The NBA is a size driven league but not all players in the history of the NBA were vertically gifted.
We’ve seen the likes of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal dominate the league with their height. We’ve also seen the likes of Manute Bol, Shawn Bradley and Gheorghe Muresan make the league easily because of their height. But for every rule, there is an exception. Height they say is might but the small can walk in the land of the giants. There are a few who have made it to the NBA despite not being gifted with the gift of height. These little big men proved that height isn’t a hindrance to make it to the biggest show in basketball.
Check out the top 10 shortest players in the NBA history:
10. Charlie Criss 5-8
There are several players listed at 5-8 in the NBA and we would like to recognize them as honorable mentions: Don ‘Dino’ Martin and Willie Somerset. But we’re picking Charlie Criss as our first entry to our list because he was the NBA’s shortest player and oldest rookie when he joined the Atlanta Hawks in 1977.
Criss’ journey to the NBA took seven years after he left New Mexico State University. He played in the Continental Basketball Association and despite being MVP there for two seasons, the road to the NBA seemed so long. But after a lot of perseverance and hardwork, he ultimately got the call.
Criss played a total of eight NBA seasons, spending time with the Hawks, San Diego Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks. His first season was his best, when he averaged 11 points and 4 assists in 77 games.
9. Keith Jennings 5-7
Mister Jennings. That’s the kind of respect this 5-7 player got from his peers.
Undrafted in 1991, Keith Jennings joined the Golden State Warriors. Jennings played just three seasons with the Golden State Warriors, appearing in a total of 164 games and averaging 6.6 points and 3.7 assists in 18.8 minutes per game of playing time. In his second to the last NBA game, Jennings recorded his career high of 23 points on 8-10 shooting including 4-4 from three point land. He was selected by the Toronto Raptors in the 1995 Expansion draft but did not play for them.
At East Tennessee State University, Keith Jennings was a consensus 2nd team All-American in 1991. He was also two times SoCon Player of the Year in 1990 and 1991. He was also the recipient of the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award for best Collegiate Player under six feet tall in 1991.
8. Monte Towe 5-7
Monte Towe and David Thompson are credited for inventing the alley-oop. But because dunking was illegal during their college days, Thompson would just drop the ball gently in the basket after Towe threw the pass to him.
Listed at 5-7, Monte Towe was the starting point guard for North Carolina State’s 1974 NCAA championship team. He was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in the third round of the 1975 ABA Draft and by the Atlanta Hawks in the fourth round of the 1975 NBA Draft. He chose to sign with college teammate Thompson in Denver and played with him in the final ABA season in 1976.
Towe was All ACC First Team in 197 and the recipient of the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award for best college player under six feet in 1975. He played in the 1976 ABA All-Star game but that was because the format of the game was Denver vs All-Stars. Towe also played baseball for NC State’s baseball varsity team.
7. Wataru Misaka 5-7
Chinese basketball star Wang ZhiZhi is often remembered as the first Asian to play in the NBA. But if you look up history, the first Asian to play in the NBA came almost 50 years earlier.
Wataru Misaka was born in Utah but the name itself is proof that he is of Japanese descent. The 5-7 point guard is the first non-white player to be drafted and to play for the Basketball Association of America, the NBA’s forefather.
Misaka played college ball at the University of Utah, where he helped the team win the 1946 NCAA title and 1947 NIT championships. He took a two year leave of absence in between the two collegiate titles to serve the U.S. Army during the American occupation of Japan. Misaka was drafted by the New York Knicks in 1947 but played just three games for them in the 1947-1948 season.
6. Louis Klotz 5-7
If you love the Harlem Globetrotters, then you know the Washington Generals. Well, this man created the Generals.
Louis Klotz, or Red to his peers, played college ball at Villanova University and was a member of the Philadelphia Sphas of the American Basketball League in the 1940s. In 1948, he joined the original Baltimore Bullets and won the Basketball Association of America title with them. In 1953, Klotz was approached by Globetrotters owner Abe Saperstein to form a team that would tour against the Globetrotters. And the Washington Generals were born.
Klotz played as point guard for the Generals until he was 68 years old. Over the course of eight decades, Red Klotz would play or coach in over 14,000 basketball games and played in over 100 countries worldwide.
5. Greg Grant 5-7
Greg Grant stood just 5-7 but he managed to play in a total of 9 NBA seasons for a total of six different teams. That just shows you not only how good he was but how determined he was to make it in the land of the giants.
Grant wasn’t one of the highly recruited college players of his time. He worked as a fish vendor in high school and was only discovered playing pick-up games in the local playground. But at Trenton State College, the diminutive Grant led the NCAA’s Division 3 in scoring in 1989. He was then drafted by the Phoenix Suns in the second round of the 1989 NBA Draft ( 59th overall ).
Grant played only a season with the Suns before transferring to the New York Knicks and then to the Charlotte Hornets. He then played three season with the Philadelphia 76ers, his longest tenure in the NBA before short stints with the Denver Nuggets and Washington Bullets.
4. Anthony Webb 5-7
The most popular 5-7 player in NBA history. Who doesn’t know Spud Webb?
The NBA’s Slam Dunk Champion during the 1989 NBA All-Star weekend surprised the world and even teammate Dominique Wilkins with his two handed double pump elevator dunk, one handed off the backboard slam, 360 degree helicopter dunk and the two handed reverse strawberry jam from a bounce off the floor. Spud electrified the crowd that night and will never be forgotten for that.
Drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the 87th pick of the 1985 NBA Draft, Webb was known for his six seasons with the Atlanta Hawks although his best years came when he played as a started for the Sacramento Kings. He also briefly played for the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Orlando Magic. But who really cares? Spud will always be remembered as the Slam Dunk King of 1989.
3. Melvin Hirsch 5-6
Not much is known about Melvin Hirsch except that he was the NBA’s shortest player ever until Tyrone ‘Mugsy’ Bogues arrived some 40 years later.
Born in New York in 1921, Hirsch was a standout player of Brooklyn College. After his graduation in 1943, he served under the US Army Air Corps as an aircraft navigator for the “Thirsty 13th” 13th Troop Carrier Squadron in the South Pacific. He played for the Squadron’s basketball team during the 403rd Group Championship in 1945.
Hirsch played 13 games for the Boston Celtics in 1948. He compiled 19 points and 10 assists during his short stint in the NBA.
2. Earl Boykins 5-5
Now we’re getting really shorter. Young Earl Boykins was so short that when he started practicing his dribble, he had to use a tennis ball. And yes, there was a story that he would sneak inside his dad’s gym bag to attend his basketball games. Although he weighed just 135 pounds when he played in the NBA, his NBA bio said he could bench press 315 pounds. True or not, that just showed how small Earl Boykins really was: 5-5.
Height was not a hindrance. Boykins played a total of fourteen NBA seasons with 12 different teams. It wasn’t a surprise that he went undrafted in the 1988 NBA Draft. What was came as a pleasant surprise was that he played four seasons with the Denver Nuggets from 2003 to 2007. With Denver, Boykins became the shortest player in NBA history to score 30 points in a single game; scoring 32 in a 117-109 win over the Detroit Pistons on November 11, 2004.
Earl Boykins was USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year in 1997 while playing for Eastern Michigan University. He was First Team All-MAC in 1997 and 1998, MAC Tournament MVP in 1988, AP Honorable Mention All-American in 1988 and the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award winner in 1988.
1. Tyrone Bogues 5-3
There was a point in NBA history when the tallest player ever played alongside the shortest player the league had ever seen. 7-7 beanpole Manute Bol was once the NBA’s tallest player in the Washington Bullets team, he was a teammate of 5-3 Tyrone ‘Mugsy’ Bogues.
Among the players in this list, Bogues holds the best tenure with one team, having played for the Charlotte Hornets for a total of solid 10 seasons before making stops in Washington, Golden State and Toronto. Bouges is also the shortest first round pick ever as he was drafted by Washington with the 12th pick of the 1987 NBA Draft after a standout career at Wake Forest.
Bogues played for the U.S. Men’s National Basketball team during the 1996 FIBA Basketball World Championships and won the gold medal with the team. When he finished his collegiate career, he was then the ACC all-time leader in steals and assists. Bogues was First Team All-ACC in 1987 and was the Frances Pomeroy Naismith award winner in 1987.
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