High-flyers Blake Griffin and LeBron James have been filling up highlight reels with monster dunks this season. Large, athletic players have always captivated our attention with dizzying displays of power and height.
Players on the opposite end of the size spectrum have similarly sparked our interests. Most fans can relate to the smaller-statured, giving hope to people everywhere that they too can succeed in a game of giants.
I wasn't sure where to set the bar (literally), but ultimately decided on players shorter than six feet. Two of my picks are inconclusively below 6'0", so I’ll include them first.
One part of "Lob City"
He is listed as 6’0" tall with shoes, making his real height probably around 5’11". He is the best point guard playing the game right now and has the Los Angeles Clippers performing far above their bottom-dwelling past.
Naturally a distributer, Paul is not afraid to take over games with the smart pass or a clutch jumper. And despite his height, he is a great on-the-ball defender. Paul is quick enough to remain in front of his man and is second in steals per game (2.44). With a solid core around him, the best of Chris Paul is yet to come.
Allen Iverson embodies the ideal of small body, big heart. Like Chris Paul, Iverson is listed as 6’0" in shoes. In reality, he is closer to 5’11" in height. Known for his speed and scoring ability, Iverson is not afraid of contact, with 8,168 career free-throw attempts.
He was a four-time NBA scoring champion, 11-time All-Star and 2001 MVP. Most impressive, he led the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA Finals in the 2000-2001 season, ultimately losing in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers.
At the age of 36, the motor that made Iverson a great NBA player is still purring. He is currently looking for a new basketball home, with rumors of Puerto Rico as a destination.
Current coach of the New Jersey Nets and Coach of the Year winner in 2006, Avery Johnson was also a fantastic NBA player. Nicknamed the “Little General," Johnson is listed as 5’10”.
Initially undrafted, Johnson went on to play a pivotal role for the 1999 NBA Championship-winning Spurs, as he hit the series-winning shot in Game 5. He played from 1988 to 2004, hopping from team to team. His time with the Spurs is most memorable, with San Antonio retiring his number in 2007.
After his career as a player, Johnson has proved to be a very capable head coach. In his first three full seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, the team won 50-plus games each.
Also standing at 5’10”, Damon Stoudamire was drafted seventh overall by the Toronto Raptors in 1995 and subsequently took home the Rookie of the Year award. He averaged 19 PPG and 9.3 APG in his rookie campaign. Damon earned his nickname not just because of his size, but also because of his Might Mouse tattoo on his right arm.
Damon Stoudamire was traded to the Portland Trailblazers in 1998. Though his statistics fell off for a couple seasons, he rebounded in 2005. That year, Stoudamire set the Blazers' franchise scoring record with 54 points.
The Trailblazers, looking to rebuild with younger and cheaper players, did not re-sign him. He ended his career on the bench with the Memphis Grizzlies, and finally, the San Antonio Spurs.
Another player that flew under the radar on draft day, Michael Adams went 66th overall to the Sacramento Kings. After a few unproductive seasons for the 5’10” guard, Michael exploded in the 1990-91 season, averaging 26.5 PPG with the Denver Nuggets.
In the following year, he was traded to the Washington Bullets and secured an All-Star selection. One of the few push-shot shooters, Adams scored 9,621 career points and 4,209 steals. Adams had career averages of 14.7 PPG and 6.4 APG, respectable numbers for a guard of any size.
One of the shortest players in NBA history, Spud Webb stands at a mere 5’7”. He was drafted 87th by the Detroit Pistons in large part because of his stellar junior college performance, but played his first six seasons with the Atlanta Hawks. In the junior college national title game of 1982, Spud scored 36 points to lead his Midland College team to victory in double overtime.
Spud Webb scored a respectable 8,072 points (9.9 PPG) and 4,342 assists (5.3 APG). Most notably, Spud won the Sprite Slam Dunk contest in 1986, defeating teammate and defending champion Dominique Wilkins. He remains the shortest contestant and winner in NBA history.
Nate Robinson only stands at a height of 5’9”. Make no mistake, Robinson still has above-the-rim capabilities. He is a three-time Sprite Slam Dunk Champion, winning in 2006, 2009 and 2010. He most notably jumped over Dwight Howard for a slam-dunk clinching victory. Fittingly, Spud Webb coached Robinson for his first dunk championship.
Robinson was drafted 21st overall in 2005 and has spent time playing for the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City, and is now on the roster for the Golden State Warriors. He has proven to be a capable back-up point guard, with career averages of 11.3 PPG and 2.6 APG.
At 5’9”, Calvin Murphy is the shortest player to be in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Drafted by the Rockets 18th overall, at the time based in San Diego, Murphy remained a Rocket for his entire playing career. He scored a career 17,949 points (17.9 PPG) and 4,402 assists (4.4 APG).
Murphy was a phenomenal free-throw shooter. His 1980-81 season is the second highest percentage all time (95.8 percent). He also has the third longest free-throw streak at 78.
As the height shrinks, the rankings rise. Earl Boykins is the second shortest NBA player of all time, standing only 5’5”. Although not the shortest, Boykins was the lightest at a mere 133 pounds. Never drafted, Boykins spent his years journeying from team to team. His longest stint was with the Denver Nuggets, with whom he played for from 2003 to 2007.
Despite his size, Boykins scored and passed well. He even dropped 32 points against the Pistons, the shortest player in the NBA to have ever scored 30-plus points. Boykins also averaged 3.2 assists per game, impressive for someone who averaged only 20 minutes per game.
Who else but Muggsy could be at the No. 1 spot? Muggsy Bogues is the shortest player in NBA history, listed at 5’3”. He was drafted 12th overall by the Washington Bullets in 1987 and played later played for the Hornets, Warriors and Raptors.
Using his size to his advantage, Muggsy was considered a great passer and stealer. Muggsy only averaged 7.7 PPG, but notched an amazing 7.6 APG. He even recorded 39 blocks in his career, one of them against Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks.
As these pint-sized (relative to the NBA) players have proven, individuals can succeed in a league that strongly favors size. While height is not something you can change, heart and dedication prove just as important.