[This Q & A appeared in Inside Sports on December 1987. The interviewer is the Baltimore-based sportswriter and editor Molly Dunham, who also provides the brief intro directly below.]
For most of his life—or, at least since he began playing basketball 15 years ago—Tyrone (Muggsy) Bogues has heard the jokes, the doubts, and the cynicism. They only serve to drive him harder.
The 12th player selected in last June’s National Basketball Association draft, the 5-feet-3 Bogues is the smallest player in the history of the league. But he is no Eddie Gaedel, the midget who played major league baseball in 1951 as part of a gimmick. Bogues, 22, is a human assist machine, a whirling magician who appears from out of nowhere to slap the ball away from towering opponents, push it upcourt, fake a drive to his left, and then flick a bounce pass to a teammate on the right for an easy layup.
“There was no better player to come out of the draft to run a basketball team,” said Washington Bullets head coach Kevin Loughery, in defense of making the much-maligned Bogues his team’s No. 1 selection. “He has tremendous leadership. He handles the ball as well as anybody. I’m not terribly concerned about his size. I don’t think the damages are going to be nearly what some people are talking about.”
The damage was virtually nonexistent in high school and college. For two years, Bogues—nicknamed Muggsy because he reminded his grade school teacher of the “Bowery Boys” character with that name—started at point guard for Dunbar High School in Baltimore, and during that period the team went 59-0. Reggie Williams, who went on to become a consensus All-American at Georgetown and the No. 3 pick of the Los Angeles Clippers in this year’s NBA draft, scored 23.3 points a game his senior year at Dunbar. But the team’s MVP was Bogues, who averaged eight points, eight steals, and eight assists a game.
“Tyrone kept everybody happy,” said Bob Wade, the former Dunbar coach, who is now head coach at the University of Maryland.
Four years later, Bogues finished his collegiate career at Wake Forest as the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time career leader in assists (781) and steals (275). He made the All-ACC team as a senior, averaging 14.8 points and 9.5 assists a game. He made the all-time crowd-pleasing team as well. The students at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, notorious for the way they get on opposing players, would chant, “Stand up, stand up,” and “Webster,” but, by the end of the game, they were always on their feet to salute Bogues with a standing ovation.
“In heart and desire, he’s not 5-feet-3, he’s seven-feet tall,” Wake Forest coach Bob Staak said. “He loves playing and will do anything he has to do to win.” And that includes proving the comics and doubters and cynics wrong, which is what Bogues aims to do one more time as he embarks on an NBA career.
Inside Sports (IS): Were you always smaller than the other guys in the neighborhood?
Tyrone Bogues: I was little when I was little, and I’m little to this day.
IS: In high school and college, you were always listed at 5-feet-3. But on draft day, the NBA listed you at 5-feet-4. Did you have a growth spurt, or was it a misprint?
Bogues: I think I did gain an inch. It may have been the shoes, maybe the insoles.
IS: Everyone is debating whether you’re going to make it in the pros. Did you think you had answered all the questions after three years as a starter in the ACC?
Bogues: I’m always prepared for the questions. You’re always going to have the criticism, the doubts about whether you are going to make it. They’re saying, ‘He’s 5-feet-3. He made it in high school, he made it in college, but he’s never going to make it in the pros.’ That type of debate you stay prepared for. That’s the opinion of people, and that’s what you’re always going to hear. So what can you do about it? Nothing. Just continue doing what you’re going to do and keep yourself happy doing the things you love.
IS: There are certainly disadvantages to playing basketball at your height. Do you have any advantages?
Bogues: More attention is brought upon me because I’m doing it at not a normal size. In other people’s eyes, it’s amazing. To me, I just happen to be 5-feet-3. My mom and dad created a 5-feet-3 basketball player. It’s nobody’s fault.
IS: How tall are your parents?
Bogues: My mom is 4-feet-11. My dad is 5-feet-5 or 5-feet-6.
IS: The one question that keeps coming up about your ability to play in the NBA is, ‘What’s he going to do when Magic [Johnson] posts him up?’ How do you respond?
Bogues: What do the rest of the guards do when Magic posts them up? Magic posts up everybody. But what’s Magic going to do when he has to come out front and play me? I see it all kinds of ways. Magic was the MVP of the league. I’m looking forward to playing against not just Magic Johnson, but all the guys in the NBA. I feel that I’ve overcome all the obstacles and now my dream is about to be fulfilled.
IS: How will you cope with the pressure of trying to prove yourself in the NBA?
Bogues: I’m just going to go out there and play and hope I can have a good rookie year and not put too much pressure on myself. I have high expectations, but I just want to go out there and contribute to the team as much as possible. Whatever needs to be done, that’s what I’m looking forward to doing. It’s just a matter of time. I never back down from a challenge.
IS: What do you consider the strongest points of your game?
Bogues: I love the open court. Once I’m in the open court, I feel I can do just about anything. I love the up-tempo game because it tends to make the game more exciting. It makes the game a lot faster, which I prefer, and I guess it brings out the best in my abilities. I get to show a lot of creativity. One of my strongest assets is delivering the ball, creating easy shots for my teammates, and also having the ability to score.
IS: Do you think you’ll have any trouble getting off your jump shot in the NBA?
Bogues: Of course, I don’t. Guys are the same size: they’re all 6-feet-5. It doesn’t make a big difference, five inches, three inches—what’s the difference, especially in the backcourt. You’re guarding a guy who’s used to doing the things that you’re used to defending against. You’re not playing ‘em closer to the basket, they’re not trying to muscle inside against you every time down the court.
IS: Other guards in the ACC, including Kenny Smith and Johnny Dawkins, said you were the opponent they dreaded the most. There were times when you’d slap away a steal and take off downcourt and it looked like you were dribbling the ball only about a foot and a half off the floor. Is it sometimes an advantage to be closer to the ground?
Bogues: When you’re my height, you have an awareness of where the ball is at all times. And I guess it is an advantage when guys have to try to come down to my level.
IS: Last year, the Bullets were a very deliberate team, working the ball inside to Moses Malone. Do you think your teammates will have the speed to keep up with you in an open-court style of play?
Bogues: In looking at their starters, they have some very talented players—Moses Malone, Jeff Malone, and I could go on. I’m just looking forward to playing with those guys.
IS: Yet they aren’t really a transition team.
Bogues: That’s true. I don’t really know what Kevin Loughery’s strategy will be this year, but I guess he knows what type of player I am. He knows I have that up-tempo game. But whatever they want, I’ll do it.
IS: Some critics say that in you and (7-feet-7 ) Manute Bol, the Bullets have created a freak show in having the shortest and tallest players in the history of the NBA. How do you respond to people who say that the Bullets drafted you mainly to sell tickets?
Bogues: In one aspect I think they did look at it from the aspect of selling tickets. I’d be crazy to say that they aren’t looking to sell tickets because of my size. But I’m quite sure that this isn’t what they used their first-round pick for. I’m quite sure they expect me to help win some games and sell some tickets. You draft because of ability, not because of size.
IS: Were you surprised that the Bullets drafted you?
Bogues: I was because they hadn’t really shown any interest in me before the draft. But I was real pleased because it’s right in my backyard. I never even thought about being able to play this close to home because everybody is usually getting shipped away. It couldn’t have worked out better.
IS: What do you think was the most important reason the Bullets drafted you in the first round?
Bogues: I went to the NBA camps in Portsmouth [Virg.] and Chicago in the spring and that made the difference. Those camps were like another season. You’ve been seen for years in college, and there you have three days at each camp to prove yourself and be as consistent as possible. I tried to be very consistent and I think it benefited me a lot. All the coaches and scouts saw me, then that was the last impression they had of me before the draft.
IS: Would you have been a first-round draft pick if you hadn’t gone to the camps?
Bogues: I don’t think so.
IS: Has the success of Spud Webb, at 5-feet-7, helped pave the way for you?
Bogues: There have been other short guys to make it in the NBA, like Charlie Criss and Monte Towe and Tiny Archibald. All those guys came before me. And the people who are playing now, Spud and Michael Adams, set a smoother path for me.
IS: Can you compare yourself to Spud?
Bogues: I don’t see many comparisons at all. I see myself as more of a point guard than Spud. He is very talented and he drives to the basket and dunks, but not taking anything away from him, I don’t think he creates a lot of openings for his teammates.
IS: Did you ever imagine that you’d be in this position? With the exception of David Robinson, you’re probably the most-publicized first-round draft pick this year.
Bogues: I had high expectations, I had dreams, and my dream was to make it in the NBA. That’s the dream of every kid who plays basketball. And I wasn’t going to give up on that dream. I always believed in myself and never doubted myself, so I went out and did what I needed to do to get into a situation like this. I went out and proved myself and played the game to the highest level I could possibly play. That’s what put me in the position I’m in now. And I’m looking forward to carrying it on to the NBA and taking it a step further.
IS: Did anyone besides you really think you could make it in the NBA?
Bogues: I had a lot of support, I had a lot of people believing in me. But the main concern was me believing in myself. That was the main focus. Once I believed it, then I knew matters would take care of themselves.
IS: Was there ever a time when you had doubts about your future as a basketball player?
Bogues: That’s kind of hard to say, because I never went through a rough period.
IS: How about when you were sitting on the bench as a freshman at Wake Forest?
Bogues: That was a time of frustration. That was worse than when we were losing, because I hate sitting. I love the game so much, and I’m quite sure everyone who plays the game feels the same way. You feel you can contribute in some way. And sitting on the bench is not one of the ways I can contribute, I don’t think. If that’s what I’m called upon to do, I have to bear with it. But if it’s something I can prevent, I definitely will prevent it, because I love playing and I think I can benefit a team by playing.
IS: Did you begin to wonder that first year if you were ever going to get a chance to prove that you could play in the ACC?
Bogues: At that point, I was ready to do all sorts of things. I was ready to leave school because it was tough. It was a real adjustment to make. But it gave me an opportunity to grow up, or to become more mature—put it that way. Just to see the other side of playing [sitting], because I’d grown up in a situation where I’d always been playing a lot. Then you go to college and all of a sudden you have to sit. That was a learning experience for me. It gave me an opportunity to think about a lot of things and how to become a better sport. I suffered, I paid my dues, and it was worthwhile.
IS: Was there any person you talked with to help you get through that period?
Bogues: A couple of the guys on the team, Kenny Green and Delaney Rudd. I kept in touch with Coach Wade a lot, and he told me to try and stick it out. He was very supportive. Truthfully speaking, I was ready to leave every day. I wanted to transfer every day, because I was sitting. Then I realized midway through the season that this guy who’s playing in front of me, Danny Young, is a good player. He’d been there longer than I had, he’d done the job well, so why change? The coaching staff was obligated to him. The guy would up in the NBA, so that shows you what type of player he was.
IS: Looking back on your years at Wake Forest, did you ever have any regrets about going there?
Bogues: When I first went to Wake, it was a tough adjustment, but it wasn’t as tough as I expected. It took some time, but when I saw myself as more mature than a lot of those students there, basically because I [had] experienced a lot more things in life. They [the other students] were more advanced than me academically because of their backgrounds, but by giving me the opportunity to get the help I needed and making the adjustment to become a better student, things started to change.
IS: Yet your background was totally different from the majority of students at Wake Forest, which is a small, mostly white, private school.
Bogues: Coming from an inner-city school like Dunbar and going to a private Baptist school, there’s no comparison. To be successful there you have to be a strong individual. You have to have that will power to block out all the negatives and concentrate on all the positives. And at the time, the positive was my basketball, and then that wasn’t going well. I was sitting. So, I had to find something else. I had to look forward to the next season and say, ‘Hey, Danny [Young] will be gone and I’ll have an opportunity to start.’ My first year, I did pretty good academically. I thought if basketball didn’t go well, I’d go off my rocker. But it didn’t happen. It went smoother than I expected.
IS: Then you got the chance to start, and coach Carl Tacy left. When Bob Staak took over as head coach, did you feel you had to prove yourself all over again?
Bogues: Not really because I figured I had established myself at that point. I was coming off a good sophomore year. Even though Coach Tacy left, it never came to a point where I was bad-mouthing Coach Tacy or thinking about transferring. He left, but I was going to stick it out. Then we got Coach Staak, who blended in really well. We became the best of friends.
IS: When Staak first came, did he try to change the style of the team? After a while, did he throw up his hands and say, ‘Forget it, Muggsy, you just do what you want to do?’
Bogues: No, that was his style all along—Muggsy, do what you want to do. And I loved it. I guess he realized the talent we had on the team. He knew our limitations, and he felt certain players needed some freedom, and that’s what he did. He gave me that freedom, which made the games more respectable.
IS: You played at Dunbar as a junior and senior and won every game you played, going 59-0. Then Wake Forest went to the finals of the NCAA Midwest Regional your freshman year. The next season you were a starter, but the team was losing. Wake was 37-50 in your last three years there. How hard was it to adjust to losing?
Bogues: Me and Reg (Reggie Williams) had a streak going. My first year at Wake, we were 10-0 before we lost to Georgia Tech, so I was 69-0. Then Reg went a little further than that. When we were growing up we never lost. I love winning, but there are times you have to come to grips and see what you’re operating with and what you’re going up against. At Wake, once we stepped on the court, I always believed we were going to win. No matter what it was, I was going to try to make that come true. Unfortunately, it didn’t come true very often.
IS: What is your family background?
Bogues: My mother raised us. I have two brothers and one sister. We lived in the Lafayette projects near Dunbar [in Baltimore].
IS: What things do you carry with you from the way you were raised?
Bogues: The will power, the competitiveness, the beliefs, the heart, the courage, the pride. It comes from where I came from. I had to be competitive to be one of the top players coming out of my age group. We always strive to be the best we could be, and you had to have heart to do that. You had to believe in yourself. You didn’t like losing, you didn’t like people stepping all over you, so you took pride in yourself and the confidence just came along with it.
IS: If you had grown up in the suburbs and were 5-feet-3, do you think you would have made it in basketball? Would you have persisted?
Bogues: I don’t think so. I think that by coming out of the Lafayette projects, coming up with the guys I came up with, that’s what made it click. That’s what made it all start, because we were such close friends and all of us were trying to be the best we could be. We were all overcoming something, and the funny thing is, we’ve all reached that point where we are the best we can be.
IS: How many classes do you have to take before you graduate, and why did you choose to major in communications?
Bogues: I have one semester left and hopefully I’ll finish next summer. The reason for majoring in communications goes a long way back. I wasn’t a shy kid, but I always was shy when it came to speaking in front of an audience. I wanted to grow out of that, so I took a couple of communications courses. It helped me speak a lot better. I used to mumble all my words because of my shyness. After that, I began to like the classes I was taking in college at Wake Forest.
IS: When basketball’s over what would you like to do?
Bogues: Maybe I can carry it a couple of steps further and go into broadcasting on TV or radio. Because I love sports so much, I’m quite sure it will relate to sports. Maybe coaching.
IS: Little kids really seem to hold you in high esteem. Do you feel an obligation to be a role model?
Bogues: I don’t feel obligated to be a role model, but I guess that’s the category people put you in. Just doing the things I love doing, I become a role model in the eyes of the public. Since you’re in that situation, why not make the best of it? There’s no reason to be faking. If you stay the same person you’ve always been, it goes a lot smoother. And it’s nice knowing you’re a role model for a kid and you’re doing positive things he can hopefully pick up and relate to, and you’re encouraging him to go on the right path and become a successful person.
IS: Do you think you’re an inspiration to people who watch you play?
Bogues: Other people probably think I’m an inspiration. Because, as I mentioned earlier, I’m doing something that’s in the eye of the public. The fans are a key part, because they’re the ones who are paying to come and they love to watch the game.
IS: From the time you played at Dunbar, you’ve always been a bit of a showman on the court. You have your blind passes, you’re behind-the-back and between-the-legs dribble, your spinning layups. Do you think of yourself as an entertainer as well as a player?
Bogues: I never really thought about it, but I guess you have to see yourself as an entertainer, because you’re entertaining the audience. They applaud the good things they see on the court, and you like to make it entertaining for them.
IS: You were always a crowd favorite in the ACC, even at opposing schools like Duke. That reaction carried over to the United States Basketball League, where you played for the Rhode Island Gulls. Do you think playing for the Gulls helped your position in the NBA draft?
Bogues: The USBL pretty much got me into the best shape I could possibly be in. And it could have given me some extra publicity. I kept playing with them for a month after the NBA draft.
IS: Does anybody treat you differently now that you’re a celebrity?
Bogues: I’ve been getting a lot of attention throughout my basketball career, so much hasn’t changed. I guess it’s picked up more nationally because a lot more people are involved in the NBA. That’s the top level, so that brings additional attention. But as far as the way people treat me, I’m still treated the same. I don’t want to be treated any different. I don’t see myself as a celebrity. I just see myself as a person who’s doing something he loves and something that a lot of people enjoy.
IS: You seem to take all of your success in stride. As you begin your first season in the NBA, do you ever pinch yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming?
Bogues: I always thought it was a possibility because I’ve always believed in myself. You want to go out and prove to people that a guy my size can play at this level. The first impression when people see a guy my size is, ‘How can you take him seriously?’ But things work in mysterious ways.