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Dime Q&A: NBA Legend Muggsy Bogues On His Haters, The ’90s & Playing With Larry Johnson & Vince Carter

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 cliché, 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.

Keep reading to see if Bogues thinks the DMV produces the best talent in the country…

Dime: Do you think the DMV area produces the best talent in the country?
MB: Well I’ll tell you they always have them coming out. From the Carmelos, from the Josh Selbys, we still have the Donte Greenes, the Rudy Gays, the Sam Cassells, and now they got the little kid Aquille Carr. Hopefully he can get an opportunity to keep climbing up the ladder. So there’s a lot of talent that comes through the city.

Dime: Yeah, I was going to ask you about Aquille being that the two of you are smaller point guards coming from the same city. He obviously has a lot of hype. When you guys were in high school on a team with multiple NBA guys, did you have the same type of excitement around that group?
MB: Well we had national attention, and we had it as a team and not so much as an individual. Everybody was getting the recognition. We were fortunate to have the No. 1 player in the country, which was Reggie Williams at the time. Our senior year in ’82-83, Reggie was the No. 1 player in the country, and that brings more attention of your team as well and being the No. 1 team in the nation. We were fortunate enough to have that, and grew in that way.

Seeing what the generation is today and the attention that Aquille is getting and has been receiving, which is warranted, but I just wish that he had the sound advice around him to give him a little more different approach of what I’ve been saying lately. Even watching his game, I think that he still needs to add another step to his game as a small player to keep climbing up the ladder. He’s a very explosive player, a very exciting player, and he’s fun to watch. But there are certain things when you’re climbing up the ladder that you just gotta be prepared for certain aspects of it, and I hope that he can get that type of tutelage.

Dime: What do you think he needs to improve as a smaller player?
MB: On the defensive end. More or less defensively. I think he’s got to address that a little more. He’s capable of doing that. I just think it needs to be a little more of a focal point in addressing those types of issues. He’s a heck of an explosive player with the ball in his hands, so it’s a lot of things that you can see. As players that have been there, we just kind of critique and try to see how you can get better. But the lil’ fella, I will tell you, he’s one of the best I’ve seen out there. He’s very explosive, has a great feel for the game, and has a lot of upside.

Dime: For you, was there a moment when you started to realize you could make it to the NBA?
MB: I just took it one level at a time. I never overlooked one before the other. When it was junior high school, I was just in junior high school enjoying that. You’re looking forward to high school, and then when I got to high school, I just enjoyed my high school times, and looking forward to going to college. Once I was in college, I was looking forward to getting an opportunity to play in the NBA. I always had that type of mindset. Playing the game would determine how far you would go. Being aggressive out on the floor, allowing my style of play to be an asset as opposed to a liability, I understood the game and I understood how to be aggressive on both ends of the floor, and how to constantly keep myself on the floor as opposed to watching the game.

Dime: You were known as a guy who could rip someone at midcourt or someone who could jump a spin move, get underneath and take the ball. In college, they used to say that people didn’t even want to dribble against you. Was there anyone you ever played against where you felt like you couldn’t take it from them?
MB: No. Not one person. That’s just the confidence that I had in my ability to guard the ball. Those are the things as a small guard, especially an undersized guard like myself, you gotta have those traits. You gotta do something that’s gonna distract your opponent, that’s gonna take away some of his strengths. As a point guard, the main thing is they have to get the ball across half-court to get them into their offense, to run their set. If you can make that a challenge for them to get it across half-court, then not only are you making it tough for them but you are taking time off the clock, you’re making them now have to rush to get into their offense. You’re not only doing that, but you are also trying to take away that first option so now they gotta go to certain other things.

So there are a lot of little things as a small guard that you should be thinking about to try to disrupt that opponent because all of that plays in effect with your strength, and all that plays with allowing you to be able to stay ahead and be able to continue playing with the guys and being able to keep yourself on the floor. You don’t have the luxury of a 6-5 or 6-4 guard to just let guys roll over and do this or go there. You gotta change and make a difference because you’re looked upon differently. You bring a different element to the game, and it can be an effective element because it’s always gonna be the case that coaches like big guards.

Hit page 3 to read about how Muggsy almost flopped during his first years in the NBA…

Dime: Did most of those steals just come from your quickness?
MB: Well, it came from the quickness as well as the understanding of it. Just guarding your man, how to make your man do what you want him to do, making him fearful of dribbling the basketball. If Aquille can really develop that aspect of the game, he’s gonna constantly keep climbing because now you’re working on both sides of the floor, and you’re being looked at as a guy who’s now able to compete on both ends of the floor, not just one side of the floor because if you’re just playing one side of the floor, you’re not going to keep climbing up the ladder. You’re not going to get that opportunity. You’re going to get taken advantage of in certain things that’ll keep coming into play, and your height is always going to there. You want to keep that out of their mouth as much as possible, and the way you do it is by becoming that fearsome defender. Making it tough on guys, making them earn everything they get.

Dime: That seems like a guard’s biggest fear: getting picked in the backcourt when they’re all alone. Did you ever feel that fear on guys when you were guarding them?
MB: Oh yeah, that’s pretty much all of the guys that dribble the ball. They know that’s the reputation that I developed. They know I’m going for the ball. They know I’m making it tough on every dribble that you have. When you got that mindset, and you have them thinking about it, then you already got yourself ahead in the game. You already got yourself out there. Now you’re taking away something else. Those are the things that I understood. Those are the things that allowed me to keep being the player that I was.

You always had small guards. When you say that people are thinking 6-0, 5-10, 5-9, 5-11, but you go all the way down to 5-3. Spud was 5-7. Michael Adams was 5-10. Tim Hardaway was nothing but 5-10. We had different styles of play, but we were able to still be effective, and still be able to continue to be out there on the floor. The game has changed, of course, to some degree where you now see two small guards out there at the same time, which we didn’t have that back in our day. You had true positions.

Dime: In the NBA your first few years, you had a rough start in Washington, and then at one point you said you didn’t think Dick Harter in Charlotte was a huge fan of your game, either. What turned it around in Charlotte?
MB: Even though Dick Harter wasn’t a fan of small guards, your play always overshadowed everything, so my play overshadowed his way of wanting to coach. So in the league, where it becomes more of a business than in high school or college, they saw that, and we were fortunate enough to get a coach who understood what type of team we had, and understood what type of players he had and what type of player I was, and he relished it. He let me go. I was able to do the things that I was able to do.

Dime: Some of those Charlotte teams had almost cult-like followings in the ’90s. You had some really great players, awesome colors and uniforms. With all of that talent, why do you think you guys never went deeper in the playoffs?
MB: When we started out, we were all young. Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning, we were young when we came into the league. Larry was in his second year and Alonzo was in his first year, and that was our fifth year in existence as the Hornets, and we were able to propel and make it to the playoffs. Then, once we got accustomed to making it to the playoffs, then contracts started to come into play. We didn’t re-sign Alonzo (Eds. note: He was traded to Miami after three years in Charlotte). Then LJ got his back hurt. We lost in the second round. We didn’t go any further than the second round. When those things happen, and with guys getting hurt at the wrong times, Chicago was having their run at that time, so they prevented a lot of teams from moving on.

Dime: A lot of that fan interest came from you, and you being the smallest guy in the league. Did that ever piss you off with so many people concentrating on your height?
MB: Nah. With me being the smallest, that had nothing to do with it. One thing about the NBA, ain’t no novelty stuff going on with that. You either can play or you can’t. They’re not paying folks money just to have something that they think will draw fans to a team. Those days are over with. You don’t see those incidents anymore. It’s all about service. What type of service can you bring to my organization? And I always understood that. At one point with Washington, you probably thought that it possibly could’ve been a novelty act with the tallest and the shortest on the team, but I played 79 out of the 82 games there. It was more or less a different mixture. You had a lot of older guys at the tail end of their career with Bernard King, Moses Malone, Terry Catledge, Jeff Malone, a lot of those guys, and bringing in a young guy like myself who wanted to get it up and down the floor… Then they changed coaches with Kevin Loughery and bringing in Wes Unseld, and he wanted to stay with the walk-it-up game. It didn’t make sense for me staying in Washington. I was fortunate enough that the Hornets wanted me and I came to Charlotte. That’s where my career propelled even though Dick Harter was there our first year. We were able to still propel after that.

Dime: I was going to ask you about the Washington team. They never wanted to get up and down the court. Is that the main reason you ended up in Charlotte?
MB: Oh, absolutely. When you have a vision – they thought they would change and be committed to getting up and down the floor – but then when they changed coaches, firing Kevin Loughery who was there as my coach – and when they changed that, Wes (Unseld) had a different vision. He had a different style of play with the older guys. So it was perfect (that I went to Charlotte). I’m thinking that Washington took me. I got a chance to play in my backyard, where I grew up at. But I was also blessed that I was able to go on and do some bigger and better things in Carolina where I went to school, an hour away in the city of Charlotte. It was perfect, just perfect. You couldn’t write a better script.

Dime: You excelled playing up-tempo with Allan Bristow in Charlotte. That style catches some flack from people because they say you can’t win a championship like that. What do you think of that?
MB: Well that was the Denver days where you try to outscore guys and you don’t play defense. But we had a different style. We were more defensive players as well as up-tempo. We had more of a counter of that. Even though we played up and down, played the fast game, but we had guys that loved to play defense. Kendall Gill, myself, Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, Johnny Newman. So we had guys who played defense, and we were one of the best defensive teams out there. It was more like we get caught at the wrong time in different eras with Chicago, and we wasn’t able to get past New York as well.

Dime: You used to call that your heaven, right? Being in the open court with the basketball?
MB: Absolutely. That was great because you had all of your options. You felt like you was about to make something special happen, having the vision to see it all, you got five players, everybody moving, you see the picture before it even develops.

Keep reading to hear why Bogues had to say about playing with Larry Johnson and Vince Carter in their primes…

Dime: It was interesting that you played with Larry Johnson and Vince Carter, two guys that people say they underachieved for different reasons. When they were healthy and in their prime, who was better?
MB: Two amazing gentleman. Two amazing, amazing young men that I was grateful to play with. They were both younger than me and I took them under my wing when they both came into the league – when Larry came in and even when I went to Toronto with Vince. He was in his second year and he felt that gravitation in terms of the wisdom that I had, and he really relished in it. But LJ, from day one, he and I had it, and I just wanted to make sure he got everything out of it that he was supposed to as a professional. That’s what Moses did for me. Playing when you’re young, having that type of wisdom around you and telling you the true essence of the NBA, and playing with those guys early in their career was amazing. They were so aggressive. Larry as a rookie, he demanded respect and got the respect from the Charles Barkleys, the Karl Malones from day one. And by seeing that as a young player, he was amazing. Seeing all of the things that a strong 6-4 and a half, 6-5 he wanted to call himself, power forward down there with that explosiveness, all of the back-to-the-basket moves you can ask for, facing the basket, and then he got hurt. He had to, truly, and I’ve become very proud of him because he was able to change his game and still demand the respect, and still become the player in New York but differently as more of a finesse player as opposed to a power player. That’s how special he is because most people, their careers are over. They can’t adjust to that type of a change in their game or how to be the same player, how to see that same fear in your opponent, and that same effect on the game, and he was able to do that averaging 18, 20 points in New York. But he did it a different way, mostly on the perimeter. He did some work down on the low (post), but mostly at the perimeter because his back wasn’t where it was. When you see a guy that’s able to do that, you’re like “Whoa.” It’s no different from like watching the MJs from the early part of his career to the latter part of his career – flying in the air to settling down and posting up, taking advantage of those things. That’s what Kobe‘s done, and that’s the IQ level of the game of guys, and people don’t specify enough how great these guys are, being able to take their game from here to there, but at the same time still stay on that same pedestal.

Dime: And then you were with Vince Carter when he was at his absolute best. What was that like?
MB: He was what he was called. He was Half-Man/Half-Amazing. Just before every game, he would walk over and touch over the box on the backboard trying to touch the top part. Playing with him and seeing the youthness and the spring that he had in his legs, the ability to keep getting better. I remember throwing him an alley-oop in a game that I thought was well out of his reach but he’d come out of nowhere, receive it and throw it down. Just the gracefulness and the humbleness that the kid had when he played, and he didn’t realize how good he was and good he could have been. If his body would’ve held up, if his knees would’ve held up, eventually if he had the right people around him on a consistent basis, seeing him get that proper information constantly in his corner, no telling what he would’ve been. I’m glad to see him still playing today. He’s still smart enough and capable enough to still be a main factor on the floor. But he’s nowhere near the guy he used to be. That comes with the age as well, injuries. I love him and his mom to death. He’s got a great family and a great heart. He’s still playing to this day, and I’m happy to see him out there doing what he truly loves doing.

Dime: You have a lot of success in Charlotte. Were you surprised when they traded you?
MB: Yeah. It was different times. Dell (Curry) and I were the last. We were the two originals. They had gotten rid of everybody else. Bob Bass was the general manager at the time behind all of that. He felt like that was better for the team and the city. Looking back, I didn’t think so. I felt like I was going to be there… like any other player, you feel like you are going to be with the organization forever, especially when you was promised that. But you recognize this is a business and you can’t dwell on that. I moved on to Golden State and then went on to Toronto, so I was grateful for the opportunity to come in contact with other communities. Golden State Warrior community was unbelievable out in Oakland, working with their staff and their organization. Chris Cohan and his people were great to me. And then went over to Toronto with Mr. Tanenbaum and all of that crew. That’s been a first-class organization. To this day, I still do a lot of things for the Toronto Raptors. So you were able to come in contact and reach a lot of people that you probably wouldn’t have if you would’ve stayed in one location.

Dime: When Dave Cowens came on board in Charlotte, they started to slow the game down and run less. Was that a similar situation as Washington where there was a collision of two styles?
MB: Yeah, it was a collision of two styles. I played for Dave Cowens when he came in before I got traded in ’96-97. That was the most games they’ve won in franchise history. They’ve never won more than the 56 games we won that year [Eds. note: it was actually 54 wins], and that was on one leg I was hopping on. But Dave, he felt like he wanted someone else at the position and they just didn’t know how to be professional and go about it. But those things happen and you just move on. Yeah, you’re right. They slowed the game down a little more.

Dime: You made the playoffs a bunch of times throughout your career but only won one playoff series. Is that a regret for you?
MB: Well, only winning the one series, it’s always a little… you have guys that didn’t make the playoffs at all. There have been guys that didn’t have that experience, so I don’t dwell on those things. I don’t think about it. It was what it was. Back then, our team just wasn’t good enough to prevail obviously. You just gotta look at it that way whatever the case may have been. But I had a great career. I take nothing away from it. I was just blessed and grateful for the opportunity to play 14 years in the NBA.

Dime: How does it feel 10 years since you retired that there are still kids and people who love and remember your game, and still love to watch you play?
MB: Well it’s a great feeling. It’s a great honor. I know and I see that I’m totally different from all of the athletes that have played from the standpoint of the size factor. That’s always going to be there. It’s always a given. They love the underdogs, and I’ve always been an underdog to the American people and that’s something that resonates. And some of the other things that I did, doing the Space Jam movie and doing other TV stuff, it kind of keeps you out in a different light. The people out there remember that and they share that stuff with their kids. That generation that will continue to go on, and that’s something that makes you feel good, to be talked of in a good light and not something that’s negative. When people feel that’s something positive that they don’t mind sharing with their kids and can possibly inspire them or give them something they can kinda take over and take ownership of their own, I’m all for that. That’s something that I’ve always been appreciative of and been thankful of.

Dime: What are your plans for the future? Anything you want to do in coaching?
MB: I’m just loving life, man. Thank God that I’m here today and getting the chance to work with these kids. I’m not making any special plans beyond whatever happens with whatever comes in front of me. If I have an opportunity to make a decision or choice on that, then that’s the case. I don’t look ahead. I don’t live in the future. I’m in the day-to-day because tomorrow is not promised. Too many people are dropping these days or getting themselves caught up. I just try to take care of myself and right now my call is coaching, and doing a lot of work with the NBA. I’m satisfied with that.

What do you think?

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