THE moment he stepped onto a basketball court in the pros, Tyrone (Muggsy) Bogues stepped into the record books. But for him, being the shortest player in the history of the National Basketball Association is no big deal.
``It just happened that I am 5 ft., 3 in. and some other guy is 6 ft., 2 in.,'' says the Charlotte (N.C.) Hornets point guard as he stretches out in the locker room before a recent game against the Boston Celtics. ``I believe in myself and in my ability,'' he says. ``I have heart and determination.''
And speed, say the much taller players who guard him.
``Not only can he run by you leading the break,'' says Kevin Johnson, the 6 ft., 1 in. point guard for the Phoenix Suns, ``but he zips by you or steals the ball from you in the blink of an eye.''
Scouts from the Philadelphia 76ers and the New York Knicks at the Boston game just shook their heads as they tried to re-create his playing patterns on paper for their teams to study. ``He causes so many problems,'' one scout said. ``It's so hard to see him....''
Despite his stature, Bogues has reached many heights in the game. In 1983 he was the Most Valuable Player (MVP) for Baltimore's top-rated Dunbar High School team. At Wake Forest College in North Carolina, he led his team in scoring his senior year. He graduated with a degree in communications and as the Atlantic Coast Conference's all-time leader in assists and steals.
Bob Staak, who coached Bogues at Wake Forest, is now assistant general manager for the Washington Bullets.
Isn't a short person like Bogues easy for tall players to block out? ``Everybody at every level has tried to do that,'' Staak says. ``But he's so quick, he gets around you.... Bigger guys are constantly looking down trying to find him and don't concentrate like they would with somebody their own size.''
His junior year, Bogues was assigned to defend Len Bias, then a 6 ft., 8 in. senior at the University of Maryland. ``Any time that Bias caught the ball on the perimeter,'' Staak says, ``he couldn't go anywhere because he couldn't go anywhere. He couldn't put the ball down because Muggsy could steal it.'' Bias, who was averaging about 26 points per game, was held to 14.
Bogues joined the NBA in 1988, and the Hornets in `89. He finished last season as the team's MVP, leading them in assists and steals and finishing second in the league in assists (10.1 per game).
As a child growing up in the projects in Baltimore, Bogues played basketball incessantly, he says. ``I always played the way I do now - heavy on defense,'' he says, ``stealing the ball all the time.'' That's how he was tagged with ``Muggsy.'' A friend was watching him one day and said, ``Look at Ty out there muggin' everybody!'' He's been Muggsy ever since. Only his mom calls him Ty.
Playing against the Celtics, Bogues is a streak on the floor, running constantly from one end to the other. He leads his team, stealing the ball and creating fast breaks that yield baskets before the Celtics can recover
Bogues, nearly a foot and a half shorter than the average NBA player (6 ft., 7 in. last season), darts in and out, pushing the ball down the floor. He dribbles with his right hand and directs teammates with flicks of his left, his eyes darting all around the court.
`WHEN you don't want to run, he makes you run,'' says 7 ft., 1 in. Robert Parish, the Celtics former championship center who joined the Hornets this season. Bogues sets up Parish with a lot of ``easy shots,'' the veteran pivot man says, but ``I've had to adjust my game a little. It took me a while to get my outlet passes to him - I kept overthrowing him!''
In Boston Nov. 23, Bogues played 44 of 48 minutes - none of it standing still, it seems. ``I'm an intense player, and I love challenges,'' he says. ``I play the game as I think it should be played. I try to wear my opponent down - constantly running, playing pressure defense.'' In the end, the Celtics prevailed, 98-91.
Longtime Boston sportscaster Willie Maye says, ``When Muggsy first came in the league, people thought the Bullets dropped him in as a little trophy piece.'' But Bogues worked hard on his shooting, to the point that, despite his small size, other players don't dare leave him open to take shots. And on defense, Bogues is ``the fastest in the league, without a doubt.''
Bogues has more heights he wants to hit: A Hornets' NBA championship, for one. He also aims to maintain his stature as someone that children look up to.
``Kids see a guy my size, doing the things I do successfully,'' Bogues says. He shows them that ``I can do these things in spite of my size.'' He still signs autographs before and after his warm-up and after the game as well. ``It gives them hope that they can do things too - not just in basketball - it could be in their families, in school, on the playgrounds.''
``I love to see kids try to reach their goals and their dreams. We're all born with something we don't like about ourselves: You're fat; you're short; you're too tall. But you should always believe that you can overcome any of that. I try to give kids hope. I try to lead by example and hopefully they pick that up.''