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Arts & Culture

Former Charlotte Hornets star Muggsy Bogues discusses his new book

Muggsy Bogues wedding
Muggsy Bogues with wife Kim at their first wedding.

Former NBA basketball star Muggsy Bogues is well-known for his prowess on the basketball court as a youth, in college and the NBA. At 5’3, he holds the record for being the shortest NBA player ever. But that didn’t keep Muggsy from outmaneuvering much taller players with his steals and quickness such as Patrick Ewing, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and even Michael Jordan.

Ewing: The thing that made Muggsy unique is he’s used to hearing how small he is and he used that to his advantage.

Jabbar: Muggsy is a great testimony to the fact that speed kills.

Jordan: Quickest guy I’ve ever seen, and he is what determination means, no matter how big you are you can still play with the big guys.

Muggsy Bogues spent most of his career with the Charlotte Hornets and has made Charlotte his home. He’s released a new autobiography, "Muggsy: My Life From A Kid in the Projects to the Godfather of Small Ball," that talks about his career and life growing up in the projects of Baltimore. Bogues joined "All Things Considered" host Gwendolyn Glenn to talk about his memoir and life in basketball.

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Bogues: Anybody who's seen "The Wire," you know, you've seen the dysfunctional households that's there, the dilapidated homes, houses being boarded up. And at the time, early '60s, and I was born '65, it was a lot of distress. It was a time where, you know, people were trying to make ends meet. And I was in a situation where I had both parents in the household at the time. But at the same time, my dad didn't have a high school education, but he had a job working out on the waterfront. My mom only had an 11th-grade education and they were taking care of four kids. Unfortunately for me, at the age of 12, my pops got put in prison. And as a kid, I mean, we didn't know any different because, you know, we felt like we had food on our table. We had clothes on our back. We still felt like, you know, we was well off. Talking to my parents, they wouldn't see that the same.

Glenn: Now, you also were shot when you were very young. Tell us about that.

Bogues: Well, at the age of five years old, my mom 'nem thought I was in the house, but I had snuck outside. And a fight had broken out. And then a young boy decided to go throw a rock in one of the owners who had a business there, a window. And old man Chester, just came running out of his store and went straight to his shed and grabbed a double-barrel shotgun and just started shooting throughout the neighborhood. Fortunately enough, the bullet missed my head, but unfortunately, the buckshots went through my body. But after that experience, that dramatic experience I went through, I think when I went back on the basketball court, those same words that the kids was hurling in my direction, it didn't have the same impact.

Glenn: And that was because of your height?

Bogues: Because of my height.

Glenn: And you said in your book that all of the low-income housing in Baltimore at the time had rec centers right next door. And I guess that made a major difference in your life.

Muggsy Bogues childhood
Bogues as a child.

Bogues: Oh, it was a safe haven place for us. Where a kid could go and escape. And basketball became that safe haven spot. And luckily I had a young man who took the liking of kids, who gave us vision, which we didn't think it exists, in terms of how to possibly visualize a way out of the inner city of Baltimore.

Glenn: And was that your coach, Howard?

Bogues: That was Mr. Leon Howard. That was our blessing. He taught us so much about having been a former point guard himself.

Glenn: And he went to Johnson C Smith, right?

Bogues: Yeah. Mr. Howard went to Johnson C Smith.

Glenn: And between him and... What else kept you on the straight and narrow?

Bogues: Well, I had a good friend by the name of Reggie Williams. And he and I became like Mutt and Jeff, as my mom would call us. We kept each other on a narrow path with one another. We was all focused on trying to pursue this game of basketball. And the game of basketball became such a very important, integral part of our life that where we had to understand the balance of academics and how to continue to play our craft. As Mr. Howard was explaining to us, we had to have grades in order to play sports.

Glenn: Now, your sister also was very good in basketball, and I love the story you tell about how you guys used milk cartons. Tell us about that.

Bogues: Yeah, because we couldn't play — they wouldn't choose us because we were small. And so I went and got two milk crates and cut the bottom of the milk crates and tied it on each end of the fence, to where we can have our own little basketball rims up there, so we can be able to play basketball. And we got really comfortable and really good out there, displaying our skill set. The kids started to see me play. And then all of a sudden, I got picked one day. And it all come from my sister, just watching her play with the boys and seeing her be aggressive and fearless. You know, it just made me want to take on that challenge as well. And I think that's where it all stems from.

Glenn: When did you kind of like develop that style as a playmaker, as a person who... you didn't have to do it all, but you were also making other players look better. When did you develop that?

Bogues: I started again with Mr. Howard. And him teaching me the understanding, the responsibility of a point guard. How to make guys around you better understand what their skill set is and putting them in a position where they can continue to be successful. And at the same time being able to have the opportunity to facilitate for yourself.

Glenn: And was Mr. Howard the one who trained you guys using bricks because you didn't have a lot of equipment, weights and things?

Bogues: That's Coach Wade, Coach Robert Wade. That's once we got the high school. I mean, he was a former NFL player. What he did was he wrapped the bricks up to where they had cushion on it. But if he found you taking a half a brick and everybody else had full bricks — and if we dropped the brick also — we got to start the practice over from the beginning.

Glenn: And you said he was with you in high school where you guys were known as the Dunbar Poets?

Bogues: Yes, we were the Dunbar Poets. My two years there, we went 59-0. We was the national — the number one team in the nation. We also was fortunate enough to make a documentary out of our story based on four of us making it to the NBA and three of us making history in 1987, going in the first round of the same draft.

In 1981 Dunbar high school in Baltimore, Maryland formed the greatest high school basketball of all time. We brought many of the players back together 35 years later for the making of an ESPN documentary Baltimore Boys. Hanging on the wall in the gym are several banners that are reminders of the team’s two undefeated seasons…
ESPN's 30 For 30's Baltimore Boys

Myself, Reggie Williams, who went to Georgetown, wound up playing in the NBA for 11 years. David Wingate, who also was on a high school team, wound up playing 15 years in that day. And then we had the late Reggie Lewis, who played for the Boston Celtics and became the first all-star among all of us. And that was so great, to experience that journey with those guys. Because, you know, again, it was the beginning when we was all dreaming and visualizing one day making it to the highest pinnacle, which was the NBA.

Glenn: And your mom was also in your corner always too, right?

Bogues: Mom was always in my corner. Not even knowing anything about the game of basketball. She just knew her little baby wasn't feeling right. And she was upset that people were saying things to him that could try to bring his confidence down. And she just let me know that people cannot be an expert on your life. They don't know your capability, know your potential. They sure can't measure your heart. So, you know, that allowed me to keep going back out them doors and keep facing those kids that was so cruel to me. But at the same time, you know, it made me stronger.

Part 2

Muggsy was a teenage father when he went to Wake Forest on a full athletic scholarship. He says his family helped with his daughter, making it possible for him to leave Baltimore. The 5’3 star was often teased about his height, which he ignored, but he says the difference between his home in the projects of Baltimore and the predominantly white campus of Wake Forest was initially more challenging.

Bogues: It was a culture shock when I first took my visit. But once I toured the university and I looked at all the pros and cons, I knew that this was a better place for me and this was a place that would help me mold myself into the individual I needed to be on and off the court. The situation just worked out perfect basketball-wise because my mom and my dad didn't have to travel. They could just turn on the television every Saturday and see their kid play. And academically, for me, I knew that it would be very beneficial for me to have something to fall back on. And then basketball just made sense because it was one of the toughest conferences. In my mindset, I always say, if I play against the best and I have success against the best, I must be included with the best.

Glenn: That's where you met Dell Curry, right?

Bogues: Yeah, I met Dell when I was a freshman, but he was at Virginia Tech. And we so happened to play one another at a holiday tournament. And he was a sophomore. And for some odd reason, after we played one another, and we exchanged numbers. And he was on the opposite team. And of course, God has a way of putting two guys together and, I mean, and from that moment on — I mean Dell and I wound up playing 11 years out of my 14 years of NBA. And it's been a blessed relationship.

Glenn: Your children and his children are really good friends. And in reading your book — you also helped to develop the Steph Curry.

Bogues: Yeah, he's considered the greatest shooter that's ever played in the NBA. That's amazing. I mean, he is — not only just Steph, but Seth, Sydel. His kids are amazing in my mind. So seeing them now come full circle, having their own family and doing it the way it's supposed to be done — I'm so proud.

Glenn: And a meeting getting back to when you met Dell Curry, I also read in your book where you talked about how cheating was brought up regarding you — and Dell was there to help you through it.

Bogues: Oh, yeah, Dell always been there for me. I was a freshman. We just lost a game to the Phi Slama Jama — which at the time had Hakeem Olajuwon on that team. We'd just come back from that experience of losing and we had an exam. And I reached out to my professor and let him know that I wasn't prepared. So he just told me to come in and sit, "write your name on the test and I'll give you a make-up test." And that's exactly what I did. The day after, I got called back and they said, I'd been accused of cheating on an exam. And then when they was telling the class that it was, and I said, "Well, I don't even take the test." So long story short, after going through a trial what they call an honor counsel or honor court trial, and the professor testified on my behalf. They had no evidence. They still found me guilty. And they wanted to kick me out of the university of Wake Forest. But fortunately for me, one of our walk-on teammates overheard one of the gentlemen on the honor counsel saying that, "we finally got one of these N-words out of here. You know, he shouldn't be here in the first place." And of course, we took that back to the president and they reversed the decision. You know, I learned from it, I grew from it. And that's part of life that I had to experience.

Glenn: And you also still hold the assist and stills record at Wake Forest?

Bogues: I do, I'm still the all-time leading steals and assist record. Chris Paul — he wasn't able to stay there long enough to break that record.

Glenn: And from what I had, it was 275 steals, 781 assists?

Bogues: Yes, ma'am.

Glenn: Alright, sounds great. Well, moving on from there, you were drafted by the — at the time they were the Washington Bullets — in the first round. But that didn't turn out to be such a good experience for you. Why was that?

Bogues: Well, I'll say it was a great experience, but then it turned out to be an opportunity that I needed to understand what the NBA was all about. Having an opportunity to play with the late Moses Malone, the late Manute Bol, Darrel Walker and Benard King and all those guys — it was an experience that I needed.

Glenn: And still, seeing you and the heights of you against all of the others — that followed you into the NBA as well.

Bogues: My time at Washington, you know, because of the dynamics of myself and then Manute, I guess at some point during the season, they called it a sideshow. To where, you know, it was a novelty act, where they wanted to utilize and play off of our height to try to bring joy and bring fans in. And, you know, Manute and I was — we were secure in who we were. We understood our skill set. But for some reason, the organization wanted to try to use us as that type of novelty act to sell — to sell a show.

Glenn: And then after that, you went to Charlotte — the Charlotte Hornets, where you played nine years. Tell us about that first game because I was like, wow, people really went all out in a whole different style of dress.

Bogues: That very first game we played the Cleveland Cavaliers, we had 24,000 in attendance. The ladies had their gowns. We had the men in tuxedos. We really didn't realize what we had until we actually — till the game was over. We lost by 40 points and the entire building stood up and gave us a standing ovation. And from that moment on, we knew it was a special place. We were fortunate enough to win 20 games that year. And that was the beginning of something special that they was able to create down here in Charlotte.

Glenn: Now, you write that you had hoped you would end your career with Charlotte. How did you feel when you were traded?

Bogues: Very disappointed, because that's what I was told. Dell Curry and myself was told that we will end our career as a Hornet. And when we got traded, we looked at it as, okay, it's part of the business. You got to move on from it.

Glenn: Are you still the ambassador for the team?

Bogues: We both are still the ambassadors for the team.

Glenn: Okay. Well, what do you think about the Hornets today? Lamelo Ball and company — and think about the game of basketball today, which is a lot different from when you played.

Bogues: It is totally different from when I played, but to answer the first question, I definitely love Lamelo Ball — on and off the court, his personality, his demeanor. He's a winner as well. He's young, still has a lot of room to grow. He just electrified the crowd. He doesn't mind sharing. And when you got a player like that, who understands that, who loves elevating others, I mean — it's a blessing to be around. And the way the game is played today -- players are different, skillsets are totally different. I mean, when we played we had 7-footers, they played with their back towards the basket. The 7-footers today, they bringing the basketball up the court.

Glenn: I didn't ask you what you'd like to add?

Muggsy Bogues with wife Kim
Provided
Muggsy Bogues with wife Kim.

Bogues: The section where me and my wife —how me and my wife rekindled. It's an unusual story in terms of, you know, people divorce in ten years and then finding themselves back with one another. Especially in the sports arena. That has been, you know, one part of my life that I thought that I failed. Because I was a boy when I first got married — 23, 24. And I was able to, you know, grow into a man and understand the responsibilities that comes with that, the partnership and so forth.

Glenn: And I guess another personal story, you quit the game after the passing of your mom.

Bogues: Yeah, I stopped. I had three years left on my contract. And mom was going through her challenges with lung cancer. And once I felt that she wasn't going to make it, it was no need. I felt I got to fulfill my dreams. She saved everything. And I just don't want to go it alone.

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