This is a story about a surprise birthday party 50 floors above the ground. Included are surprised guests, a surprised groom, surprise vows and a surprise wedding.
It’s a Valentine’s Day story.
“You could write a book about it,” says George Shinn, the former owner of the Charlotte Hornets.
The party was in downtown Charlotte at the Sky Lounge in The Vue. How did guests, who had no idea a wedding would break out, react when the groom spontaneously offered his vows?
“Denise was bawling,” Shinn says about his wife. “I was crying, too. I felt like a big wuss. But when I looked around even the big guys were crying. Moses Malone was crying his eyes out.”
The 6-foot-10 Malone was a tough and talented basketball player. Under his name in the Petersburg (Va.) high school yearbook are probably the words: Voted Least Likely to Cry in Public. Malone played for the Washington Bullets in 1987-88. So did a rookie, Muggsy Bogues.
Bogues, a 5-3 point guard, played for the Hornets from 1988 to 1997. In the Sky Lounge he played a different role – groom.
We sit at a table in Muggsy’s south Charlotte home, the same home he has lived in since the Hornets acquired him.
Muggsy, 50, says he met the woman who would become his wife at a Dunbar (Baltimore) alumni game in the summer of 1984. One of Muggsy’s teammates on the Dunbar team, which did not lose a game Muggsy’s last two seasons, was dating a woman who had a friend named Kim. An introduction was made.
Muggsy was 21, a star at Wake Forest, and Kim was 19. They quickly became a couple.
Daughter Brittney was born in 1987, and four years later she was joined by her brother Ty. Also in the household was Tyisha, Muggsy’s daughter from a previous relationship. Muggsy and Kim married in 1989.
They separated in ’95 and divorced in ’97. If you had to cite a reason for the break-up, says Muggsy, it would be “NBA lifestyle.”
“It was hard,” says Brittney, 28. “Nobody wants to see their parents break up.”
Tyisha moved in with a grandmother in Baltimore. Kim and the children settled in New York. When Ty reached high school age, he moved in with Muggsy.
Kim and Muggsy respected each other, but they also took turns being furious with each other. They’d say things they couldn’t take back. In other words, they were like every other divorced couple.
In 2003, Muggsy met Sharon Smith.
“She was a beautiful young lady and a great mother to three beautiful children,” he says.
They were about to enter their sixth year together, and had talked about getting engaged. In 2009, Smith died of breast cancer.
Ty, then a high school senior, had been struggling. Muggsy couldn’t help. He was depressed, he says, and “in a cloud.”
Kim came down from New York to take care of Ty, and realized her ex-husband needed help, too.
“Life works in mysterious ways,” says Muggsy. “God is just an amazing God. Sharon passed – may she rest in peace – and Kim just left everything behind. She just put me first, put us first, and I’ll always respect her for that, and I’ll always love her for that.”
The door behind Muggsy opens. He looks up from the table and in walks Kim.
Kim stayed in Charlotte with Ty and Muggsy. She and Muggsy weren’t ready to date again. But the bitterness they held began to fade, and as Muggsy dug out of his depression, they realized they could talk. Over time, years not months, they started to date.
They remembered why they had fallen in love, and eventually talked about marriage. They also talked about Jan. 9, when Muggsy would turn 50. He wouldn’t mind a party, and they wanted to throw him one.
Brittney is an event planner, and last June she and Kim began to plan the party. That’s a long time to keep a secret. As painful as it was to hide the truth, this would be too good to give away.
As the date approached, they talked less about the party.
Meanwhile, Muggsy and Kim had decided they wanted to get married. When? They didn’t know. Muggsy went ahead to the courthouse to pick up a marriage certificate.
Then it was Jan. 9, Kim had been busy and the party was off, and Muggsy believed he was going to take Kim to dinner. They had a friend who lived in The Vue, and Kim told Muggsy that before dinner they’d meet their friend and pick up a gift.
Before they showed up, about 70 family members and friends did.
Muggsy is not hard to find, and people that don’t know him feel as if they do. Along with running Always Believe, a growing non-profit foundation for kids (Always-believe.org), he works as an ambassador for the NBA. Name a country, and in the last three years he’s probably been in it.
They know him in Istanbul. In Turkey at the behest of the NBA, Muggsy was standing next to the basketball court when a man approached with his son, who was about 10. The man talked about Muggsy’s career when the boy excitedly pointed and squealed, “Space Jam!”
Muggsy appeared in the 1996 movie with several NBA stars, foremost among them Michael Jordan.
On the long elevator ride to the 50th floor, Muggsy sensed that something was not right. When he and Kim walked into the Sky Lounge friends and family chanted “Muggsy, Muggsy, Muggsy!” They sang “Happy birthday!” There were hugs and handshakes and candles to blow out.
Next was a slide show that featured pictures of Muggsy’s life, wife, kids and career. When it ended Kim said she’d do it all again.
Around a corner walked pastor Nora Carter of Briar Creek Church, whom Muggsy had never met. Kim was standing, and she summoned him to join her.
“I was stunned,” says Muggsy.
Kim said that when Muggsy figured out what was going on he looked mad and she asked if he wanted to go through with it. He did. But he wanted to spring the vows on her. She got him.
“And I’m tough to get,” says Muggsy. “All of a sudden she (the pastor) goes ahead and starts.”
Muggsy had prepared no words. But he knew what he wanted to say. As he repeats the words in his kitchen, a single tear drops from his right eye.
“The words were in my heart,” says Muggsy. “I thanked God for allowing us to come back into each other’s life. I told her we’ve come full circle to where we started this thing many years ago, and the values we wanted to instill in our kids and the things that we said, and the promise that I made fell a little short. But I promise today that I’m a different man and I’m here to make sure that I stay faithful and protect you and provide for you and love you for eternity.”
“I almost forgot,” Muggsy tells me. “I told Kim she accepted me when I was a snotty little kid from the projects. And here I am a snotty little kid standing in front of you.”
Muggsy leaned into Kim to kiss her and she said not yet. Kim offered her vows and then they exchanged rings, or would have if Muggsy had one. I didn’t know, he wanted to yell.
Ty knew, and handed his dad the ring.
“I have never seen the children happier,” Kim says.
After the surprise party, the surprise vows and surprise wedding, the surprise ended.
“It’s my honor and my pleasure,” the pastor said, “to introduce you to Mr. and Mrs. Tyrone Muggsy Bogues.”