Does size really matter in the NBA? Though the league seems to be the land of the giants, there have been players that have thrived despite not having the standard NBA height. There have also been quite a few players in the NBA, where it was evident that size wasn’t the only problem they had. Maybe being 6 inches taller could have helped their careers, but it doesn’t seem likely. Then you’ve got players that have become All-Stars and Hall of Famers while being under 6 feet tall. Obviously size was not an obstacle for these players.
It is incredibly important to note that while this list is for NBA players that are under 6 feet tall, there are tons of incredible NBA players throughout history that are officially listed as 6 feet tall and therefore do not count for this list. Players like Chris Paul and Allen Iverson are just some of the great players that are not included because they are technically listed as 6 feet tall, even though many will argue otherwise. Also, honorable mention to Dana Barros in the best category.
15. Best: Damon Stoudamire
Damon “Mighty Mouse” Stoudamire played fearlessly to make up for his lack of height. Stoudamire is still the highest drafted NBA player under 6 feet tall, being selected 7th overall in the 1995 NBA Draft. Playing point guard for the Raptors, Stoudamire won the 1996 NBA Rookie of the Year award. He was then traded to the Portland Trail Blazers in 1998 and spent the majority of his career with the team, from 1998 to 2005. The 5-foot 10-inch guard played for the Memphis Grizzlies as well before ending his career with the San Antonio Spurs. Stoudamire was able to have a long career in the NBA by being able to score from the 3-point line and being a playmaker for his teammates. Stoudamire finished his career with over 11,000 points and over 5,000 assists.
14. Worst: Chris Garner
Chris Garner had a pretty long basketball career, but most of his career was not in the NBA. Garner played overseas basketball in countries like France, Venezuela, Poland, Greece, etc. Garner’s career spanned 13 years starting with the Toronto Raptors after going undrafted coming out of the University of Memphis. After leaving Toronto, Garner played in the NBA Developmental League and internationally before making a return to the NBA, signing with the Golden State Warriors in 2001. After only putting up 72 points in his NBA career, Garner would never play for an NBA team again (he did sign for the Detroit Pistons in 2003, but Garner never made the roster). Garner ended up playing until 2010, finishing his career with the Cyprus basketball team, Achilleas.
13. Best – Earl Boykins
Earl Boykins was a 5 feet 5-inch journeyman in the NBA. After going undrafted in the 1998 NBA Draft coming out of Eastern Michigan, Boykins played on one-third of all possible NBA teams (1o out of 30). His best years came with the Denver Nuggets from 2003 to 2007, backing up Allen Iverson for in Denver for part of the 2006-2007 season. While in Denver, the 5-foot-5 point guard is the shortest player in the NBA to score over 30 points in a game when he put 32 points against the Detroit Pistons. He also played internationally in Italy before going back to the NBA. Earl Boykins still is the second shortest player in NBA history, just above Muggsy Bogues who was two inches shorter at 5 feet 3 inches.
12. Worst – Greg Grant
At just 5 foot 7 inches, Greg Grant is one of the shortest players in NBA history. Grant has an interesting road to the NBA, having been discovered in high school on the playground. His journey was told in an autobiography titled 94 Feet and Rising: The Journey of Greg Grant to the NBA and Beyond. Grant played for six teams in his seven-year NBA career, being drafted by the Phoenix Suns with the 52nd-overall pick in the 1989 NBA Draft. Grant is now the head coach for his former high school Trenton Central, in Trenton, New Jersey. He has been a huge success in sports at the high school level, and also as an educator. It looks as though Grant has found his calling in life and though his career in the NBA was short, he is finding success after pro basketball.
11. Best – Nate Robinson
Nate Robinson is remembered fondly in NBA history as a guy that everyone could like. At only 5 feet 9 inches, Robinson made up for his height by playing with all his heart all the time. Robinson was also one of the most exciting players to watch because of his ability to get up and dunk, and also for his fearlessness on the court. Robinson attended the University of Washington on a football scholarship before switching to basketball. He was then selected 21st overall in the 2005 NBA Draft and bounced around to eight different NBA teams in his career. Robinson won three NBA Slam Dunk Championships and even blocked Yao Ming once. Robinson has always been a good piece to a team, not necessarily a starter, but a valuable asset. He is still playing basketball in Venezuela, and most fans including myself would love to see Robinson make it back to the NBA before he hangs up his jersey for good.
10. Worst – Keith Jennings
Keith Jennings came into the NBA as a 3-point machine coming out of East Tennessee State University. Jennings spent the first few years of his career with minor league and international teams until the Golden State Warriors picked him up in 1993. Jennings showed flashes of being a good player but could never unlock the skills needed to be a good NBA player. The Warriors would be the only NBA team that Keith “Mister” Jennings would play for in his basketball career. Jennings made a career playing overseas for teams like Real Madrid in Spain, Fenerbahce in Turkey and Strasbourg in France. Some of these teams are prestigious teams in world football, but in basketball, most only know the NBA. The 5-foot-7 Jennings is now an assistant coach at Lees-McRae College.
9. Best – Slater Martin
Slater Martin is a name that most basketball fans likely don’t know, but Martin had an illustrious NBA career in the 1950s, as he was known for his stellar defensive abilities even though he was only 5-foot-10. Playing in Minneapolis, Martin was an important piece in the Lakers’ history before they moved to Los Angeles. The 5-foot-10 guard won five NBA Championships through the ’50s, four with the Lakers and one with the Hawks when they were in St. Louis. Martin made seven NBA All-Star appearances and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982. Unfortunately, Slater Martin passed away in 2012 at 86 years old, but the point guard from the University of Texas should forever be remembered as one of the NBA’s earliest legends, and a legend for one of the most historical NBA franchises.
8. Worst – Khalid El-Amin
Khalid El-Amin’s basketball career is still going after 17 years which is crazy impressive. Unfortunately, his NBA career isn’t as impressive. El-Amin came into the NBA in 2000 a year after winning the 1999 NCAA Championship with the UConn Huskies. After being selected 34th overall by the Chicago Bulls, El-Amin averaged 6.3 points per game before going to Europe the next season playing for Strasbourg in France. El-Amin has bounced around to a lot of teams around the world including Turkey (winning the Turkish Cup in 2008 along with the finals MVP) Ukraine (winning the league championship in 2006 and 2007). The 5-foot-10 point guard from UConn has managed to dominate leagues all around the world, but has not returned to the NBA.
7. Best – Spud Webb
Probably the most popular man on this list is Spud Webb. Webb changed the way viewers saw the small players in the NBA. When Spud Webb won the dunk contest in 1986, he shocked the world. Nobody had seen an athlete of his size do what players couldn’t do a foot taller than him, making incredible dunks. Webb wasn’t just a dunk contest guy, but he was also a good player in the NBA, recording over 8,000 points and over 4,000 assists. Due to his size and explosiveness, Webb became a fan favorite and became one of the faces of the NBA in the 90s. Though Webb is remembered mainly as an Atlanta Hawk (where he spent most of his career), he had his best years with the Sacramento Kings from 1991 to 1995.
6. Worst- Ralph O’Brien
Before Gordon Hayward, Ralph O’Brien was the last Butler player to play in the NBA. (Not counting Billy Shepherd, who played in the ABA in the 1970s.) O’Brien’s NBA playing career only lasted two seasons, playing for both the Indianapolis Olympians and the Baltimore Bullets. O’Brien was a 5-foot-9 inch tall point guard, and although he is seen as a legend in the state of Indiana for basketball, his NBA career was pretty unforgettable. O’Brien was drafted at a time where the draft was more like the NFL than the current NBA system. The former Butler guard was drafted in the 6th round with the 68th overall pick, which amazingly means he could have almost been drafted in the current NBA system where there are 60 picks. However, his size didn’t give him an advantage in the league and O’Brien was out of the league at the age of 25.
5. Best – Muggsy Bogues
The shortest and arguably the most famous short NBA players in history. Standing at 5-feet-3 inches, Bogues played the majority of his career with the Charlotte Hornets. Bogues spent 10 years with Charlotte after the Hornets came into the league in the 1988 NBA expansion draft. Bogues is remembered as one of the vital pieces of the Charlotte Hornets team that was very good but never won a championship. His teammates on those teams were Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson, and although they were quite a popular team, they were unable to win it all. Bogues is known for his lack of height, but he was an excellent basketball player with an instinct to steal the ball often that combined his speed and terrific passing ability to give him a long NBA career.
4. Worst – Andre Barrett
Andre Barrett is still playing basketball overseas, but it does seem that his NBA hopes are likely never to make a return. Barrett has had stints with the Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, etc. The 5-foot-10 inch point guard is currently playing for Obras Sanitarias in Argentina and last played in the NBA for the Memphis Grizzlies. By the time Andre Barrett had reached the age of 25, he had played for six NBA teams and was out of the league for good. Barrett saw himself play for the NBA, NBA Developmental league and even FC Barcelona which of course is arguably the biggest team in the world. However, that is for world football where they have Lionel Messi, not their basketball team.
3. Best – Isaiah Thomas
Here’s the most recent example of size not being the most important feature in the game. The current point guard for the Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas has proven that despite his short stature, he is still one of the best players in the NBA today. Thomas has made the All-Star team the last two seasons and last year took the Boston Celtics to the 1st seed in the Eastern Conference ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers, before getting knocked out in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Cavs. Thomas very well could become the greatest under 6-foot NBA player of all time with the trend that he’s on and the fact that he is only 28 years old. From his height to being the last pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Thomas has proven to be the ultimate underdog that fans love to root for.
2. Worst- Mike Wilks
Mike Wilks is one of the few players on this list that can say that he is an NBA Champion. Wilks was in the 2001 NBA Draft coming out of Rice University but didn’t play for an NBA team until 2002 when he signed with the Atlanta Hawks. From 2002 to 2009, Wilks played for 10 different NBA teams and an overseas team in Italy. Wilks was on the 2005 San Antonio Spurs NBA Championship team, playing in 48 games that season. Wilks only started 11 of his 233 NBA games and ended his career in Poland and became a scout for the Oklahoma City Thunder, the last NBA team he played for. Wilks only averaged 2.5 points per game throughout his NBA career.
1. Best – Calvin Murphy
At the moment, Calvin Murphy is the best NBA player under 6 feet tall. Murphy is an NBA legend, playing his whole career for the Houston Rockets (and San Diego Rockets for a season before the team moved to Houston in 1971). Murphy was known for his defense and speed, but he was also one of the best players at free throws. Calvin Murphy was and still is to this day the shortest player in NBA history to become an All-Star, though Isaiah Thomas tied this in 2016. Not only is Murphy a legend in the Rockets organization but he is also a legend for the short players that have come after him in the NBA, showing that no matter your size, you can make it in the NBA with the kind of work and dedication he has put in.
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