How being an underdog drove ex-Hornet Muggsy Bogues to succeed

Muggsy Bogues discusses Space Jam sequel

Former Charlotte Hornets and NBA player Muggsy Bogues discusses the upcoming 'Space Jam' sequel while speaking at Parker Poe in Charlotte Aug. 23.
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Former Charlotte Hornets and NBA player Muggsy Bogues discusses the upcoming 'Space Jam' sequel while speaking at Parker Poe in Charlotte Aug. 23.

Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues was once shot when he was five years old living in housing projects in East Baltimore. He says he was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

But that day marked a big change for Bogues, arguably the most popular Charlotte Hornet in franchise history who, at 5 foot 3 inches, also was the shortest player in the history of a league that tends to favor really tall men.

Bogues says the incident left him with a sense of confidence in the face of doubt, a lesson he carried with him throughout his professional basketball career, which included playing point guard for the Hornets from 1988-1997. It’s also the lesson he discussed Tuesday at a business forum at Charlotte-based law firm Parker Poe.

“My mindset became so fearless that I just didn’t care about what people said or thought,” Bogues said. “After that, what else can happen? What more do I have to be fearful of?”

Bogues’ discussion was part of the law firm’s new “mini-MBA” program for its attorneys and senior administration. The program consists of a year of monthly classroom-style lectures and workshops that put to use legal skills and enhance attorneys’ business principles.

Proving people wrong is a driving force in any industry, Bogues says. That’s one of the things that kept him going when naysayers would declare he was too short to play professionally.

Bogues also admits that it’s easier said than done to let negative criticism roll off your back. Words can hurt, he said, so he always remembered the counsel of his mother, who raised him herself after his father was sent to prison.

“My mom would say, ‘Ty, don’t worry about what anyone says. Nobody else can be an expert on your life. Nobody knows how big your heart is, and they definitely don’t know what your potentials are.’”

Bogues spent a lot of his time growing up at his neighborhood recreation center under the coaching and guidance of Leon Howard, with whom he regularly visits when he’s back in Baltimore. The rec center was a place that gave structure to the neighborhood kids’ days, and kept a lot of them out of trouble.

It’s where Bogues himself learned how to play basketball, and a place that helped inspire the former Hornet’s nonprofit called Always Believe Inc., which works to build leadership skills and mentors at-risk youth through a focus on areas like athletics and team-building.

Soon after a successful career at Wake Forest University, Bogues was picked by the Hornets in the expansion draft in 1988, becoming part of the iconic team that included Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson. In Charlotte, Bogues started commanding more respect on the court and became a champion for the underdog.

“If you play against the best and you have success against the best, then you must now be included among the best. So I always took that mindset when I went onto the floor,” Bogues said.

In his playing days, Bogues also starred in the 1996 hit movie, “Space Jam,” alongside now-Hornets owner Michael Jordan and other NBA stars. He said he’s not involved in the movie’s sequel, though he does remain friends with Jordan.

Bogues said he’s no longer involved with the Hornets, but he was part of the celebration when the Charlotte Bobcats franchise reclaimed the Hornets name in 2013.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta