This interview was originally published in Dime 73. Check newsstands nationwide to see the feature printed in its entirety.
Sure, Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues gained fame and popularity because at 5-3, he was the smallest player to ever suit up in the NBA. But even today, he casts a large shadow as one of the most memorable players of the 1990s because he played a frenetic style that became a trademark of one of the most underrated teams of that era.
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Get NBA legends like Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber and Reggie Miller (and Kenny Smith, Steve Kerr and Steve Smith, too) in a room to talk basketball, and the chatter might range from the best ballhandler they ever saw to the cat who talked the most trash. Barbershop talk is the point of NBA TV’s new show, “Open Court.” But in one episode, when discussing the most annoying defender they ever played against, there was no debate. It was Muggsy Bogues.
“I thought there were two Muggsys on the court because I’d dribble one way and then come back and he’d be there again,” Kenny Smith said. Kerr admitted that if he saw Bogues guarding him, he’d just give the ball up. Once Bogues locked onto you, he got into your space and you were toast.
Even Chris Webber recalled his guards telling him, “Hey, I have Muggsy tonight,” indirectly asking C-Webb to stay at the opposing foul line and set screens on Bogues just so they could dribble past midcourt.
During a 14-year career that spanned time in Washington, Charlotte, Golden State and Toronto, Bogues averaged 7.7 points, 7.6 assists and 1.5 steals a night. Muggsy made the playoffs five times, quarterbacking four of those teams as the starting point guard and defying the longtime rule you couldn’t win with a 5-3 lead guard.
Nowadays, Bogues is the head coach at United Faith Christian Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he enjoys teaching and molding teenagers. Yet even after playing his final game in the NBA in 2001, Bogues is still relevant enough that international clothing brand K1X gave Muggsy his own clothing line in late 2012.
Muggsy was a trendsetter. He was an innovator. He is one of the most beloved NBA players who never made an All-Star Game and never averaged 20 points. How’d this all happen? We let him explain.
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Dime: How did you and K1X come together to come up with an idea for this collection?
MB: Well K1X approached me, and told me the things that they stood for and what they were trying to do. It kinda made sense in terms of the things they were going after, what their company stands for. I was interested in it. Charles Oakley was involved and Ron Artest did some stuff with them so I felt like they were a vital company, a very solid company. This gives me an opportunity to get myself back out there.
Dime: Did it catch you by surprise when they reached out?
MB: It wasn’t really a surprise. In terms of the status of where you are at the end of your career… I guess that was a little bit of a surprise, but it’s nothing I still have my abilities and still have the audience out there to try to continue to inspire. It wasn’t a total shock but it was a surprise that it came to me that way.
Dime: You’ve coached in the WNBA. You are coaching high school now. Do you want to coach in the NBA? Do you have any goals for your coaching career?
MB: Well I’m a teacher. I wouldn’t mind coaching in the NBA. That would be a nice little job to have, working with the players, working with the guys. But I’m not going to chase that dream. That’s not a dream of mine. I’m not gonna chase it. It would be great to be able to work like that and if it’s a convenience to where you are living. But I just love the game. I just love teaching. I was coaching in the WNBA and I was hoping I could springboard to something else, but I was just enjoying that at the moment. And I wasn’t looking to coach high school basketball. A situation created itself with the kids that I was looking after, and they got rid of his coach and I didn’t want him to transfer his last year so I stepped over last year to take over the program. A couple of kids got under my skin, which is always the case, and that’s why I decided to come back again and start teaching, and give something back like my high school coach was able to give me. This is where God wants me to be, and I’m not gonna challenge him on that.
Dime: People always say point guards are like coaches on the floor. Did your experience as a lead guard make you a better coach? Does that hold any weight?
MB: It holds a lot of weight, and I’m not saying big men don’t turn out to be great coaches because look at Phil Jackson and what he’s done, Gregg Popovich and those guys and what they’ve done. But when you are playing the point guard position, you have the ability to see it all, see it all before it takes place, the beginning stage as well as the end stage. He’s the only that also puts the people in position to be successful. The good ones know how to run a team, control the balance and the tempo of a team. It’s clichÃ©, but it’s an extension of a coach because the guys are not out there looking at the coach. Ninety-five or 85 percent of the time, they’re looking at their point guard who’s got the ball in his hands and he’s making the decisions. We have the ability to see all aspects of it, from the inside and the outside.
Coaching the game itself, players who understand it… because you ain’t gonna reinvent this game. The game is what it is. It’s about having the ability to mentor, and to inspire a group of young people to accomplish their goals that you set forth. It’s more than just Xs and Os. It’s also how you manage your team, how you communicate with them, how you get the maximum out of them when they don’t realize they got that in them themselves.
Dime: Like you said, you’re teaching these kids what you learned growing up in Baltimore. Everyone knows your high school team was crazy. What was the atmosphere like in the city on game nights?
MB: Ah, it was crazy. Growing up in the city, it was a packed house. We were fortunate enough to have so much talent on one team, and going around and playing and building a bond with the guys that you’re growing up with. At the time, we didn’t know we were getting this type of exposure across the nation. We were just hungry, and were the type of kids that believed we were better than anybody that stepped on the floor. We were able to accomplish some amazing things within two years going 59-0.
But the coach was the key behind it. Coach (Robert) Wade really steered that whole ship, and was able to keep all of those egos under control where you had to check them at the door and we all thought as one. We accepted our roles. We understood what it all took to be a young man at that stage because we were going through all kinds of challenges in our lives, growing up in the inner city projects. A lot of didn’t have father figures in the house and coach served as that. It was a lot of things happening, and it was great to have him as that coach, and allowed us to grow up to be the men that we are today.