Muggsy Bogues, who has out-hustled some of the NBA's best players over the years, now hopes to press them in a new arena: the multimillion-dollar business of commercial endorsements.
No stranger to overcoming obstacles, Bogues grew up in Baltimore's tough Lafayette Courts housing project and rose to an NBA career despite standing only 5 feet 3.
Now a point guard with the Charlotte Hornets, Bogues has found on-court success after a couple of rough years, including an unspectacular rookie season with the Bullets that ended with his being left unprotected in the 1988 expansion draft.
The Hornets grabbed him, and he became a favorite of the fans in Charlotte, posting impressive totals in assists and steals and winning the team's most valuable player honor after the 1989-90 season.
But so far his endorsement success has been mainly regional, such as a deal with the Charlotte-based First Union National Bank or his "Don't Tell Me No" video documentary, available at Blockbuster stores in North Carolina.
The 29-year-old Dunbar High School and Wake Forest graduate, who returns to Baltimore tomorrow for the Muggsy Bogues All-Star Classic charity game at the Arena, hopes that is changing.
Ads he has done for Sprite and AT&T; have won some valuable air time, and cast him in a role of David in "David and Goliath" scenarios. Later this year he will tape an installment of "Eye to Eye" with Connie Chung and his autobiography, "In the Land of Giants," will be released this fall.
His agent, Robert Urbach with the powerhouse firm of Falk Associates Management Enterprises, said Bogues' combination of winning personality and inspirational life story could make him force in the lucrative endorsement business (Michael Jordan, another Falk client, earned $4 million a year from the Bulls before retiring last year, and an estimated 10 times that in endorsement income).
"I think this is probably just the beginning. His popularity and exposure and status in the league will continue to rise," Urbach said of Bogues.
Although they steer clear of ads that treat Bogues as a physical oddity, the player and agent recognize the commercial possibilities of the NBA's shortest player. They hope that companies looking for an underdog image, or that want to associate their products with an against-all-odds success story, will gravitate toward him.
"I'm not going to do anything that will take me out of context, that will just make me a novelty," Bogues said.
But, he added, "I guess everybody sees me as a unique player who is doing something that's not supposed to be done at this height."
Nancy Lawler, vice president and advertising manager of First Union, said: "He has a very family-oriented image which is very positive for the bank."
The bank uses Bogues as a spokesman for a program which rewards youngsters with merchandise vouchers for getting good grades in school.
David Burns, who arranges athletic endorsements for corporate clients through the Chicago-based Burns Sports Celebrity Services, said Bogues has yet to capitalize on his commercial potential.
"He has moved slowly. I'm sure he doesn't command anywhere near the money that Shaq does or Pippen," Burns said, referring to Shaquille O'Neal and Scottie Pippen. "When some players get media momentum they start to get calls. He doesn't have that momentum."
Bogues, who figures he's got another five years until retirement from basketball, said he is willing to take the commercial work one deal at a time, employing the same optimism that has served him throughout his career.
"I know there are a lot of good things that are going to happen to me. If I can, after basketball, market a product or be a spokesman, that's great. . . I would like to continue to do a lot of commercials and maybe star in a movie someday," Bogues said.
What: Muggsy Bogues All-Star Classic.
When: Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Baltimore Arena
Who: Players include Bogues, fellow Dunbar alumni Reggie Williams of the Denver Nuggets and Sam Cassell of the Houston Rockets, Dream Team II members Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson of the Charlotte Hornets and Bullets players Larry Stewart and Calbert Cheaney.
Tickets: $30, $25, $17.50 and $11; available at Arena box office, TicketMaster locations or by calling (410) 481-SEAT.