Muggsy Bogues ‘leaned toward strengths’ in unlikely basketball career

The former Wake Forest and Charlotte Hornets point guard was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame last week

Muggsy Bogues speaks during the induction ceremony for the 2022 class of the North Carlina Sports Hall of Fame. (Brett Friedlander / North State Journal)

RALEIGH — Muggsy Bogues couldn’t help but chuckle when he heard fellow inductee Sam Mills described as a “diminutive 5-foot-9 linebacker” during a ceremony introducing the newest members of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame on Friday.

“If he’s diminutive, what does that make me?” the former Wake Forest and Charlotte Hornets point guard said jokingly of the late Carolina Panthers star.

At just 5-foot-3, Bogues is the shortest man ever to play in the NBA. His height, though noteworthy, was anything but a handicap.

After a standout career at Wake Forest where he led the ACC in assists and steals twice while setting school records in both categories, he enjoyed a 14-year professional career that saw him become one of the most popular players of the original Charlotte Hornets.

Bogues and Mills, who coined the Panthers’ motto of “Keep Pounding” during his courageous battle with cancer, are part of an 11-member class of honorees that entered the hall of fame in a ceremony at the Raleigh Convention Center.

The others are Baseball Hall of Famer Luke Appling, women’s basketball pioneer Missouri Arledge, athletic trainer Ronnie Barnes, college and pro basketball star Henry Bibby, golf coach Dan Brooks, football standouts Torry Holt and Timmy Newsome, college basketball coach Dave Robbins and television personality Tom Suiter.

Mills, Appling and Arledge were inducted posthumously.

Although Bogues was born in Maryland, where he helped Baltimore’s Dunbar High School to a 60-0 record and a No. 1 national ranking during his final two seasons, he became synonymous with North Carolina because of his association with the Deacons and Hornets.

After one season with the Washington Bullets, he was taken by Charlotte in the 1988 expansion draft. He went on to play 10 seasons with the team, setting franchise records with 5,557 assists and 1,067 steals.

Bogues continues to live in Charlotte, where he serves as the Hornets’ Community Ambassador and works with his own charitable foundation. He said being inducted into the hall of fame of his adopted home state makes the honor all the more special.

“It feels great that another state was able to welcome me with open arms,” he said. “To have your career put in a historic place is amazing. It’s something you never dreamt about as a kid. I am humbly honored.”

Bogues, whose given name is Tyrone, was originally part of the state hall of fame’s 2021 class. Because he was unable to attend last year’s ceremony due to a scheduling conflict, he delayed his induction until Friday.

“It makes more sense to be here in person,” he said. “It’s good to be amongst your peers and the other folks that are being inducted.”

That includes Mills, whom Bogues befriended and considers something of a role model because of the way he handled the adversity of his terminal illness.

“I miss him dearly,” Bogues said. “He’s meant so much to the Panthers and the state of North Carolina and continues to be an inspiration. He’s a guy who had a big heart and stood for nothing less than excellence.”

While Bogues, like Mills, overcame obstacles on his way to athletic success because of his size — or lack of it — he never considered his stature to be a handicap.

“I think folks felt like the game was supposed to be meant just for taller or bigger players, and I had a different opinion about that,” he said. “I felt like the game was meant for anybody who has the ability to play it. Being able to have that mindset allowed me to go as far as I did.

“Whatever your makeup is, you’ve got to understand your strengths and weaknesses and lean toward your strengths. I knew my strengths and capabilities.”

Those talents proved to be the perfect fit for the teams on which he played. Not only did he help Wake Forest advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, but he was also a key member of the Hornets during their rise from expansion team to perennial playoff participant during the mid-to-late 1990s.

“We won a lot of games with big people,” said fellow hall of fame inductee Robbins, a Gastonia native who won 713 games and three Division II national championships at Virginia Union, who tried unsuccessfully to recruit Bogues out of high school. “But if I’d have had Muggsy, we’d have won a whole lot more.”