynice, Wayman Tisdale and Hakeem Olajuwon were leaving college, why did you choose not to jump to the pros in 1986 or prior to graduating?
Everyone's situation is different. Just because some guys leave earlier (doesn’t) necessarily means that’s what everyone should do. My education and getting my degree was very important to me. But if my projection was higher earlier, then I would have left, but if not, then there was no reason to leave.
Explain to me what the experience was like getting drafted alongside Lewis and Williams?
It was a surreal moment getting drafted with my childhood teammates. We did keep in touch throughout our college careers. It was assigned seating, so we didn't sit together (on) draft night.
So, you’re taken by Bullets and play for a season. Are you happy there? Does it ever feel like you fit on that roster?
I was happy when I got drafted by the Bullets for a couple of reasons: being able to go back home and play in my backyard, and selected first round, 12th pick by the Bullets. Yes, I was content during the beginning of the season, but towards the end I saw the organization was going in a different direction, which caused some concerns. At one point, I felt like I belonged, but after some things unfolded I realized things weren't how they appeared.
You reportedly used your contract to put your mom up in a new house, buy yourself a Mercedes, and pay a lawyer, who eventually worked to get your father released from prison. Are you on top of the world at this point?
My dream car was a Mercedes and it's always nice to provide for your mother, especially since she did so much for me and my siblings. I did feel on top of the world and enjoyed having my family attend my games.
What’re your thoughts when the 1988 Expansion Draft takes place? Washington doesn’t exempt you from the pool and Charlotte takes you. What’re your immediate thoughts about the situation, having to uproot your life and go to a new place to play for a team that’s never been a team before?
Believe it or not, I was excited about the new expansion team in Charlotte. I just left the Carolinas by attending Wake Forest and knew the area was familiar with my game. I was excited for a fresh start with a new franchise to showcase that I do belong in the NBA.
What’s your relationship like with then-head coach Dick Harter? Was it frustrating not being used more?
My relationship with Dick Harter had its ups and downs. He was a coach that had (an) old school mentality of “big guards are the only way to be successful,” so it was frustrating at times. But, once he got released, my career blossomed under Jean Little as the head coach.
You proceeded to become the face of the franchise, took the Hornets to its first playoff appearance in team history, and became one of the most popular players in NBA history. When did you know that you were a larger-than-life type of player?
By my style of play and the way I played the game. Fans always appreciated the underdog out there competing at a high level and the fast(-paced) basketball. Not only was I competitive, but my skill level allowed them to become more of a fan.
There’s a highlight of you playing Chicago at some point, and you’re guarding Michael Jordan just inside half-court. He starts facing you up, but you slip around him, pick his pocket and take it back for the lay-in. Obviously, your height is something that people talk about all of the time, but do you ever feel like your defensive abilities went overlooked? I mean, you finished in the top 10 in the league in steals three different seasons.
Yes, I do feel like my defensive presence gets overlooked by many, but not by my colleagues, because they felt the effect by my play.
Will you ever forget the moment you blocked Patrick Ewing?
No, I will never forget the moment that I blocked Patrick’s shot. I let him know that it would be a part of my highlight reel for life.
So, you become a free agent in 1999. Virtually your whole career has been spent in Charlotte. You’ve made a life there, had success, etc. They trade you. What does that feel like and why do you go to Toronto rather than staying with Golden State?
Leaving Golden State for Toronto was a better opportunity, because I would be able to play alongside young talent such as Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter, so I was looking forward to it.
When you get to Toronto, you’re the veteran leader, captaining the second unit. In the franchise’s fifth year of existence, you help them to their first NBA playoff appearance. You’re swept by the Knicks. Is it almost poetic that you’re playing against your friends Patrick Ewing and Larry Johnson?
Yes it was déjà vu all over again facing the Knicks. (I was) always trying to get past them in Charlotte and then now having to do it again in Toronto was a challenge. It was strange to see me now compete against New York with (Charles) Oakley on my side, facing off against LJ and Ewing. It was definitely a different experience.
What happens the following season? You play three games for the Raptors. Then you get traded to the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks. Are the injuries why you don’t play? How does your career officially end?
I got traded to the Knicks while injured. At the end of the season, my mother got really ill with cancer. New York then traded me to Dallas, and at that point I was ready to retire since my mom didn't have much longer.
How did Space Jam come to be?
Fortunately, for me, Space Jam came about because we (Jordan, Ewing) all had the same agent, David Falk. Once it was presented to them, they felt like I was a perfect fit for the movie. At the time, I had no clue it was going to be as big as it still is today.
What were the guys like on set? Did you guys play pick-up games while there or have to run to-and-from the studio to a local court while the film was shot? Did you all have fun with each other while you were all going through being “on-screen” for the first time?
Yes, we had a great time filming. A basketball court was built on set for Michael and the guys would play pick up. Unfortunately, I was injured at the time so I could only watch.
After you retired, you coached a WNBA team for a bit, worked in real estate, became a team ambassador for the Hornets and a radio announcer. Why all of these different fields?
It wasn't hard giving up my playing days, but I do enjoy being around the game.
Do you ever think you’d coach again or be a broadcaster, like the Reggie Millers and Chris Webbers of the world, or are you just fine relaxing with your family and going to a game every now and then?
I'm happy spending time with my family, but if presented the opportunity I wouldn't mind coaching or broadcasting again.
What’s your golf game like? Are you playing Pro-Ams?
No Pro-Ams. My golf game is a work in process. My handicap is about a 15 so I need to get out there more.
You’re 18th all-time in assists. You’ve won a gold medal. Do you feel you deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?
It's not up to me. I'll leave it up to the committee for that. I felt like I have done something that no one else has achieved and that no one else thought I could do.
Do you feel a sense of pride when you see players like Nate Robinson and Earl Boykins excel in the league? Are you close with either of them?
Yes, I know them both, and I'm thrilled and happy for them. Robinson is currently playing and is representing for the shorter guys really well.
What’re you doing nowadays? Enjoying the retired life? Do you run any organizations? Do you still play basketball?
Yes, I’m enjoying life with my family and friends. I currently run my nonprofit organization Always Believe Inc., aiding at-risk youth through education, health and nutrition, physical fitness and character building. I enjoy being an ambassador for the NBA, being able to travel the world inspiring and educating. I do play from time to time, but my main focuses are faith, family and business.