The game of basketball has never been too friendly to the vertically challenged. That being said, the sport has opened its doors to a select few sub-six-footers over the years — even at its highest level. The question is though: who is the shortest NBA player ever?
That title was claimed by Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues when he was drafted by the Washington Bullets in 1987. The 12th overall pick out of Wake Forest University stood at a diminutive 5-foot-3 – a whooping 14 inches shorter than the average NBA height at the time. Bogues has held the title ever since.
In a hilarious coincidence, the point guard famously played along side the tallest player in NBA history (tied 1st) in his rookie season. Bogues’ fellow Bullets teammate, Manute Bol, stood at a staggering 7-foot-7 — nearly two and a half feet taller than the young guard.
This happenstance made for some legendary photo opportunities.
Meet Manute Bol & Muggsy Bogues:Both are Teammates and the tallest/shortest players in the history of the NBA at the time, 1987 pic.twitter.com/tJhc4DPrGI
— MYTH AND FACT (@MythAndFact) February 27, 2020
After his rookie season, Bogues was picked up by Charlotte in the 1988 NBA Expansion Draft, designed to fill out the newly-formed Hornets and Heat. Bogues spent the next nine seasons in Charlotte, comprising most of his NBA career.
The crafty point guard had three straight seasons averaging double-digit scoring numbers. His best season in the league came in 1993-94 when he averaged a double-double with 10.8 ppg and 10.1 apg.
After a long, 14-year NBA career, Bogues finally called it quits, retiring after the 2000-01 season. The point guard played for four franchises: Washington, Charlotte, Golden State and Toronto.
One of the biggest questions that comes up when talking about the NBA’s shortest player ever is — could Bogues dunk?
Stories of the 5-foot-3 guard dunking in practices have floated around throughout the years, but Bogues never successfully dunked in an official NBA game.
However, there have been some pretty incredible short dunkers over the years.
Short Players, Big Heights
The year prior to Bogues’ arrival to the league, another NBA player made some short-guy history of his own.
The unsuspecting high-flyer Spud Webb became the shortest playing ever to participate in and win an NBA Slam Dunk Contest at 5-foot-7.
Webb took the court against his Atlanta Hawks teammate Dominique Wilkins in the 1986 contest. Wilkins stood at 6-foot-8 and was widely considered one of the most explosive dunkers in the NBA. The teammates went back and fourth in one of the league’s most famous dunk contests, scoring perfect 50 after perfect 50, but Webb eventually came out on top.
The point guard had a solid 14-year NBA career. His best seasons came with his time in Sacramento where he averaged double-figure scoring in all five of his years with the Kings.
Despite a solid career, Webb’s legacy will always be in that dunk contest victory.
The only player to come close to Webb’s height record for NBA dunk contests so far is Nate Robinson.
New Age Hops
Robinson, at 5-foot-9, is the only player in NBA history with three dunk contest wins — claiming victories in 2006, 2009 and 2010.
The point guard took little-guy hops to new heights. His winning dunk contest dunks are some of the most mind-boggling we’ve seen. Robinson’s most famous dunk has to be his leap over 6-foot-11 Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard in 2009.
While the three-time winner certainly exceeded in dunk contests, he was also known to pull off some incredible feats in game. With Robinson’s explosive athleticism, there was always a chance something amazing would happen.
During his time with the Knicks, the point guard famously denied 7-foot-6 center Yao Ming at the rim.
Robinson had a successful career as an NBA journeyman, playing for eight different teams in his 11 years. His best seasons came in his early years with the Knicks and later with the Bulls, where he averaged 12.5 and 13.1 ppg, respectively.
Robinson retired a few years ago in 2016 after his final season with the New Orleans Pelicans, but the NBA short-guy legacy carriers on in a few modern players.
Today’s Shortest Player
The shortest player in the NBA currently is also one of the best sub-six-foot players we’ve seen in recent years.
Standing at 5-foot-9, Isaiah Thomas has lived through his “heart over height” mantra for the past nine seasons.
Drafted in 2011 by the Kings, Thomas had an instant impact in Sacramento, averaging 15.3 ppg in his first three NBA seasons.
The 60th and final pick in the NBA draft has outplayed his expectations at every stage of his career, especially during his time in Boston. In his three seasons with the Celtics from 2014-2017, the point guard averaged 24.7 ppg.
Thomas had an outstanding year in 2016-17. The All Star point guard led the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals behind some ridiculous playoff numbers, averaging 23.3 ppg and 6.7 apg.
Thomas famously embarked on this gutsy playoff run right after his younger sister, Chyna, was killed in a car accident. In the Celtics first playoff game against the Bulls just one day after her death, the point guard put up 33 points.
Later on in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Thomas played absolutely out of his mind, dropping 53 points — including 29 in the fourth quarter and overtime — in a Boston victory. This signature game took place on what would’ve been Chyna’s 23rd birthday.
With the All-NBA point guard sidelined with a hip injury, the Celtics would later fall to the eventual champions in LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers — but Thomas’ playoff run will be remembered for years to come.
In a controversial offseason move, the Celtics traded away their star point guard for Kyrie Irving. Ever since then, Thomas just hasn’t been the same.
He’s spent the past few years as an NBA journeyman, playing for four different teams since his departure from the Celtics. Thomas has been a scoring option at sixth man for Cleveland, LA, Denver and most recently Washington. The Wizards traded the point guard to the Clippers earlier this year where he was dropped two days later.
As of right now, Thomas has yet to sign with a new team.
Despite his recent struggles, Thomas will go down in history as one of the all time great NBA little guys. The point guard broke countless barriers for sub-six-foot players. Thomas is the shortest player to be included on an All-NBA team, the shortest player to play in multiple All-Star games (2) and the shortest player ever to record a triple-double.
Though Thomas’ time might be over, it’s certainly not the end of sub-six-foot success in the NBA. The league’s next little guy is likely just over the horizon — ready to show their “heart over height.”