He was the NBA’s 1st round, 12th pick overall. He played 14 years in the NBA. His vertical jump was 44 inches. He remains his team’s leader in minutes played, assists and steals. Unless you know the player I am talking about, you probably did not picture the 5’3” Muggsy Bogues who remains shortest man to ever play in the NBA.
In 3rd grade, I ran downstairs on Christmas morning and hanging next to my stocking was a Muggsy Bogues jersey. I put the jersey on and practiced dunking Christmas wrapping paper into the garbage the rest of the morning. Even as the long jersey caught my knees and made me stumble, I still felt invincible. I loved that jersey (and still do). I wore the jersey to my first day of summer camp, during my driver’s test, my SATs and of course under my sweatshirt as I took the NPTE. And while I originally admired Muggsy because of his NBA success despite his size, what I continue to love about Muggsy Bogues is what he represents. Muggsy embodies grit.
It is not our innate abilities that define us, but the way we utilize the resources available to us. How did Muggsy Bogues succeed in the NBA? In a “tall man’s sport,” how did a 5’ 3” point guard get drafted 12th overall when the average height was 6’ 6”? To understand why he succeeded, we need to look at why he didn’t fail. We need to look at his grittiness.
What is grit?
Muggsy recounts that he was always the smallest one on each team he played. He did not have the quintessential basketball player physicality. He would encounter many people who would tell him that he didn’t have what it took to play in the NBA. These judgments were made largely on his stature and not his skills. Muggsy stated in an interview that he used the words of critics as motivation.
In her book Grit, Angela Duckworth defines grit as our passion and perseverance for long-term goals. She makes the argument that when it comes to success, the ability to persevere and put forth effort, is more important than IQ and grade point average. Talent or natural ability does not translate into success, but grit does. Talent may determine the ease at which skills develop once you invest effort, but talent alone does not convert into productivity or success. Our tenacity and ability to persist plays a much greater role in our ultimate success.
Why is grit important to us?
While everyone was focused on the physical gifts he lacked, Muggsy was focused on developing the abilities he could change. He got faster, improved his ability to jump, and acquired techniques that did not rely on his height. He developed a floater shot and a quick release to enable him to shoot over his opponent. He got his nickname from his ability to steal or “mug” the ball from other players. Grit empowered Muggsy to follow his dream of playing in the NBA and give the effort required to develop skills despite his lack of physical characteristics.
Effort is more important than talent. It is not the grades we got in PT school or the job we got after that determine our success, but how we employ our skills and our circumstance. Like Muggsy, we need to focus on what we can control and develop strengths like a floater shot rather than obsessing over our disadvantages. Our grittiness, not our innate talents, determines our success.
How do we develop grit?
It is impossible to see the setbacks, training, experiences, and time that it took for Muggsy to get to the NBA. We would rather sit back and admire him as an anomaly. We prefer to look at a person’s greatness and attribute that success to talent or innate giftedness. If we lack talent, then our lack of success is not our fault, right? Wrong. We use the mysterious concept of talent to give us an excuse. It frees us from the responsibility of consistent, unrelenting effort.
This means that developing grit is implementing consistent, even boring, effort. It is easier and more enjoyable to admire greatness in someone and let ourselves off the hook by blaming talent. But, it is not our talent than defines us, but instead our resourcefulness to use and develop the abilities we have. Muggsy would never achieve the height of most players, but he did develop the skill necessary to get to the NBA.
So, when I put on that same jersey I got in 1996, I’m reminded of Muggsy Bogues not just the player, but the grit it took to get there. It is the reminder that our “gifts” don’t define us, but that our effort and perseverance does.
When have you let your “size” prevent you from measuring up?