It’s not difficult to see why basketball is usually a game for tall people. Taller players are able to reach over and around other players more easily and are that much nearer to the rim.
The average height of players in the NBA is around 6’7” (2.01m).
That’s remarkably tall compared to most people. Average height in the USA is 5’9” (1.75m) for men and 5’4” (1.63) for women.
Try adding another foot on top of that and you’ve reached the height of the two tallest players in NBA history.
Romanian Gheorghe Muresan and Sudanese Manute Bol both measured a mind-boggling 7’7” (2.31m).
One disadvantage of such enormous height is that it tends to lead to decreased athleticism
Sure, some of the biggest guys can dunk in a standard basketball rim, which is 10’ (3.05m) from the ground. But they’re basically just lifting their arms up to do so and barely leaving the ground.
Shorter players certainly don’t have any great advantages in the grand scheme of things. But that’s not to say that they can’t prosper in the NBA if they possess extraordinary talents and springiness.
They can run rings around giant, heavy players It’s like the hobbits running through the legs of the Ents in Lord of the rings. Too nerdy? Whatever.
In this article, we’ll list the shortest players in NBA history and discuss their back-stories and key attributes. We will also reveal the current shortest players in the NBA and the teams they play for.
The list of former and current professional basketball players below are unimaginably short by NBA standards.
Some are average for American men but even they look like children compared to some of the towering individuals who play in the NBA. So, we can agree that the shorter guys have not had an easy ride to make it to the NBA. Check out our article – ‘What are the odds of making it to the NBA?’ to see just how unimaginably difficult it is to do, even if you are pushing 7 feet tall.
To do so as a diminutive person is, perhaps, one of the most remarkable achievements in sport…
Let’s take a look at these pint-sized powerhouses…
(1920 – 1999) Died aged 79
Born: Newport, Rhode Island
Height/weight: 5’8″ (1.73m) 160lbs (72.57kg)
Debut: November 2nd 1946
Teams: Providence Steamrollers (BAA league)
Career length: 2 years
Dino Martin played for the Providence Steamrollers in the league that was the predecessor to the NBA. He is most notable for being the first professional basketball player ever to score 40 points in a single game.
(1948 – ) Age 73
Born: Valhalla, New York
Height/weight: 5’8” (1.73m) 165lbs (74.8kg)
College: New Mexico State
Debut: October 22nd 1977
Teams: Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks
Career length: 8 years
At the same height as Don “Dino” Martin, we have Charlie Criss.
Playing in the Continental Basketball Association, Criss was twice voted Most Valuable Player. His real ambition, however, was always to play in the NBA.
In 1977, seven years out of college, Charlie’s dream became a reality. At 28 years old he joined the Atlanta Hawks where he would also finish his career after stints with the Los Angeles Clippers and the Milwaukee Bucks. Criss became known for his speed and his sharp-shooting and passing skills. When he joined the Atlanta Hawks as guard, his head coach, Hubie Brown, said;
“CHARLIE IS DYNAMITE. WHEN HE GETS ON THE COURT, THINGS HAPPEN.”
Due to an article in Sports Illustrated, Charlie Criss became known as the NBA’s smallest player and oldest rookie. Eight seasons in the NBA is no mean feat at any height.
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KEITH “MISTER” JENNINGS
(1968 – ) Age 53
Born: Culpeper, Virginia
Height/weight: 5’7” (1.70m) 160lbs (72.57kg)
College: East Tennessee State University
Debut: November 6th 1992
Teams: Golden State Warriors
Career length: 3 years
Although only 5’7”, Keith Jennings never considered his below-average height a drawback. He said;
“I ALWAYS FELT THAT I PLAYED BIGGER THAN I WAS”
“I actually felt it was easier for me to play against bigger guys, because I played inside and did not mind trying to battle for a rebound.”
Jennings joined the Golden State Warriors as a point guard in 1992 and played for them until 1995. He also played for teams like Germany, Turkey, Spain, Russia, and France. When his short playing career finished he coached at a variety of schools and colleges across Virginia and Tennessee.
(1953 – ) Age 68
Born: Marion, Indiana
Height/weight: 5’7” (1.70m) 150lbs (68kg)
College: NC State
Debut: October 22nd 1976
Teams: Denver Nuggets
Career length: 2 years
In 1974, Monte Towe helped lead his college NC State Wolfpack team to a national championship win. He also helped the baseball team win the Championship too. Clearly, a natural athlete both physically and mentally.
David Thompson said that Towe;
“BROUGHT THAT ATTITUDE, THAT FIGHT, THAT NEVER-SAY-DIE ATTITUDE”
to the team. He was incredibly fast and simply darted past the competition as though they weren’t moving. Confidence was not lacking in Towe, despite his physical disadvantages. Drafted by the Denver Nuggets in 1976, he spent his 2 year career there. In 2002, he was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and, to this day, remains the the shortest NBA player ever to dunk a basketball.
Perhaps Monte Towe’s best-remembered contribution to the world of basketball will be the perfection of the alley-oop with teammate David Thompson.
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WATARU “WAT” MISAKA
(1923 – 2019) Died aged 95
Born: Ogden, Utah
Height/weight: 5’7” (1.70m) 150lbs (68kg)
Debut: November 13th 1947
Teams: New York Knickerbockers
Career length: 1 year
Wataru “Wat” Misaka’s Japanese ancestry caused him to suffer a great deal of prejudice as a youngster. Although he was born in the USA, World War II started when he was at high school.
The treatment of Japanese Americans at that time was abysmal and he did not escape that. Being an American, but seen as an Asian player in the eyes of his teammates and opponents must have been incredibly challenging.
He attended the University of Utah and signed for the Utah Utes, helping them to the 1944 NCAA championship. Wataru then spent 2 years in the US Army, post-WWII. This included a posting in Japan. While stationed there, he interviewed atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima. His recollection is that he felt like he was in;
“A PERSONAL NO-MAN’S LAND. NO MATTER WHERE I LOOKED, I WAS A TRAITOR IN SOMEONE’S EYES.”
Returning to the University of Utah after the army in 1947, his college basketball team won the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) championship.
Misaka played briefly as point guard for the New York Knickerbockers between 1947 and 1948. He is important in US basketball history for many reasons. Not least of which because he was the first non-caucasian player ever to step foot on a professional basketball court in the United States. At that time, the American basketball league was known as the Basketball Association of America (BAA). In 1999, Wataru Misaka was inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame.
LOUIS HERMAN “RED” KLOTZ
(1921 – 2014) Died aged 92
Born: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Height/weight: 5’7” (1.70m) 150lbs (68kg)
Teams: Baltimore Bullets (BAA league)
Career length: 1 year
In 1948, red-headed Louis Herman Klotz won the Basketball Association of America (BAA) title with the Baltimore Bullets. He is the shortest player ever to achieve this but is, perhaps, more famous for another reason…
In 1952, Red Klotz bought the American Basketball League’s Philadelphia Sphas and renamed them the Washington Generals. A year later, the Generals were invited to tour with the Harlem Globetrotters and give them regular competition matches.
The two teams have played against each other in exhibition matches ever since. In that time, the Generals have lost over 13,000 games to the Globetrotters; the last time that they beat them was in 1971! Klotz became a true basketball ambassador and did great work spreading the love for the game across the globe. for more than 50 years.
(1966 – ) Age 55
Born: Trenton, New Jersey
Height/weight: 5’7” (1.70m) 140lbs (63kg)
College: Trenton State University
Debut: November 3rd 1989
Teams: Phoenix Suns, New York Knickerbockers, Charlotte Hornets, Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets, Washington Bullets
Career length: 6 years NBA, 1 year CBA
Greg Grant compensated for his lack of vertical height through sheer energy and basketball skills.
Drafted by the Phoenix Suns as 52nd overall pick in 1989, he spent a year with them before his NBA career saw him move around frequently. Grant’s happiest time professionally seems to have been with the 76ers under manager Jim Lynam. He was given the chance he’d “always wanted” and says that it was a great boost to his flagging confidence.
Jim Lynam, the manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, had nothing but praise for Grant; “He’s a spark plug, a guy who can come off the bench and get the crowd involved and change the flow of it.”
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ANTHONY JEROME “SPUD” WEBB
(1963 – ) Age 58
Born: Dallas, Texas
Height/weight: 5’7” (1.70m) 130lbs (60kg)
Colleges: Midland College. NC State
Debut: October 25th 1989
Teams: Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic
Career length: 12 years
Anthony Webb played 814 games as point guard in the NBA, and averaged 9.9 points a game. He had easily the longest career of anyone else on this list so far.
An excellent shooter, Webb led the league with a free throw rate of more than 93% from the line in the 1994/95 season.
Webb is also very well remembered for winning the 1986 NBA slam-dunk contest. He remains the shortest player to ever do so. Spud Webb’s opponent was Dominique Wilkins, who was 6’8″ (2.03m). Webb smashed it in the final round with two perfect 50 point dunks. Astonishing.
Spud is currently President of Basketball Operations for the Texas Legends. They are the minor league affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks.
(1921 – 1968) Died aged 47
Born: New York
Height/weight: 5’6” (1.68m) 165lb (74kg)
College: Brooklyn College
Teams: Boston Celtics (BAA league)
Career length: 1 year
Details about point guard Melvin “Mel” Hirsch are somewhat scarce. He was born in New York in 1921, and in the early 1940s he played basketball for the Brooklyn College team. In the last game of the 1941 season, Brooklyn lost to Manhattan College. The New York Times wrote this;
“IF BROOKLYN HAD TWO OR THREE MORE MEL HIRSCHS, THE OUTCOME MIGHT HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT, FOR HIRSCH… WAS ALL OVER THE FLOOR, SNEAKING IN FOR REBOUNDS AND INTERCEPTING AN OCCASIONAL PASS.”
Hirsch graduated from Brooklyn College in 1943 and became a navigator in the US Army Air Corps. He served in the South Pacific.
He played for the squadron’s officer’s basketball team.
In 1946, Melvin Hirsch joined the Boston Celtics, playing 13 games and scoring 19 points for them.
Melvin Hirsch died from leukemia at the age of just 47 in December 1968.
(1976 – ) Age 45
Born: Cleveland, Ohio
Height/weight: 5’5” (1.65m) 135lb (61kg)
College: Eastern Michigan
Debut: February 7th 1999
Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers, New Jersey Nets, Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks, Charlotte Bobcats, Washington Wizards, Houston Rockets.
Career length: 13 years (1 in Italian pro-league)
Earl Boykins only makes 2nd place for height in this list, and he is the 2nd lightest player in NBA history. The story goes that he began so young that he used to dribble with a tennis ball. Boykins is extremely strong and can bench press nearly two and a half times his own weight! (315 pounds)
Playing second fiddle once again, from 1994 to 1998, Boykins became the second-leading scorer in the nation playing for the Eastern Michigan Eagles basketball team. He wasn’t immediately drafted by an NBA team but played through various short-term contracts. He spent the 2008 season with Virtus Bologna in the Italian A League. In 2009, Earl he was signed by the Washington Wizards in the NBA. He followed that with stints at the Milwaukee Bucks and the Houston Rockets.
Earl Boykins was destined to come first at something and, in fact, claims his first-place spot in an interesting category. As a prolific, accurate shooter, Boykins is the shortest player ever to score more than 30 points in a game.
Earl was named MAC Tournament MVP in 1998 and won the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award the same year. He was also named the Euro Challenge champion over 10 years later in 2009. With a 13-year career at the top level, he is considered to have been a superb NBA basketball player.
TYRONE CURTIS “MUGGSY” BOGUES
(1965 – ) Age 57
Born: Baltimore, Maryland
Height/weight: 5’3” (1.60m) 136lb (61kg)
College: Wake Forest
Debut: November 6th 1987
Teams: Charlotte Hornets, Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards
Career length: 14 years
The nickname “Muggsy” famously comes from Tyrone Bogues’ childhood in Baltimore. He was such a pain to go against in defense that the opposition claimed he was mugging them. The name stuck. At a full 6 inches shorter than the average American male, it is fair to say that Bogues had to have some pretty special attributes to have a successful 14 year career in the NBA. The longest of anyone on this list.
After an excellent college career, Washington picked him 12th overall in the 1987 NBA Draft
Bogues’ athleticism and general springiness are remarkable and have made him the equal of many an opposition player over this 14 years. He was a natural, aggressive ball-stealer and expert passer. The lumbering giants could not keep up with his speed and rapid directional changes. He stole the ball from them before they even had time to weigh up their options. It goes to show that, although towering height is an advantage we all assume is a requirement to have a long career in the NBA it is not necessarily so. Determination, positive mental attitude, energy, and pure athleticism count for great deal in this game too.
It’s hard to imagine or overstate how many times Muggsy has had to prove himself over the years. The difference when he stands by some of the giants of the NBA is startling to say the least. Bogues was actually teammates with Manute Bol, the 2nd tallest player in NBA history for a while. The photos of them together have to be seen to be believed. There was a staggering 28-inch (0.7m) difference between them…
Bogues’ former teammate Larry Johnson said that the rest of the team would get a boost
“OFF HIS ENERGY.”
A fellow diminutive player from this list, Spud Webb, said;
“MUGGSY IS A SPARK ON OFFENSE AND A REAL PEST ON DEFENSE. THERE IS NO HIGHER COMPLIMENT.”
From 1987 to 2001, he played 889 games in total. He announced his retirement aged 36 years old with averages of 7.7 points per game and 7.6 assists per game.
HERE IS A LIST OF EACH TEAM IN THE NBA’S SHORTEST PLAYER:
Sharife Cooper, Lou Williams, Trae Young: 6’1″ (1.85m)
Payton Pritchard: 6’1″ (1.85m)
Jevon Carter, Patty Mills, Marcus Zegarowski: 6’1″ (1.85m)
Ish Smith: 6′ (1.83m)
Devon Dotson: 6’2″ (1.88m)
Darius Garland, Kyle Guy, Kevin Pangos, Collin Sexton: 6’1″ (1.85m)
Trey Burke, Carlik Jones: 6′ (1.83m)
Facundo Campazzo, Markus Howard: 5’10” (1.78m)
Derrick Walton Jr: 6′ (1.83m)
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Chris Chiozza: 5’11” (1.80m)
D.J. Augustin: 5’11” (1.80m)
Keifer Sykes: 5’11” (1.80m)
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Eric Bledsoe: 6’1″ (1.85m)
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Rajon Rondo: 6’1″ (1.85m)
Tyus Jones: 6′ (1.83m)
Kyle Lowry: 6′ (1.83m)
Tremont Waters: 5’10” (1.78m)
Jordan McLaughlin, McKinley Wright IV: 5’11” (1.80m)
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Jared Harper: 5’10” (1.78m)
NEW YORK KNICKS
Kemba Walker: 6′ (1.83m)
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Luguentz Dort, Tre Mann: 6’3″ (1.91m)
Cole Anthony, Hassani Gravett: 6’2″ (1.88m)
Seth Curry, Tyrese Maxey, Grant Riller: 6’2″ (1.88m)
Chris Paul: 6′ (1.83m)
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Quinn Cook: 6’1″ (1.85m)
Davion Mitchell: 6′ (1.83m)
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Tre Jones: 6’1″ (1.85m)
Malachi Flynn, Fred VanVleet: 6’1″ (1.85m)
Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell: 6’1″ (1.85m)
Aaron Holiday: 6′ (1.83m)
Who is the shortest NBA player?
The remarkable Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues.
Of all the players in NBA history that have had to fight for everything they’ve gotten, it’s hard to see how anyone could have fought harder than Muggsy. To play any part in an NBA Championship is a feat beyond most mere mortals. To spend 14 seasons as an active NBA player is astonishingly rare. Add to that the fact that he is 5’3″ tall and it really does become the stuff of fantasy. It is highly unlikely that the world will ever see the likes of Muggsy Bogues again.
We salute you, sir.