CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Remarkable how tall that little Muggsy Bogues has grown in our eyes.
He used to be 5 feet 3 and a liability to the Charlotte Hornets, remember? He was cute and beloved and he played harder than anybody in the world, but taller guards could shoot over him and could make it difficult for him to distribute the ball on offense. That's what the basketball masterminds said.
We nodded, but we wondered why all of the visiting guards said they would rather try to dribble through a car wash than bring the ball upcourt against Muggsy, the Baltimore native. Why he managed to be one of the league leaders in assists every year. And why he was always up there in steals.
An expansion team can't afford a liability like Bogues, just because the crowd loves him, we were told. Trade him, we shouted like a lynch mob.
We were somewhat new to the league and easily swayed by anyone who had been around the NBA longer than we.
Now, just before another NBA draft, we're yelling at management again about Bogues, but this time it's, "Get our man Muggsy some help, you heartless tyrants!"
That has to be gratifying to Bogues, who is still 5-3, still Muggsy, but under different management.
Yeah, he said, but he's used to it.
"I've been playing all my life," he said, "and everywhere I went, they wanted to replace me with a big guard. I just kept playing and didn't worry about it. I know I can play. I know I can play as a starter."
The Hornets will take big Alonzo Mourning with their first pick tonight and a point guard with their next, which will be the 35th overall. When the team is drafting at your position, it can be unsettling. Suppose they get somebody who can beat you out?
It is draft night, June 27, 1989. The Hornets ask some of their players to be on hand at the Charlotte Coliseum for the draft party. Tim Kempton, one of the big men, is there. The Hornets draft J.R. Reid, also a big man. Reid is flown in, arriving at the Coliseum in time for an introduction to the crowd. As Reid enters, security people make a path for him through the crowd. Someone pushes Kempton aside to make way for Reid. On Sept. 11, Kempton is traded.
But there's no reason for Bogues to be nervous about this. The Hornets are not going to draft anyone that late who can beat him out.
"From all indications, Muggsy understands he's wanted here," coach Allan Bristow said, "and as long as I'm here, he's going to play an important role with this team. Muggsy's tough. He's not going to just let someone come in and take away his playing time. He enjoys starting and playing a lot."
He does play a lot. Thirty-four minutes a game last season, about average for NBA point guards but too much for what Bogues has to do in the Hornets' motion offense and pressure defense.
There were 16 games in which he played 40 or more minutes. After a particularly hard game late in the season, he actually uttered words you would never expect to hear from him: "They've gotta get me some help."
Today, he says, "I'll play as long as they want me to. It would be nice to get some rest. I do hope they get someone who can play some effective minutes. Playing 82 games in this system night after night against top-notch players does wear on you. I'll never ask them to cut my playing time. But whatever they decide, I'll do.
"I just keep playing basketball and don't worry about what happens."
Doesn't Bogues look about 10 feet tall right now?