It’s not the size – it’s what you do with it. You know what they say, the best things come in the smallest packages. Ok, enough of the clichés. We know size matters and nowhere is that more true than the NBA. But every now and then a pocket rocket will emerge from nowhere to take everyone by surprise.
Players small of stature have graced the court for decades. From the 5ft 6 Mel Hirsch to the 5ft 7 Watary Misaka in the 1947-48 New York Knicks side. These point guards couldn’t sustain a career worthy enough of truly making it in the league though. What separates the best from the rest is longevity in the world’s toughest basketball competition.
Talk to any coach in the sport and they’ll tell you straight up that a balanced squad is a winning squad. For every forward or center that can dominate with and without the ball, it’s the impact guys coming off the bench to contribute on the scoreboard that are just as valuable over the course of a season.
The San Antonio Spurs need Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard to go above and beyond, but if the likes of Patty Mills can’t make plays once he’s subbed on, they don’t win nearly as many games. At a flat 6ft 0 Mills is easily the smallest of that squad, quite a sobering thought for the rest of these shorties who stayed in the game.
These athletes have defied normal conventions and stereotypes about the sport of basketball. Where scouts and coaches have looked to unearth the best rebounders and dunking merchants, the smallest NBA legends literally go under the radar to set their own standard on the court. Here are the top 15 shortest players to make it in the NBA.
15 T13. Slater Martin – 5'10"
When you watch Hollywood films like Glory Road and Coach Carter to examine the racism rife throughout the game back in the amateur days, it’s hard to actually contemplate the amount of pasty white guys suiting up at the top level. Slater Martin was one of them, the pictures tell us as much. But the tighty whities aside, Martin enjoyed 11 years at the top level for the Lakers, Knicks and Hawks from 1949-1960 to accumulate 745 games at 9.8 PPG. This was not an easy task at 5ft 10 and there’s every chance we’ll never see the likes of Martin grace the NBA again, particularly in those shorts!
14 T13. Avery Johnson – 5'10"
Avery Johnson gave his sweat, blood and tears on the court for 5 different franchises before his retirement a decade ago, extending every inch of his modest 5ft 10 frame to rack up 1054 games at 8.4 PPG. The former Sonics, Nuggets, Spurs, Rockets and Mavericks point guard was known as the “Little General” for bossing his way around games and since he hung up the shorts, he went on to coach the Mavs for 3 seasons until he ended up with the Alabama job this year.
13 T13. Brevin Knight – 5'10"
Arguably the best pocket rocket journeyman the NBA has seen. 12 years with 9 clubs (Cavs, Hawks, Grizzlies, Suns, Wizards, Bucks, Bobcats, Clippers and Jazz) meant that between 1997 to 2009 Brevin was on a first name basis with a lot of the league. Standing 5ft 10, Knight acted as a reliable point guard at 7.3 PPG over a 729 game career that was highlighted with a top 10 assist record stretching 4 seasons. Never loved, but also never forgotten.
12 T8. Isaiah Thomas – 5'9"
The new Boston Celtics man could be accused of having short man syndrome, believing that Kobe Bryant wouldn’t care about celebrating another players retirement if the roles were reversed. Since joining from the Suns in February, Isaiah Thomas has put up some solid numbers averaging 19 PPG and 17.5 PPG in the playoffs. At 5ft 9 the point guard won’t accept a small role at Boston and we should be seeing the 26-year old from Tacoma develop into a key cog for the franchise in future seasons.
11 T8. Nate Robinson – 5'9"
With 3 NBA Slam Dunk Contest winners’ medals, Nate Robinson has a habit of defying gravity. Men who stand at 5ft 9 aren’t supposed to reach those heights and its any wonder the point guard hasn’t experienced vertigo at some stage. Now a free agent, the 31-year old has done the rounds at the Knicks, Celtics, Thunder, Bulls, Nuggets, Clippers and Pelicans. A bit of a worry that he was deemed unsuitable for New Orleans right now so there’s every chance the bit-sized baller might have peaked.
10 T8. Ralph O’Brien – 5'9"
Size has always been something of a prerequisite to succeeding in the NBA, but the 1950s bucked a few trends. One of them was 5ft 9 Ralph O’Brien who played point guard for the Indianapolis Olympians and Baltimore Bullets. Averaging 7.1 PPG and 1.5 assists, the boy from Kentucky gave a good account himself considering that he was the only graduate from Butler College to make the NBA until Gordon Hayward did 50 years later in 2010.
9 T8. Angelo Musi – 5'9"
Pretty fly for a white guy. Temple College product Angelo Musi rose to prominence as soon as World War Two came to a close in 1946 where he slotted in as a guard for the Philadelphia Warriors. While there is no real footage to analyze how he shot a basket or made his presence felt on the court, his numbers are decent for a 5ft 9 product. Musi sadly passed away at the tender age of 91 in 2009, yet he is one of the few players below 6 feet to make a genuine impression.
8 T8. Calvin Murphy – 5'9"
A stalwart of the game in every possible sense. Calvin Murphy stood tall at 5ft 9 to get over the 1000 match mark through 13 years of graft and hard work. The Rockets legend was a tough operator from 1970 to 1983 where he averaged 17.9 points a game. Murphy put his weight around and didn’t mind the odd confrontation, classic little man syndrome striking again. With a Hall of Fame induction to look back on, we don’t think he cares what accusations you throw his way.
7 T6. Dino Martin – 5'8"
Fans of the Providence Steamrollers are probably too long in the tooth to remember little Dino Martin, assuming they’re still alive. There simply isn’t much to see or read of the 5ft 8 guard who only played 2 seasons in the NBA, aside from racking up an incredible 834 points and 73 assists. To put that into perspective, that’s more than 80% of every other player after the same amount of seasons played. Maybe the rims weren’t as high up back in the 1940's because that is nothing short of remarkable.
6 T6. Charlie Criss – 5'8"
Despite missing out on the draft altogether (probably couldn’t be spotted from in the lineup), all of 5ft 8 inches Charlie Criss transferred from the CBA to NBA in 1977 to average over 10 PPG in his first season at the top level. His 8 seasons across 3 different franchises ended with 418 matches at 8.5 PPG and given that he emerged from complete obscurity without having the obvious physical attributes to thrive, the Charlie Criss story illustrates how a bit of perseverance can pay off.
5 T3. Keith Jennings – 5'7"
Not exactly an enduring legacy, but an impact nonetheless. At 5ft 7 Keith Jennings was far from a colossus at the Golden State Warriors in the 1990's, coming on as a reserve point guard 164 times for 6.6 PPG. Going by the name “Mister” Jennings, Keith was a cult hero for his energy and enthusiasm to play above and beyond his physical limitations. He went on to enjoy the game around the world in Europe with big continental names like Real Madrid, Fenerbahce and Strasbourg, but it’s the NBA spell we remember fondly.
4 T3. Greg Grant – 5'7"
Grant’s rise from humble beginnings in Jersey and from an even humbler stature at 5ft 7 meant Greg Grant can look back on his time in the NBA with a lot of pride. He experienced a decade from 1989 to 1998 at point guard across the Suns, Knicks, Hornets and 76ers to demonstrate a passion for the game rarely seen. His coaching clinics that he runs back home are testament to this. Far from a legend by any measurement, but he made it.
3 T3. Spud Webb – 5'7"
Passing, dunking, shooting – Spud Webb had a full bag of tricks for a dozen years in the NBA. The former Hawks, Kings, Wolves and Magic player gave every team a different dimension on the court, shown most notably by his huge upset win at the 1986 Slam Dunk contest some 30 years ago. All the more remarkable he made the rim that impressively at 5ft 6 as he would go on to enjoy 814 games at the premier level averaging 9.1 PPG.
2 Earl Boykins – 5'5"
Little Earl was a fearless baller, he kind of had to be at 5ft 5. Boykins loved to shoot from range when he started at the Nets before moves to the Cavs, Magic, Clippers, Warriors, Nuggets, Bucks, Bobcats, Wizards and Rockets meant that he shifted around as much between franchises as he did on any given game. His retirement in the league in 2012 was a shame because he was one of the real dynamos in the competition.
1 Muggsy Bogues – 5'3"
The smallest of the small and arguably the best of the lot. Space Jam actor and miniature point guard Muggsy Bogues transcended the sport and flew in the face of logic to star for the Bullets, Hornets, Warriors and Raptors from 1987 to 2001 with all of his 5ft and 3 inches. Muggsy isn’t even small by basketball standards. He would struggle to stand out in a room full of nuns. With 889 games to look back on over a glittering career, his speed and agility on the court gave him a center of gravity and ease of movement that couldn’t be matched. A true giant among the small NBA community.