Rattling off the names of the top shortest players in NBA history is not just a trip down memory lane, it is basketball entertainment at its finest. Basketball is not just a tall man’s sport. Players such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Yao Ming and Dwight Howard grab sports headlines because of their dunks, blocks, and sheer dominance of the game.
Truly, they are freaks of nature who did their part in making the NBA the global game that it is today. However, we should never forget about the little guys such as Spud Webb, Muggsy Bogues and Earl Boykins. These men may have been short in stature, but they were never short on heart and guts.
One valuable lesson we can learn from them is just that: determination. Imagine getting picked on by taller players and told you'll never make the big leagues because you're puny.
They never paid any attention to their detractors. Instead, they listened to what was in their heart: to play in the NBA. Once they did, they inspired millions of people to follow in their footsteps.
Take for example point guard Yuta Tabuse. At just 5’9”, he became the first Japanese player to play in the NBA when he suited up in four games for the Phoenix Suns during the 2004-05 season.
A decade later, the Dallas Mavericks have another Japanse sensation on their payroll in 21-year-old, 5’7” point guard Yuki Togashi to a D-League contract. The Santa Cruz Warriors selected him in the 2014 NBA D-League draft on Nov. 1, 2014. He was traded to the Texas Legends that same evening.
Togashi dazzled fans with his speed, playmaking and outside shooting while with the Mavericks. During his D-League stint with the Legends, he has been averaging 1.8 points, 0.5 points and 0.9 assists in 20 games, per RealGM.com.
Togashi spoke about his NBA D-League stint with NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan when Dallas signed him in July 2014:
“I played professionally for a year-and-a-half in Japan. To improve my skills I have to go overseas and play in the D-League. It is tough. But I use my speed to be able to make plays.”
Who knows? The next Yuta Tabuse or Yuki Togashi may just be somewhere nearby, waiting to be discovered.
For the purposes of this article, we will rank the top 15 shortest players in NBA history— who are all shorter than six feet—according to their stats and how they mesmerized fans from all over the globe.
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15 Keith Jennings, 5'7"
Career NBA stats: 6.6 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 3.7 APG
Keith "Mister" Jennings is one of the first undrafted little men who made a big splash in the NBA during the 1990s.
Jennings first played in the USBL and Germany before the Golden State Warriors signed him to a contract in 1992. He told the Warriors' official website that former teammate Tim Hardaway was the one who broke the news of him cracking Golden State's regular-season roster after their last preseason game. Jennings scored a career-high 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting against the visiting Denver Nuggets on April 22, 1995.
The Toronto Raptors plucked Jennings from the expansion draft that same year. However, he decided to strut his wares in Spain during the 1995-96 season.
Jennings got his nickname, "Mister," when his father reprimanded him and called him "Mr. Jennings" when he was just seven years old.
Jennings is currently an assistant coach at Bluefield College in Virginia.
14 Brevin Knight, 5'10"
Career NBA stats: 7.3 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 6.1 APG
Brevin Knight made an immediate impact after the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted him 16th overall out of Stanford University in 1997. Knight became known for his defensive prowess, averaging 2.5 steals during his rookie season. He eventually made the NBA All-Rookie First Team along with Tim Duncan, Keith Van Horn, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Ron Mercer.
Knight was also known for his splendid playmaking abilities. He averaged 8.2 assists per game as a rookie in 1997-98. He registered 9.0 assists per contest as a member of the expansion Charlotte Bobcats during the 2004-05 NBA season.
In terms of scoring, Knight made the most damage by driving to the hoop and making medium-range jumpers.
Knight is currently an analyst for the Memphis Grizzlies.
13 Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues, 5'3", 1987-2001
Career NBA stats: 7.7 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 7.6 APG
Without a doubt, Muggsy Bogues was one of the most popular little guys to have ever played in the NBA. He was just 5'3", but was never short on heart and guts.
However, he is not the best little man, statistics-wise.
Bogues was never much of a scorer, but his speed befuddled opponents night in and night out during his 14-year NBA career. Just like Brevin Knight, Bogues was an excellent playmaker, averaging over 10 assists twice during his Charlotte Hornets tenure. Him teaming up with Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning made for an interesting trio during the 1990s.
Bogues explains to ProsGiveBack.com how his determination overcame his early obstacles:
"When I was going through it, people didn't realize how tough it was. No one was really looking at little guards at the time and the game was changing from the late 70's to the early 80's, but I had to have strong skin and a tough mind because tough times don't last, tough people do.
I never gave up and always pursued my dreams because I had confidence in myself and I cannot stress that enough, how important it is to just believe in yourself and not being afraid to fail."
Bogues, who was named a Charlotte Hornets ambassador in 2014, continues to inspire countless basketball fans long after he hung up his sneakers 14 years ago.
12 Avery Johnson, 5'10"
Career NBA stats: 8.4 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 5.5 APG
If you're an avid follower of the NBA on ESPN, there's no way you can miss Avery Johnson.
Johnson serves as an ESPN NBA analyst. The way he dissects the game from a coach's and players' perspective (with a matching Louisiana accent) is a joy to watch. It's always great to watch him alongside Doris Burke and Jalen Rose on television.
Johnson made history by becoming the first Division I basketball player ever to average double figures (11.4 PPG) and assists (13.3 APG). He pulled off the feat during the 1988 NCAA season with the Southern Jaguars.
Although he went undrafted that same year, the Seattle SuperSonics took a chance on him. The rest, as they say, is history. He spent the next 16 years playing for six different NBA teams. His shining moment came during the 1999 NBA Finals when the lefty point guard nailed a baseline jumper in Game 5 against the New York Knicks to seal the San Antonio Spurs' first NBA title victory.
Before Johnson joined ESPN as an analyst in 2013, he was a successful NBA head coach. He was named NBA Coach of the Year in 2006 when he guided the Dallas Mavericks to an NBA Finals stint.
11 Charlie Criss, 5'8"
Career NBA stats: 8.5 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 3.2 APG
The 5'8" Charlie Criss was one of the first players who helped former CBA players make a name for themselves in the National Basketball Association. He paved the way for guys such as John Starks, Tim Legler, Raja Bell, Voshon Leonard, Smush Parker and Earl Boykins to strive for greater heights.
Criss made his NBA debut in 1977 with the Atlanta Hawks. He averaged 11.4 points, 1.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 25.1 minutes per game for Atlanta during his rookie season.
After spending his first four-and-a-half seasons with the Hawks, he joined the then-San Diego Clippers in 1981. He registered a career-best 12.9 points-per-game average for the Clippers in 28 games that season.
Criss played in 66 games for the Milwaukee Bucks during the 1982-83 NBA season. He appeared in just 19 games in his last two seasons, which were split between the Bucks and the Hawks.
He has had several jobs since retiring: a golf instructor, an Atlanta Hawks television commentator, a minor-league basketball coach and a basketball summer camp coordinator.
10 Earl Boykins, 5'5"
Career NBA stats: 8.9 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 3.2 APG
For a 5'5" NBA man, Earl Boykins sure was a very strong one.
Boykins, who suited up for the Washington Wizards during the 2009-10 NBA season, can bench press 315 pounds, per The Washington Post's Dan Steinberg. He beats out guys such as Randy Foye (6'4"), whose max bench press was 290 pounds.
Shooting guard Mike Miller, Boykins' teammate with the Wizards that year, told Steinberg how impressed he was with the little fella:
"That's a lot of weight. He's strong. It's been well known throughout the league, and that's why he's able to do the things he does on the court because he can guard guys; he's strong enough to keep guys off the block. At that height, it's impressive."
What made Boykins special was his ability to do a little bit of everything: drain a tear-drop shot, shoot three-pointers and even dunk!
Above all, Boykins is one of the NBA's best shortest players because of his fearlessness.
9 Slater Martin, 5'10"
Career NBA stats: 9.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 4.2 APG
Slater "Dugie" Martin's biography in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame really says it all:
"Considered one of the smallest players in NBA history, Martin was a forerunner for the modern point guard with the Minneapolis Lakers and St. Louis Hawks and was an excellent playmaker. He was a steadying influence on five NBA championship teams, melding the NBA's first great froncourt Hall of Famers Jim Pollard, George Mikan and Vern Mikkelsen into a cohesive unit."
Martin owns the distinction of being the only Texas Longhorn basketball player to ever be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He was inducted in 1982.
Martin was a seven-time All-Star who helped the then-Minneapolis Lakers to five NBA titles. He and fellow Hall of Famer George Mikan were the Lakers' Mutt and Jeff combo back in those days.
As good a player Martin was, he did not have the best career stat line among the shortest players in NBA history. However, if they were to be ranked according to the number of championships they won and All-Star teams they made, he would have been head and shoulders above everyone else.
Martin passed away in 2012 at the age of 86.
8 Spud Webb, 5'6"
Career NBA stats: 9.9 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 5.3 APG
Anthony Jermone "Spud" Webb is not the best little man to have played in the NBA. Instead, he and Nate Robinson can lay claim to being the most exciting players of their stature.
Webb will forever be remembered for out-dueling his own Atlanta Hawks teammate, Dominique "The Human Highlight Film" Wilkins, during the 1986 Slam Dunk Contest in Dallas, Tx. His repertoire included the elevator two handed-double pump dunk, the off-the-backboard one-handed jam, a 360-degree helicopter one-handed dunk, a reverse double-pump slam, and a reverse two-handed strawberry jam which was bounced off the parquet floor.
Webb enjoyed a successful 12-year NBA career with the Hawks, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic.
He trained Robinson for the 2006 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Webb tossed the ball to Robinson, who jumped over him for a perfect score from the judges. With that, the two went on to become the only players under six feet tall to win the event.
7 Fred Scolari, 5'10"
Career NBA stats: 10.9 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 3.1 APG
Among our candidates for the best short players in NBA history, Fred Scolari is arguably the most determined.
Not only was he short by NBA standards even during his era, he was also blind in one eye, deaf in one ear and had to battle weight problems. Scolari, who weighed 180 pounds, was known as "Fat Freddie" during his heyday.
Nonetheless, he was named an NBA All-Star twice and earned All-Pro honors twice as well. Scolari was known for his unorthodox jump shot—the release started at the hip before he released the ball.
Scolari, who was also a good defensive player, played for the Syracuse Nationals, Baltimore Bullets, Fort Wayne Pistons and Boston Celtics. He coached the Bullets during the 1950-51 NBA season.
Scolari, a San Francisco native, was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1998. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 80.
6 Nate Robinson, 5'9"
Career NBA stats: 11.1 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 3.0 APG
What if Spud Webb and Nate Robinson actually competed against each other in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest?
NBA fans would get a kick out of that one.
Robinson emerged as slam dunk king during his rookie season in 2005-06, beating Andre Iguodala by a score of 141-140 in overtime. That was the same dunk contest when he jumped over his mentor, Spud Webb.
Robinson is known for his fearlessness on the court. Whether it be a three-pointer, an acrobatic layup or a gutsy put-back, he has always been known as a crowd pleaser. He's that spark which gets his team fired up at just the right time.
The Denver Nuggets traded Robinson to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Jameer Nelson on January 13th, 2015. The Celtics then reached a buyout with Robinson the day after, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Fans are hoping Robinson can still take the court and show everybody why he's one of the best short players the league has ever seen.
5 Damon Stoudamire, 5'10"
Career NBA stats: 13.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 6.1 APG
"Mighty Mouse" checks in at No. 5.
Damon Stoudamire earns his place in Toronto Raptors franchise history as the team's first-ever draft pick for its inaugural NBA season in 1995-96. He quickly made people realize why he deserved to be a first-round draft choice by averaging 19.0 points. 4.0 rebounds and 9.3 assists during his rookie year.
Stoudamire established the record for most three-pointers made by a rookie with 133. That record has since been broken several times. Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is now the new record holder when he drained 185 threes during his rookie season in 2012-13.
Not only did Stoudamire show off his three-point marksmanship, his speed and quickness allowed him to create shots like no other player could. He eventually won 1995-96 NBA Rookie of the Year honors.
Stoudamire went on to play with the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs.
4 Terrell Brandon, 5'11"
Career NBA stats: 13.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 6.1 APG
Before there was Kyrie Irving, there was Terrell Brandon.
Just like Damon Stoudamire, Brandon is another Portland native who caught the eye of many NBA fans during the 1990s. Brandon played 11 seasons, but he will mostly be remembered for his days with the Cleveland Cavaliers from 1991-97.
During his stint with Cleveland, Brandon was named an All-Star twice (1996 and 1997). Sports Illustrated even named him "The Best Point Guard in the NBA" in 1997. That year was arguably his best as a pro. He averaged 19.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists.
Brandon was part of the three-team trade involving the Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks and Seattle SuperSonics in 1997 which sent Shawn "The Reign Man" Kemp to Cleveland.
Bowers says Brandon is currently a successful businessman and real estate investor who owns a barber shop in his hometown of Portland.
3 Michael Adams, 5'10"
Career NBA stats: 14.7 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 6.4 APG
Michael Adams isn't just one of the best small guys to ever play in the NBA, he's also one with the weirdest shooting styles.
Adams beats out Scolari for the most unorthodox shot among these candidates. Adams has that shot-put-like shooting motion can actually make the opposing player guarding him laugh his guts out.
However, as weird as Adams' shot was, it was also effective.
Adams enjoyed his best career as a pro during the 1990-91 season when he registered 26.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 10.5 assists per game with the Denver Nuggets, who lost 62 games that year. Adams was the focal point of the offense in head coach Paul Westhead's run-and-gun style. Among Adams' teammates were current ESPN NBA analysts Tim Legler and Avery Johnson.
Adams also scored a career-best 54 points during that 1990-91 NBA season. He previously held the record for most consecutive games played (79) with at least one three-pointer. That record has since been broken by the Atlanta Hawks' Kyle Korver.
2 Isaiah Thomas, 5'9"
Career NBA stats: 15.3 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 4.6 APG
This spot could easily have been taken by former Detroit Pistons guard and two-time NBA champion Isiah Thomas. However, we are considering short NBA players six feet and shorter. Thomas is 6'1".
The Isaiah Thomas we're talking about is just 5'9" and currently plays for the run-and-gun Phoenix Suns. His father named him after the Detroit Pistons legend. Thomas' mother insisted that their son's name be spelled "Isaiah" after a biblical character.
Thomas gave fans a sign of things to come during his rookie year in 2011-12, when he won several Rookie of the Month awards as a member of the Sacramento Kings.
He continues to impress with the Suns and is averaging 15.1 points per game with them.
1 Calvin Murphy, 5'9"
Career NBA stats: 17.9 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 4.4 APG
Calvin Murphy is the greatest little man shorter than six feet to have ever played in the NBA.
Just like guys such as Damon Stoudamire and Isaiah Thomas, Murphy was short but made an immediate impact in the league. During his rookie year with the then-San Diego Rockets, Murphy averaged 15.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists to secure a spot in the NBA All-Rookie Team.
Murphy's hottest stretch as a pro was from 1977-1980. During that torrid run, he averaged 25.6 points, 20.2 points, and 20.0 points in three NBA seasons with the Houston Rockets. Murphy was named to the All-Star team in 1979 and won the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award that same year.
Murphy's Rockets made it to the NBA Finals against Larry Bird's Boston Celtics in 1981. However, Houston lost in six games. Murphy retired two years later. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inducted him in 1993.
Murphy is one of the few Rockets legends to have played their entire career with the franchise. Hakeem Olajuwon and Rudy Tomjanovich are two of the others.
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