Jhe NBA season only ended last week, but teams are already looking to the future. On Thursday night, college stars like Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr and international prospects like French phenom Ousmane Dieng will be eagerly waiting for NBA commissioner Adam Silver to call their names and, in the process, change their lives forever. . It’s a ritual almost as old as the NBA itself – the first draft took place 75 years ago, before the NBA’s second season.
And this year marks the 35th anniversary of one of the most defining picks in the NBA’s long draft history. In 1987, the Washington Bullets picked Muggsy Bogues — all 5-foot-3 away from him — with the 12th pick overall.
Bullets fans had reason to doubt their team choice. Bogues is still the shortest player in the NBA, a fact that has many scouts doubting Bogues’ ability to survive, let alone thrive, in the league. For context, the average height of an NBA player when Bogues was drafted was 6-foot-7. At 5-foot-9, Isaiah Thomas, the shortest player in the NBA last season, towers over Bogues by six inches.
All fears about Bugs were quickly dispelled. He continued to play in the league for 14 years, including 10 seasons with the Charlotte Hornets. And the draft never fails to bring back memories of when his name was called.
“Every year brings those feelings back again,” Bogues told the Guardian. “Draft night was a very special time for me, for my family, for Baltimore. [Bogues’ hometown] …Everything went numb when I heard my name…the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders.
Due to his unlikely run in the league, Bogues has always been a fan favorite. He was a regular starter during his career, but was never named an All-Star. However, his charisma – and success against all odds – helped him become one of the most marketable faces in the NBA in the 1990s.
“People 30 [years of age] and more, they may have seen my basketball,” Bogues says, “but kids 30 and up… it’s Space Jam. He’s also appeared on TV shows like Saturday Night Live and Curb Your Enthusiasm, was referenced in a song on A Tribe Called Quest’s influential Midnight Marauders album, and starred in a memorable Sprite commercial.
“You can’t tell the story of basketball without talking about Muggsy Bogues,” says Jacob Uitti, who co-wrote Bogues’ recent memoir, Muggsy: My Life as a Kid in the Projects at The Godfather of Small. Ball. “He’s one of the ones.”
Bogues’ triumphant history, however, can sometimes overshadow his extraordinary ability on the pitch. It’s a shame, because some aspects of the game of Bugs are unique. To put it bluntly, Bogues has the safest hands to control an NBA basketball.
That’s a big claim, but the evidence backs it up. A statistic called the Assist/Turnover (Ast/T) ratio puts a player’s passing ability in the context of their tendency to commit turnovers. It’s an imperfect stat, but it gives an idea of a player’s ability to direct the ball. An Ast/T ratio of 2.5, for example, describes a player who averages two and a half assists for every rotation he commits.
Bogues’ career Ast/T ratio is 4.69, which is by far the highest among the NBA’s top 100 leaders in career assists. The only other player in the top 100 with an Ast/T above 4.0 is Point God Chris Paul. In fact, Bogues still tops the Ast/T charts even though the list is expanded to include the top 200 career assist players. Or the top 300. Or 400. Bogues is proud of its track record. “I’m proud to take care of basketball, to make sure we have more chances to score,” he said. “As a point guard, it’s your responsibility to take care of the basketball.”
Until last season, Bogues also held the NBA record for most games with at least 10 assists and zero turnovers. This stat doesn’t have a nickname like “triple-double” or “maddux”. Perhaps, given Bogues’ decades-long dominance of the category, a 10-assist, no-rotation performance should be called “muggsy.”.
The stats never tell the whole story, of course — Michael Jordan’s titles don’t themselves convey the aesthetic excellence of “The Shot.” Thankfully, Bogues’ career is filled with moments that testify to his ability. Speaking of Jordan, one of Bogues’ signature plays was a defensive stance against His Airness himself in the 1995 playoffs. Bogues stole the ball from Jordan just before the whistle. The sequence of events and the “cleanliness” of Bogues’ tape became a frequent topic of debate among NBA fans. For Bugs, there is no argument. “It was absolutely a clean band,” he says. “[Jordan] was talking a bit of trash, saying he was going to back me off, so I told him to bring it.
Bogues’ favorite aspect of his own career, however, seems to be neither his statistical excellence nor his highlight-worthy defense against Dream Team alumni. On the contrary, he particularly likes the influence he has had on the younger generations. “It’s the coolest thing,” he says, “to change kids’ perspectives.”
Among those kids was reigning NBA Finals MVP Stephen Curry. “When you’re a kid, you’re like, ‘Okay, 5-foot-3.’ How long until I’m 5-foot-3 and maybe I can play in the NBA? “, writes Curry in the introduction to Bogues’ memoir. Such is the lingering effect of Bogues’ career on small players – it provided them not just a role model, but a chance to dream.
Discussing this year’s draft, Bogues is surprised to learn that University of Tennessee player Kennedy Chandler is the shortest player expected to be selected in the first round. Chandler is just under 6 feet tall.
“My God, we have to change that,” Bogues says. “We gotta get that 5ft 2in [player] to accompany.”
Bogues isn’t shy about giving up his record as the shortest player in NBA history.
“That’s what records are made for… I can’t wait, I’ll be jubilant when it happens,” he laughs. “I hope it’s in my lifetime.”
When the time comes, this player will have giant shoes to fill.