In basketball, more so than any other sport, we’ve been led to believe that size matters. To a large extent that’s true. Skilled big men are coveted while big guards tend to have an inherent advantage over their competitors. It’s also common for teams to think twice before drafting a player who is a little small for his position.
However, it’s not written in stone that size is everything in basketball. Throughout NBA history, there have been several players who have been able to make their mark on the league despite lacking ideal size. While most of the time we tend to praise players who are bigger, faster, and stronger than their competition, it only seems fair to also recognize the players who have been able to overcome their small stature. Here is a look at some of the smallest players in NBA history who have managed to put together a career that would make taller players envious.
Earl Boykins, 5’5’’ (Nuggets)
To date, Boykins is the second shortest player in NBA history. Not surprisingly, he went undrafted out of college despite averaging 26.8 points per game as a senior, finishing second in the country in that department. It was a struggle during his early days, playing just 58 games over his first three seasons in the league. But he slowly made his mark and eventually received a five-year, $13.7 million contract from the Nuggets. Boykins ended up playing parts of 14 seasons in the NBA and having a solid career for a part-time player.
Nate Robinson, 5’9’’ (Knicks)
With his size, Robinson might have been better off pursuing a football career, as he initially went to Washington on a football scholarship. However, he was twice awarded all-Pac-10 honors and actually left college a year early, becoming the 21st overall pick in the 2005 Draft. While Robinson was rarely a regular starter, he did start 107 games over his 11 years in the NBA. At his peak, he averaged over 17 points and nearly four rebounds per game with the Knicks during the 2008-09 season. Perhaps most impressive, Robinson won the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest three occasions, showing incredible leaping ability despite his lack of height.
Charlie Criss, 5’8’’ (Hawks)
Criss isn’t known by most NBA fans, largely because he played his college ball at New Mexico State and didn’t reach the NBA until seven years after his college career ended. He spent most of that time playing in the Continental Basketball Association, winning MVP honors in 1976 before the Atlanta Hawks gave him a chance in 1977. At the time, he was the shortest player in the NBA but managed to score 11.4 points per game right off the bat. That ended up being his best season, although Criss played eight seasons in the NBA, which isn’t bad for a guy who was nearly 29 by the time he made his NBA debut.
Greg Grant, 5’7’’ (Suns)
The diminutive Grant wasn’t even tall enough to garner much interest from Division 1 schools. He ended up playing his college ball at the College of New Jersey at the Division 3 level after being discovered on a playground. Of course, he led all of Division 3 in scoring as a senior, which was enough to get him drafted by the Suns 52nd overall in 1989. While he was a bit of a journeyman, he ended up playing parts of nine seasons in the NBA while also spending time in the CBA. He later wrote a book about his unlikely journey to the NBA called 94 Feet and Rising: The Journey of Greg Grant to the NBA and Beyond.
Isaiah Thomas, 5’9’’ (Celtics)
In a way, it’s fitting for a short player like Thomas to be selected with the last pick in the 2011 Draft. Nevertheless, he was one of the best rookies in the NBA during his first season and has continued to improve ever since. Thomas averaged over 20 points per game during his third season in the league and achieved all-star status in both 2016 and 2017 while playing with the Celtics. Unfortunately, a hip injury suffered in the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals derailed his career. However, Thomas has already spent almost a decade in the NBA and has surpassed all expectations for a player of his size.
Muggsy Bogues, 5’3’’ (Hornets)
Bogues is not only the shortest player in NBA history but also arguably the best-known among players who are shorter than 5’10’’. After all, they didn’t just anyone appear in the movie Space Jam. Most people don’t realize that Bogues also had a prolific college career at Wake Forest, leaving school as the ACC’s all-time leader in steals and assists. During his rookie season with Washington, Bogues played alongside Manute Bol, the tallest player in NBA history who was 28 inches taller than Bogues. The next year, Bogues was taken by the Hornets in the expansion draft and became a key contributor for many seasons. He played 14 seasons in the NBA and was well-regarded for his toughness and tenacity, two traits one needs to survive as the shortest player in the NBA.
Spud Webb, 5’7’’ (Kings)
Webb’s claim to fame will always be that he’s the shortest player to ever compete and win the NBA Dunk Contest. Just reaching the rim at 5’7’’ was no small feat, and not only could Webb do it, but he did so with style and grace. Even outside of dunk contests, Webb was a good player. He was a complementary player early in his career but eventually became a regular starter with the Kings. For five straight seasons, Webb averaged double figures, eventually racking up over 8,000 points and 4,000 assists over 12 NBA seasons.
Calvin Murphy, 5’9’’ (Rockets)
In terms of players under 5’10’’, Murphy might be the best in NBA history. He played his college ball at Niagara but made enough of an impression as a two-time All-American to be drafted 18th overall in the 1970 draft. Murphy spent all 13 of his NBA seasons with the Rockets, averaging at least 10 points in every season and scoring at least 20 points per game in five seasons. He was one of Houston’s most important players during the 1970s and helped lead the Rockets to the NBA Finals in 1981. He retired as the leading scorer in franchise history, holding the record until Hakeem Olajuwon broke it in 1994. Most importantly, Murphy is the shortest player in the Basketball Hall of Fame and is tied with Isaiah Thomas for the shortest player to ever play in the NBA All-Star Game.