Making Believers Is What Tyrone Bogues Does Best
The world has a hangup, the way Tyrone Bogues sees it, and the hangup is that he stands only 5 feet 3. But that is the world’s problem, Bogues figures, and not his.
“Everything people say, it all goes in one ear,” Bogues says, “and out of the other.” So what if Bogues becomes perhaps the only player in the National Basketball Assn. who can’t slam-dunk? “I don’t even try to slam. Two is two for me,” he says.
Naturally, this is vintage Bowery Boys bravado tinged with impeccable logic. But what would you expect from someone who is known affectionately to his mother as “Mugs”?
And so this short story continues: Approximately 15 years after Tyrone Bogues first knotted together two socks and bent a wire coat-hanger into a loop to use as a basket in the upstairs hallway of his family’s Baltimore home, he was chosen by the Washington Bullets in the first round of the NBA draft (12th pick overall).
Ever since Bogues’ selection, the world has sprouted Johnny Carsons. Bogues is the all-Nerf team guard from Lilliputian State, who is 1 inch shorter than that tower of power, Michael J. Fox. And these are the new Bullets--Manute and minute--a duet at 7-6 and 5-3.
Even Georgetown Coach John Thompson focuses on the size issue--it’s difficult not to. Thompson is the 6-foot-10 former Boston Celtics center who now refers to Bogues as “My Mistake.”
That’s because more than four years ago Thompson opted not to recruit Baltimore Dunbar’s play-maker guard--just his teammate, forward Reggie Williams.
“Tyrone Bogues has just assured himself a spot in the hall of fame,” Thompson reasoned. “Being 5 feet 3 and being considered talented enough to be drafted in the first round, that’s just phenomenal.”
NBA records indicate that Atlanta’s Spud Webb, at 5-7, is the shortest player in league history. But a 5-3, 140-pound whippersnapper in the NBA during an era of 6-9 guards? Hogwash, you say? Maybe not.
Here, Thompson smiled. “This is a big man’s game and we all have physical limitations. It’s like I can’t ride Northern Dancer,” he said. He added, “But Tyrone reminds me of Adrian Dantley in that people used to say that when Adrian moved up to the next level, he wouldn’t be able to score from inside. But he kept doing it. In his own way, Tyrone’s been the same way.”
Of course, none of this worries Tyrone Bogues, 22. He’s heard it all before and most of it more than twice. Another day, another obstacle. Yeah, sure, just like they said he couldn’t do it at Dunbar, and just like they said he couldn’t do it at Wake Forest. and just like he couldn’t do it at the world championships last summer in Spain, when he kept picking clean the great Yugoslavian guard Drazen Petrovic.
They don’t call him Muggsy for nothing.
People close to Bogues say he has a heart the size of a blimp, determination the size of infinity. In the NBA, they call these intangibles.
“He’s just a free-flowing guy,” said former Duke guard Tommy Amaker, who roomed with Bogues during the world championships.
Bogues believes in himself. Outwardly, he oozes confidence. If he possesses a Napoleonic complex, it comes not in the form of insecurity about his stature, but in the secure knowledge that with just the right chip-on-the-shoulder approach, any pocket-sized man can dominate the Western world. Or at least the NBA’s full-court press.
“I’ve been hearing all of this since basically when I first started playing, when I was 8 or 9 years old,” Bogues said. “A lot of people say, ‘He’s too short. He’s too small.’ It all makes me a little more hungry. Ability allows you to play, not size.
“The fact is, I’m gonna remain 5 feet 3, and the question will keep coming up of how or why am I competing with the taller guys. I guess I’ll just have to accept that and move on. I guess it’s more interesting to the fans and to the media. I guess they are not used to it. The players will adjust faster than the fans, because they recognize talent. Competing is what it’s all about.”
Bullets General Manager Bob Ferry has made it clear he is not finished tinkering with the Bullets’ roster. Trades are possible. Bogues said the Bullets have told him he won’t be traded before the season.
Ferry said a trade of Bogues is “not beyond the realm of possibility, but it isn’t like we are trying to move him.”
Ferry noted that “two or three teams” contacted the Bullets soon after they selected Bogues, expressing interest in the guard, and another team had expressed interest in Bogues for some time before the draft (presumably Denver, with whom a potential trade for guard Fat Lever has yet to materialize).
"(Bogues) is interesting to a lot of people. Whenever you have a player of value, it’s that way,” Ferry said. Yet Ferry talks as though Bogues is staying in Washington. “We expect him to create offense for us by penetration with the basketball. We’ve been near the bottom of the league in assists, and we need help there.”
For Bogues, who is averaging about 20 points per game for the Rhode Island Gulls of the U.S. Basketball League, “accepting criticism has been my biggest challenge. Everything else has been--well, not a piece of cake, but an easy task for me. It’s just going out and playing basketball. I’ve always felt comfortable with myself. It’s never been like I’ve questioned whether I was capable of playing on any level.
“The only one who can stop me is me--if I don’t do the job and the pressure is getting to me and I do something stupid, as far as drugs or anything else that brings me down. Those are the things I avoid.
“Wait and see, that’s what I say to people,” Bogues said, tugging on a gold necklace reading “Muggsy.” “Just wait and see, and judge me at the end of the season.”
So many questions about Bogues pound the senses. But a couple stand out:
--In this era of isolation plays in the NBA, whereby offenses attempt to exploit mismatches in coverage, how will Bogues survive? For instance, what happens when guards a foot taller than Bogues take him to the low post?
Ferry said he isn’t worried about such scenarios because “most isolations force (defensive) help, anyway.” Bogues responded to a hypothetical question of matching up with Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ 6-9 guard, in man-to-man coverage by saying: “You could say it the other way-how is it going to work for Magic, guarding me?”
--What players do the Bullets have on their roster who are capable of running the floor with Bogues? Obviously, Bogues can’t run alone and hope for any consistent success. Many Bullets observers believe that, in order for Bogues to be a speed-burning success in running the fast break, he needs players on the wing to fill the lanes and that the Bullets currently don’t possess players with that ability. Ferry disagrees, saying guard Jeff Malone and forward Terry Catledge run the floor well.
Calvin Murphy is considered the progenitor of the modern-day NBA little man. The fact that Murphy is 5-9 didn’t keep him from producing a long all-star career with Houston.
Now director of student affairs at Hargest Vocational and Technical College in Houston, Murphy bristles at the “little-man” talk, and he is quick to lash out.
“I’m going to say this, and I’m going to say this once,” Murphy said. “I don’t mean to be abrupt, but a basketball player is a basketball player. I don’t talk small. The guy (Bogues) is talented, or he wouldn’t have been drafted in the first round, right?
“That ‘small’ talk is a waste of time, and the media should stop talking about it now. I’ve seen (Bogues) play, and I think the Bullets have made a wise choice.”
Pete Newell has been involved with basketball for more than half a century. Now a West Coast scout for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Newell, 71, said, “I guarantee Bogues will bring in more fans and create more interest, and I don’t mean a freakish interest, but a real one. He’s a real basketball player who happens to be small.
"(But) with the no-zone (defenses allowed) rule and the rules that disallow giving a player help down in the low post, which is where they will take Bogues in crunch time, that will mean that you probably can’t play Tyrone in the last 2 minutes of an even game.
“I think he will be a role player. If (the NBA) allows the zone, he’ll become more than that. The (disallowing of the) zone has almost prohibited this type of player from coming into the league.
“I hope we change the rules and allow the zone defense, so we can get more players like this. . . . He’ll be tough on any guard trying to bring the ball up court. It’s also important, I think, to complement him with players who can run. It’s no good to pound him down the court and play a half-court game.”
Then again, Bogues has been double-covered by doubt since long before he played the role of Napoleon on Dunbar’s 31-0, thrill-a-second team in 1983. Don’t forget, too, that he was the guy voted the MVP of that team, which included two other first-round NBA picks: the dynamic Reggies--Williams (bound for the Clippers) and Lewis (bound for the Celtics).
"(Bogues) wasn’t a very good shooter back in high school. They all knew he would pass, but they still couldn’t stop him, because he’s such an excellent passer,” Lewis said. “Everybody loves him because he is so short and exciting. He’s real quick. There isn’t anybody who can take the ball away from him.”
Neither should you forget that Bogues, while at Wake Forest, led the Atlantic Coast Conference in assists and steals each of the past three years. He finished as the ACC’s career leader in assists (781) and steals (275). He averaged nearly 15 points and 10 assists last season. Wake Forest even retired jersey No. 14 in his honor.
The fact is, his hands are so ball-swiping quick, that when you ask Amaker, who was drafted in the third round by Seattle, if he ever had the ball stolen from him by Bogues, he says quite frankly, “If you ask anybody who has ever played against Muggsy, the answer to that is, ‘Yes.’ ”
Williams likes to say that the two most talented players he’s ever had as teammates are Patrick Ewing and Bogues. He knows Bogues as well as anyone.
Once upon a time they were 9-year-old wrestlers playing Hulk Hogans in the Baltimore rec leagues--Williams a 69-pounder and Bogues a 59-pounder.
“The good ol’ days,” Bogues calls them.
Williams responds rhetorically to questions about Bogues’ NBA prospects: “How long has he been proving to people that he’s not too short to play?” The answer is self-explanatory.
University of Maryland Coach Bob Wade, the former Dunbar coach, recalled how his team ventured to Camden, N.J., during Bogues’ junior year to play the feared national-power Camden High team, which included star forward Billy Thompson.
Wade remembered how Bogues drove Camden and its sellout crowd absolutely crazy. “Tyrone just ignited the place,” Wade said. “Camden was famous for their full-court pressure, but they couldn’t pressure him. Tyrone finished with about 14 points and 16 assists. I think he had about eight steals, too. We won by 29, and we were up by 30 at the half.”
Or how about the time Wake Forest Coach Bob Staak used a 1-3-with-a-chaser defense against Maryland, assigning Bogues, then a junior, to chase the Terrapins’ star, Len Bias?
Bogues said, “I remember it was a frustrating game for Lenny. He couldn’t do the things he liked. I was either deflecting it or causing some problems for him when he shot it. He was averaging like 26, but he only scored 16 that game.”
Georgetown’s Thompson, who will coach the U.S. Olympic basketball team in Seoul, noted how Bogues electrified the crowds in Spain when he played for the United States team in the world championships last summer. “That’s why I was disappointed when he was drafted by the NBA,” Thompson said. “I wanted him for the Olympics.”
Thompson knows U.S. teams often aren’t popular on foreign soil, just as he knows that gaining an appreciation of Bogues’ uphill battles on the court doesn’t require an understanding of the English language.
Some still question Bogues’ shooting ability. Time will tell on that. Others are so bold as to question his choice of sport. In truth, the choice was obvious.
“Me and Reggie (Williams), we both love the indoors,” Bogues said. “It’s too cold to go outside and play football, and it’s too hot to go outside to play baseball. We wanted to be cool, and we found that the sport that was best for that was basketball. It’s more exciting, and it’s more creative, where you get to be an individual.”
Elaine Bogues remembers the time when the youngest of her four children told her he wanted to grow up to become a basketball star. “He always told me that someday he would be pro. I didn’t pay any attention to Mugs at the time, because he was so small,” she said.
“But I told him, ‘That’s nice,’ anyway.”
With Bogues’ remarkable history understood and with punchlines flying past him as he heads into the Land of the Giants, Wade zeroed in on the heart of the matter by saying, “The NBA will be just another hurdle in his life for Muggsy to overcome.”
And that’s the long and the short of it.