DunkOrThree > Your Basketball Blog > Who Was the Shortest Basketball Player Ever?

Who Was the Shortest Basketball Player Ever?

Publish Date: 12.06.2024
Fact checked by: Jackson T. Pierce

Looking at the average height in the NBA, it’s easy to see that it’s a tall man’s league. Ever since its inception, taller players have had a distinct advantage when it comes to playing defense, contesting shots, and scoring around the basket.

However, despite that notable advantage, there have been some shorter athletes who have made it all the way to the big leagues. That may be surprising, especially given that most people assume short athletes can’t succeed on the court, but it does happen every now and then.

Some of the most skilled players in NBA history stood shorter than six feet. Getting to that level, due to perception and their height disadvantage, did prove to be an uphill battle, but it was a battle that their skills and high basketball IQ managed to overcome.

Short Basketball player

The Shortest NBA Player of All Time: Muggsy Bogues

There have been a range of short NBA athletes, but when looking at who was the shortest basketball player ever, nobody dipped below Muggsy Bogues. The Hornets guard, standing at just 5’3, didn’t just play in the NBA, he excelled at the top level for quite a long time.

With everything stacked against him, Bogues excelled in high school, earned a scholarship to Wake Forest, and then went from the Rhode Island Gulls to the Washington Bullets in 1987. At the time, he stood 16.5 inches shorter than the average NBA player..

Even so, the crafty guard managed to stick around for 14 seasons and play for three different teams in his career. That’s an incredibly successful run for any player by any metric, especially one who was considerably smaller than everyone else he played with.

Despite his shorter stature, Bogues had a solid jump shot, quick hands, and even the ability to rebound every now and then. What really put him over the top, however, was his passing. He could run an offense incredibly well, and had a keen eye for how to find the open man.

Most of the time, shorter players are bullied out of the NBA. They don’t have the size to rebound, power to play defense, and can’t hold their own on the court. Bogues could do all of that and more, which is why he earned a roster spot.

Where many point guards can’t overcome their height, Bogues did it through a combination of intelligence and speed. He knew where to be, spaced the floor better than most other players, and even evolved his shot to get it up over big men.

That combination made him incredibly useful and a solid part of a Hornets team that made the playoffs quite a few times throughout the late 80’s and 90’s. While he didn’t earn any specific accolades, being able to play that long at that size is a feat in and of itself.

Bogues is often remembered as being the shortest NBA player of all time. He’s also a testament to the fact that height isn’t everything in basketball. It helps, but there have been quite a few agile or shifty guards to walk the same path he did over the years.

Other Notable Short NBA Players

Being short is not a desirable trait in the NBA, and small players are often overlooked even before they get a proper chance. To make it, they need to have some skills that are so strong or so developed that coaches and scouts have no choice but to pay attention.

Two prime examples of that are Spud Webb and Nate Robinson. Both point guards were quite small, with Webb standing at 5’6 and Robinson coming in at 5’9. Despite that, they each had incredible verticals and could easily get to the rim.

In fact, both won dunk contests during their time in the league. Webb took home the title in 1986, while Robinson won it three separate times in 2006, 2009, and 2010. They both also had decade-plus careers and used their incredible athleticism to push themselves on the court.

Webb’s win was particularly special because it paved the way for some of the other smaller players that came after him. Shorter guards had been in the league since the 50’s, but they weren’t taken seriously most of the time.

Webb winning the dunk contest showed that, not only could smaller players be athletic enough to play in the NBA, but they could also have the skills to succeed at the top level. That largely changed the public perception of shorter athletes, and gave others a chance.

Another smaller player worth mentioning due to his proximity to the modern era is point guard Earl Boykins. Standing at just 5’5, he’s easily the shortest player to have long term success in recent decades.

As with the others, Boykins managed to succeed in the NBA as a result of his quick shot and lightning fast agility. He played hard defense, knew how to control the game, and did a great job of running the offense without being a liability or making too many mistakes.

Guards have slowly gotten bigger over the past few years, with many of the shorter ones coming before 2000. Boykins bucked that trend and managed to carve out an entire NBA career during an age where size became more and more desirable.

The above players changed the game in many ways and all deserve their own accolades. However, it would be impossible to discuss the shortest NBA players ever without also mentioning Calvin Murphy.

The Rockets guard, who played for 12 seasons during the 70’s and 80’s, wasn’t just smaller in size (5’9), he’s also the shortest player to ever be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.

Many short players, while impressive on the court or in the game, don’t quite have enough to get all the way to the hall. Murphy was the exception to that rule, running a dynamic offense and putting up a slew of points and assists along the way.

There are several reasons Murphy is immortalized in history, but the biggest comes from his free throw shooting. The smaller athlete set the then-league record for most consecutive free throws made and recorded the highest free throw percentage in a single season.

He also managed to set several Houston Rocket records, including becoming their all-time leading scorer. Though many of his records are now broken, the legacy he built at his height is one of the big reasons he made it all the way to the top.


Making it to the NBA is incredibly difficult. It’s even harder for anyone below six feet. It may not be a common occurrence, but the above list shows it is more than possible for players to make it in the league without being extremely tall.

Smaller athletes with strong athletic abilities do pop up every now and then. It’s easy for them to get discouraged or knocked off the path, but those that persevere and push on to the next level have seen success in past decades.

There have not been too many short players as of late, mainly due to the fact that guards are getting larger each year. As that trend will likely continue, it’s even harder for short players to make it in the NBA. Still, there’s always a chance someone breaks the mold like the above athletes did.

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