For his entire athletic career, people have told Muggsy Bogues what he could and could not do - mostly what he could not do.
He couldn't play high school basketball because his 5-foot-3 frame would not allow it. He did. He certainly couldn't play major college basketball because he was too short. He did.And he must be a fool for even thinking he could play in the NBA. But here he is in his third season, making more money than many of the experts combined.
In the offseason, the Charlotte Hornets rewarded Bogues with a contract worth $1 million a season. And Tuesday night against the New Jersey Nets, he returned the favor with a money performance.
After struggling for the first two games and for three quarters of a third, the little man came up big when the chips were down and spurred the Hornets to a 113-105 victory over the New Jersey Nets. The win gave Charlotte a 2-1 record and put the team over the .500 level for the first time in franchise history. The Nets are still winless in three games and dropped their 31st straight road game - one shy of an NBA record.
Bogues' statistics against New Jersey wouldn't have impressed those who didn't see the game. The former Wake Forest standout was three-for-nine from the field, scored 11 points, handed out eight assists and came up with three steals. But what the box score doesn't say is that seven of those points and two of those steals came in the final six minutes, when the Hornets absolutely had to have them.
``We rely on him to do so much for us,' said Charlotte coach Gene Littles. ``We ask him to run the offense, push the ball up the floor, play defense, shoot when the shot is there ... He's been struggling with his shot a little so far, but he stepped up and made some big ones for us down the stretch.'
``Muggsy's a real get-in-your-hair kind of player,' said New Jersey coach Bill Fitch. ``He may be the smallest player in the league but he may have the biggest heart.'
``I just tried to pick up my intensity,' Bogues said. ``In the first game, I felt like I was a step slow - everything just seemed like it wasn't there. I've just been trying to take it one step at a time because it's too long a season for me to be getting down on myself. I finally got it together.'
On Tuesday, the Hornets were locked in a serious battle against the Nets. In the third quarter, Charlotte looked to be on the verge of pulling away. Playing some of their best defense in recent memory, the Hornets pushed the same New Jersey transition attack that had scored easily in the first half into neutral and built a comfortable working margin. However, the Nets came right back and tied the game on a hook by Chris Dudley. The Hornets needed help. And with Charlotte up 93-92, Bogues went to work.
First, he hit two free throws to increase the lead to three. A few moments later, Bogues came up with a loose ball and headed down the court against Mookie Blaylock. Bogues faked one way, came back in the other direction and hooked the ball over the outstreched hand of Blaylock, drawing a foul and pushing the lead to 101-94.
With 3:28 to go, the Hornets came up with another good defensive stand. After forcing a bad shot, Armon Gilliam, who led the team with 27 points, cleared the boards and got the ball to Bogues. In the middle of the floor on a two-on-one break, Bogues again delivered with a beautiful now-you-see-it-now-you-don't-fake to lose Blaylock and glide in for an easy layup to make it 107-96.
``In the first half, we allowed them to run too much,' Bogues said. ``In the second half, we started playing better defense and getting out on the break and I was able to push it up the floor a little more.'
``He kind of lulls you to sleep,' Littles added. ``Of course, he worries you to death on defense, but he doesn't look to score on offense. Then when you don't expect it, he comes up with something.'
New Jersey cut the lead to 107-100 and forced a Charlotte turnover with 1:11 remaining. But when Blaylock, who was one-on-one with Bogues, went to make his move to the basket, Bogues relieved him of the ball, stripping it away. The steal resulted in two free throws by Johnny Newman and put it away for good for the Hornets.
``He's always coming up with something when we need it,' said J.R. Reid. ``His trademark is pushing the ball up the floor; that's what makes him different from anyone else in this league. He's always pushing it and he always makes the right decision.
``He's our man.'