With Tyler Ulis’ commitment to the Cats all but certain tomorrow night, many fans are still trying to wrap their heads around the idea of a 5’9″ point guard in a Kentucky uniform. I get it; the typical Calipari point guard is more in the mold of Wall, Rose, or Harrison: 6’3″-6’5″, strong, and fast. At only 5’9″, 150 lbs., Tyler Ulis seems laughably small when compared to those guys, but before you laugh too hard, remember one thing: there’s a reason why he’s got an offer from Cal. Cal told Ulis’ father that his son “doesn’t play to his size,” and his high school coach says the small guard will “refuse to lose” (sound familiar?). He put up 22 points and 17 assists against the taller and higher ranked Tyus Jones at the Peach Jam, and shows absolutely no fear against bigger players.
At 5’3″ myself, I’ve always had a soft spot for shorties. As Devan Downey, Jason Harrison, Anthony Hickey, and Phil Pressey have proved, there’s nothing more infuriating for fans of the opposing team than a tiny little guard on fire. (In our house, Ole Miss’ Harrison was known as “Little $#[email protected]”.) All of those guys were great in college, where most short point guards traditionally fare better, but what about the pros? Drew hates short people, so Matt gave me the task of looking up the most successful short point guards in the NBA. I was pleasantly surprised by how many shorties made it big in the league, and how they all shared one common trait: they don’t let their height define them. Call it putting the Napoleon Complex to good use.
Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues
College: Wake Forest (1983-1987)
NBA Career: Washington Bullets (1987—1988); Charlotte Hornets (1988—1997); Golden State Warriors (1997—1999); Toronto Raptors (1999—2001)
When you think “short NBA player,” Muggsy Bogues immediately comes to mind. At 5’3″, Bogues is the shortest player to ever play in the league, and was drafted 12th in the 1987 NBA Draft, a class which also included David Robinson, Reggie Miller, and Scottie Pippen. Seeing Bogues on the court was surreal, especially when he stood next to his teammate Manute Boi, who stood at a whopping 7’7″ tall, but his skills were no joke. Despite being a foot shorter than most NBA point guards, Bogues never played to his size, and had 39 blocks over his 14-year NBA career, including one over Patrick Ewing. People loved Muggsy so much that he had with appearances in “Space Jam,” “JuWanna Mann, “Eddie,” and even “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
College: Niagara (1967-1970)
NBA Career: San Diego/Houston Rockets (1970—1983)
NBA All-Star (1979)
Murphy is a name the younger folks (including myself) probably don’t know, but he pretty much set the standard for short point guards in the league. He was drafted by the San Diego Rockets with the 18th pick in the 1970 NBA Draft, and is the only guy on this list so far to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Murphy’s strengths were speed, defense, and free-throw shooting (hilariously, he also won a national champion in baton twirling). He didn’t take guff from anyone, no matter their size, and is probably best known for his brawl with 6’9″ Sidney Wicks, in which he jumped up, grabbed a piece of Wicks’ afro and gave him a bloody nose. I do the same thing when people call me short, Calvin.
Anthony “Spud” Webb
College: Midland Collge (1981-1983); NC State (1983-1985)
NBA Career: Atlanta Hawks (1985—1991, 1995—1996); Sacramento Kings (1991—1995); Minnesota Timberwolves (1996); Orlando Magic (1998)
NBA Slam Dunk Contest Champion (1986)
Spud Webb was the shortest player to ever compete in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest, and most people, including his teammate and defending dunk contest champion Dominique Wilkins, laughed at him for it until the won in 1986.
It was a victory for shorties everywhere. Take that, Drew.
College: Eastern Michigan (1994—1998)
NBA Career: New Jersey Nets (1999); Cleveland Cavaliers (1999); Orlando Magic (1999); Cleveland Cavaliers (2000); Los Angeles Clippers (2001—2002); Golden State Warriors (2002—03); Denver Nuggets (2003—2007); Milwaukee Bucks (2007); Charlotte Bobcats (2008); Washington Wizards (2009—10); Milwaukee Bucks (2010—11); Houston Rockets (2012)
Boykins is the second shortest player in NBA history behind Muggsy Bogues. While at Eastern Michigan, Boykins earned a reputation as a unstoppable scorer, so unguardable that the he led his team to an upset of Duke in the 1996 NCAA Tournament. At the time, Boykins said “I don’t think any 6-3 guard can stop me.” He went undrafted in the NBA, but played himself onto several squads during his 13-year NBA career, during which he became the shortest player in NBA history to score 30 or more points during a game.
College: Washington (2002-2005)
NBA Career: New York Knicks (2005—2010); Boston Celtics (2009—2011); Oklahoma City Thunder (2011—2011); Golden State Warriors (2011—12); Chicago Bulls (2012—2013); Denver Nuggets (2013—present)
3-time NBA Slam Dunk Contest Champion (2006, 2009, 2010)
Robinson led the Washington Huskies to the Sweet Sixteen in 2004, and was drafted 21st by the Phoenix Suns before being traded to the Knicks. His breakout game in the NBA came against the 76ers, in which he scored 17 points and shot the game-winning three over his childhood hero, Allen Iverson. At only 5’9″, he’s the first player in NBA history to win the Slam Dunk Contest three times, and in 2006, actually jumped over 1986 Dunk Champion and fellow shorty Spud Webb. He’s a dynamic scorer with freak athleticism, which he showed off in his 34-point performance for the Bulls against the Nets in last season’s playoffs.
College: Georgetown (1994-1996)
NBA Career: Philadelphia 76ers (1996—2006); Denver Nuggets (2006—2008); Detroit Pistons (2008—2009); Memphis Grizzlies (2009); Philadelphia 76ers (2009—2010)
NBA Rookie of the Year (1997), NBA MVP (2001), 11-time NBA All-Star (2000-2010)
Iverson’s height is listed at 6′, but that seems to be a generous tip of the measuring stick if you ask me. Iverson is the shortest first overall pick in NBA Draft history, and in his prime, played harder than anyone. He led the league in scoring four times, steals three times, and was an eleven-time NBA All-Star. Tyler Ulis calls Iverson his idol; as the most famous undersized guards, he’s inspired a whole generation of short kids to not give up on their dreams. Just don’t look to him for advice off the court, kiddos.
College: Wake Forest (2003-2005)
NBA Career: New Orleans Hornets (2005—2011); Los Angeles Clippers (2011—present)
NBA Rookie of the Year (2006), 6-time NBA All-Star (2008-2013)
Like Iverson, Paul probably isn’t 6′ either, but has been a role model for vertically-challenged guards over the years. He even wrote a book about overcoming his short stature called “Long Short: Never Too Small To Dream Big.” Unlike some of the others on this list, Paul was a very highly ranked recruit and a McDonald’s All-American in 2003. Under his hand, Wake Forest went to the Sweet Sixteen and was ranked #1 in the country for the first time in school history. He left Winston-Salem after his sophomore year and was drafted 4th by the Hornets in 2005. From there, he garnered accolades on accolades, and is considered one of the best players in the league.
See? A 5’9″ point guard isn’t the end of the world. From what we’ve heard, Ulis possesses the same traits as the guys on this list: fearlessness, speed, smarts, and excellent distribution skills. Come on down and do it for the shorties, Tyler.