Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Herman “Tree” Harried both watched Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues play in the early 1980s, Young as a fan of Baltimore basketball and Harried as a teammate at Dunbar. They saw the same thing: a 5-foot-3 point guard, short even for the women’s game. But their expectations differed some.
Said Young, the Baltimore City Council president: “If anybody would've told me that he wasn't going to be a pro, I told them they must be out of their mind.”
And Harried, the Lake Clifton boys basketball coach: “I would've never thought he'd play no 15 years in the NBA.”
They had come Tuesday, along with hundreds of others, to celebrate Sherron Bogues Day at Druid Hill Park, where Muggsy hosts a basketball and flag football tournament for local youths every June 27. His sister, a longtime Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks employee who ran its basketball and football programs, died of cancer at age 55 in July 2015.
“She was a big part of my upbringing, big part of my success, big part of things that I dreamt as a kid,” Bogues, 52, said.
Another dream nearly was realized this year, one that reflects Bogues’ impossible success as well as Young and Harried’s diverging predictions of basketball glory. In December, Bogues was nominated for the first time as a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame candidate. In February, 14 finalists for induction were announced. The NBA’s shortest-ever player was not among them.
Even nomination was no small feat. Basketball is a sport of skilled giants; the shortest NBA player enshrined in the Hall of Fame is guard Calvin Murphy, a two-time All-American at Niagara and one-time All-Star with the Houston Rockets. He’s a half-foot taller than Bogues.
“A little disappointment that you didn't get in, but not really,” Bogues said. “I'm just so blessed to be honored, to be even nominated with the class that was going in. Just to be mentioned, it was such a blessing for myself. Hopefully, one day, that'll happen. If not, it won't keep me up overnight.”
The numbers, he acknowledged, make it tough: no NBA championships, no All-Star Game appearances, just one first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honor at Wake Forest. In his best professional season, for the Charlotte Hornets in 1993-94, he averaged 10.8 points, 10.1 assists and 1.7 steals per game on 47.1 percent shooting. Over his 889-game career, the per-game production was more modest: 7.7 points, 7.6 assists, 2.6 rebounds.
His Hall of Fame case, of course, is that no one so diminutive had been so effective. Boston Celtics star Isaiah Thomas became the idol of little guys everywhere last season, earning Most Valuable Player consideration. He’s a half-foot taller than Bogues, too.
“All of the challenges that he had with his size and just the stigma of a short person being able to go as far as he did, and what he did for a man being 5 foot 3, and defensively, could dominate a whole game, I think that was hard work,” said Darryl Wood, a teammate on the hallowed 1982-83 Poets team that went 31-0 and is considered one of the top high school teams of all time.
“You listen to any of the pros talk, when they talk about what guys can do, his name always comes up as the hardest person they had to play against.”
Popular culture has absorbed his legacy since his 2001 retirement. When the NBA’s modern mighty mites leave younger fans dumbfounded, Harried said, parents tell them that Bogues was the first to do it. YouTube has been a boon to his enduring celebrity; one highlight compilation has been viewed more than 3.5 million times. And then there’s his movie career, short (of course) but sweet.
“They still mainly recognize me from 'Space Jam,' ” Bogues said. The 1996 hybrid live-action-animated film, in which the villainous Monstars swipe his skills, and those of Michael Jordan and others, is the highest-grossing basketball movie of all time. Fans regularly come up to him and ask: “Still got your powers?”
Now those powers are put to work as an NBA ambassador. He crisscrosses continents, swinging from his North Carolina home to London to the league’s Asian office, a small man broadening the game’s global reach.
When he visited Baltimore last year, he was struck by the sparkling gyms inside one of the Under Armour Performance Centers, near where he used to play ball. Some reminders of his past have changed. His future, friends think, is more assured.
“His story is going to live forever,” said Harried, and he motioned to Bogues, chatting up a group of friends. Some of them loomed over him. “I mean, look at him.”