Muggsy Bogues on reaching the heights of his sport

The 5-foot-3 Wake Forest product overcame a tough Baltimore upbringing

Muggsy Bogues, who played collegiately at Wake Forest, spent 14 seasons in the NBA, including a decade with the Charlotte Hornets. (Jim Bounds / AP Photo)

Muggsy Bogues believes he beat the odds, and it had nothing to do with being a 5-foot-3 basketball player.

“I was one of the lucky ones,” he said. “I mean, I got shot at the age of 5, but I was one of the lucky ones that made it through.”

Bogues grew up in Lafayette Court, a housing project in inner-city Baltimore that was one of the most dangerous places in the city to live.

He was caught by stray buckshot from a shotgun blast that hit him in the back and arm, sending him to the hospital.

That was far from the only adversity he faced in his youth. Bogues’ father was sent to prison for armed robbery and a brother battled drug addiction. Bogues also saw people killed in his neighborhood.

It’s a cliché, but for Bogues, basketball was his way out. It took him to Wake Forest for college and an NBA career that included a long stop in Charlotte. Bogues was rewarded for his impact on basketball in the state with a selection to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in this year’s class.

“First when I was told, I thought it was the big one,” Bogues joked, referring to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. “I’m so grateful. How humbling and grateful I am just to get the call. I know my mom’s up there smiling ear to ear — her, my sister and my dad are up there elated I got this call. It just brought back so many memories.”

One of his first North Carolina basketball memories was the moment he arrived at Winston-Salem, when basketball helped lead him out of the housing project.

“It was a culture shock, for one,” he said. “Coming from the inner city of Baltimore and going to Winston-Salem. It was such a growth experience for me as well, being able to meet different people who didn’t look like you and seeing how they interact and how they kind of went through life. I found some that were more in your corner, some that weren’t in your corner. It was a learning experience for me.”

Bogues credits his inner drive for helping him to succeed at the sport’s highest level.

“Coming from the inner city, for me it all starts with confidence,” he said. “You’ve got to have confidence within yourself. I always go back to what my mom said: No one can be an expert on your life. No one knows your potential and your capabilities. You are in control of your destiny. … I had a strong belief in me, where I came from, what I wanted — my vision, my dream. I wasn’t going to let anything deter me from that.

“I went down there with that perspective and the right frame of mind. This is a place I want to excel. I know there are going to be challenges. Nothing much in success doesn’t come without adversity. I had to make sure I was grounded enough within myself in order to move forward.”

Bogues played for former Maryland coach Bob Wade at Dunbar High School. His teams also included Reggie Williams, Reggie Lewis and David Wingate, all of whom also made it to the NBA.

The talented team helped keep Bogues from flying under the radar of college scouts who might have dismissed him for his size.

“I was fortunate early on to be able to get national attention,” he said. “We were the No. 1 high school team for two years. Having the type of player we had on our team, with four players making the pros, we had to check our egos at the door. Coach did an amazing job of constructing that and managing those egos. He preached being student-athletes early on. Back in those days, the term floating around was ‘dumb jocks.’ He made sure that wasn’t going to be his kids. He instilled in us values and the importance of education. That’s one reason why a lot of us were able to make it out of the area we came from, move on and become successful.”

Not everyone did.

“The best basketball players (from Baltimore), we ain’t talking about,” he said. “They weren’t able to make it out of certain situations because of their environments. A lot of kids out there didn’t get that opportunity.”

Bogues took advantage and found that his path out to better things ran through Tobacco Road.

He doesn’t mention his height often, but it did add a bit of sweetness to be inducted into North Carolina’s Hall of Fame.

“I think of all the naysayers who thought a kid my size couldn’t play this game,” he said. “I don’t want to say I put it back in their face, but I let them know that the game is meant for the tall, the small. The game is meant for us all.”