In the greatest basketball league in existence, greatness might be the one and only requirement. A game that seems to favor those who large and in charge, many believe that those who are able to join and succeed in the NBA must be some of the most massive humans in the world. While this notion is mostly true, (I mean, can you believe LeBron’s freakishly large physique came courtesy of a high school?!) there are always some exceptions to the rule. In fact, there are quite a few exceptions in the case of shorter men who stood to dominate in the NBA.
Although these players may not be our immediate idea of NBA greatness, there is no way to appreciate the game without at least knowing and respecting all who have helped contributed to making it the great league we know and love today. So, the next time you are your friends are sitting around naming your favorite NBA of all time, hopefully, a few of these guys will make their way onto your list. Either way, the following is a closer look at 15 of the top NBA players who stand at under 6 feet tall.
15. Herm Klotz – 5 ft. 7 in. (1947-1948)
Far from a small deal, Louis Herman “Red” Klotz was a point guard for the original Baltimore Bullets. Although he only played in the league for a short time (he only played in 11 games) he has left quite an extensive resume. Instrumental in helping to form a variety of teams as well as even the NBA, Klotz actually played in the Basketball Association of America (BAA) which served as a prerequisite to the NBA we know today. However, he is best known for forming the two highly talented teams that play against the Harlem Globetrotters: the Washington Generals and the Washington Generals. Moreover, he is also the shortest player to ever win an NBA finals championship.
14. Monte Towe – 5 ft. 7 in. (1976-1977)
Now a retired player and basketball coach, Monte Towe was certainly a force to be reckoned with in his heyday. Although he only played in 51 games and was also actually a member of the original BAA, Towe has left quite an impressive basketball legacy behind. Moreover, he was also subsequently drafter into the NBA as well. The shortest man to ever play in the original NBA, Towe will go down in history for that fact alone. Following his career as a pro ball player, Towe went on to coach at both N.C. State and the University of Florida. In 2002, he was immortalized by a ceremony in which they retired his jersey by raising it into the rafters at NC State.
13. Wataru Misaka – 5 ft. 7 in. (1947-1948)
A revolutionary player in his own right, if you have heard of Wataru Misaka, odds are, it was for his groundbreaking influence in the world of basketball. The first non-Caucasian player to join a pro-sports team, Misaka made history in 1947, the same year Jackie Robinson did the same in the world of baseball. However, the first African American was not drafted into the NBA until 3 years later, in 1950. Although he only played in 3 games before being cut from his team, Misaka said he believed this was due to the fact that his team had an abundance of guards and he did not believe any racism of malice was involved.
12. Yuta Tabuse – 5 ft. 9 in. (2004-2005)
On a similar note, another player with a far east cultural origin, Yuta Tabuse is another example of a player who managed to break racial barriers. The first, and so far, only NBA Japanese-born player in the NBA, Tabuse did not need to play a lengthy career in order to be remembered. Although he only played in four actual games, he also was the Japanese national to play in the NBA’s summer league prior to joining the actual league for the next season. After playing 6 games in the Rocky Mountain Revue as a part of the Dallas Mavericks, Tabuse Averaged 4.5 points per game during this time. Although his career in the league was short-lived, he did manage to land a spot on the limited edition cover of NBA Live. Not bad for a non-native who never even played a regular season game!
11. Lionel Malamed – 5 ft. 9 in. (1948-1949)
A man who seemingly lived several lifetimes in one short stint, Lionel Malamed was a guard who originated from the City College of New York. After being drafted into the NBA, he played for just one season. Nevertheless, certainly one of the more notable pint-sized players of his time, Malamed played for the Indianapolis Jets and Rochester Royals whilst in the league. Playing in 44 games, he averaged 5.9 points a pop. To top it all off, Malamed went on to conquer Wall Street and became a highly successful vice president of a prominent company. Sadly, he passed away from a heart attack in 1999, at the age of 65.
10. Keith Jennings – 5 ft. 7 in. (1992-1995)
A former point guard who attended East Tennessee State University, Keith Jennings was a forced to be reckoned with. Leading the NCAA Division I in his final year as a college player, it became clear that this small player was destined for greatness. Although he started his career in the NBA as a free agent, he played 3 solid seasons with the well-respected team, the Golden State Warriors. Averaging 6.6 points and 3.7 assists in the 18 minutes of play time he averaged per game. Moreover, in his second to last regular season game with the Warriors, Jennings showed off his true skill level and scored an impressive 23 points! Since then, he has gone on to coach at an array of institutions to help guide the youth down similar paths of awesomeness.
9. Ralph O’Brien – 5 ft. 9 in. (1951-1952)
Yet another guard on the list, Ralph O’Brien was drafted into the NBA by way of his Alma mater, Butler University. Playing for just two seasons, O’Brien was a member of both the Indianapolis Olympians as well as the Baltimore Bullets. Averaging 7.1 points per game, O’Brien played in 119 games and scored 848 points during his career in the NBA. Moreover, although it was not known at the time, O’Brien’s career was history in the making from the very beginning. Following his two seasons in the NBA, no more Butler University players were inducted into the NBA until 50 years later, in 2010.
8. Charlie Criss – 5 ft. 8 in. (1977-1984)
Originally born in Valhalla, New York, Charlie Criss was a guard who made it to the NBA via New Mexico State University. Although he began his career in the Continental Basketball Association (CBA), he did earn MVP in 1976 while playing for the Washington Generals. He then went on to join the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA just one year later and remained in the NBA for the next seasons in which he also played for the San Diego Clippers as well as the Milwaukee Bucks. Moreover, although he was the league’s shortest active player during his time in the NBA, he still managed to average 8.5 points and 3.2 assists per game. Playing 418 games in all, Charlie scored 3,534 points over the course of his career.
7. Angelo Musi – 5 ft. 9 in. (1946-1949)
A guard that originated from Temple University, Angelo Musi played three seasons in the BAA as a member of the Philadelphia Warriors. Playing in 161 games overall, Musi earned a total of 1,359 points over the course of his career. With an average of 8.4 points per game, Musi clearly had superior shooting skills to many players who have appeared on this list. Although he passed away in 2009 at the age of 91, Musi left quite a legacy behind. Most notoriously, given that he was around when the league was still a proverbial baby, Musi would tell stories about his first games with the Warriors. Playing on a basketball floor that was placed over an ice skating rink, Musi joked that the floor was so poorly constructed and filled with moisture that occasionally he would bounce the ball and it wouldn’t bounce back. Talk about basketball history!
6. Muggsy Bogues – 5 ft. 3 in. (1987-2002)
One of the most well known as well as notoriously the shortest NBA player ever to grace the league, Muggsy Bogues was a pretty big deal. A player who assumed the position of point guard for on four teams (Charlotte Hornets, Washington Bullets, Golden State Warriors, and the Toronto Raptors) over the course of his impressive 15-season career in the NBA, Bogues played 889 games while in the league. With an average of 7.7 points per game Bogues scored a total of 6,858 points during his time in the NBA. Moreover, being the shortest on the league certainly has its perks. The 18th all-time assist leader in the NBA, Bogues provided over 6,000 assists during his career. Moreover, oddly enough, Bogues played alongside one of the 2 of the tallest players in the history of the league, Manute Bol. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Bogues has even been immortalized alongside the likes of Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, and Charles Barkley, to name a few. Following his career as a ball player, he coached the former WNBA team, the Charlotte Sting. Not bad for a man who nearly got laughed off of the court during his first days in the league.
5. Earl Boykins – 5 ft. 5 in. (1999-2012)
Although he was one of the smallest to ever join the league, Earl Boykins was in the NBA for 14 seasons and played for 12 different teams. The second shortest player in the history of the league, despite being so small, it is said that Boykins could easily bench press 315 pounds. Having never been officially drafted to one official team, Boykins actually had a short-term contract in which he agreed to play for a variety of teams over time. One of his major highlights of his career occurred in 2004 when Boykins scored 32 points for the Nuggets. This made him the shortest player in NBA history to ever score 30 points or more during a regular season game.
4. Spud Webb – 5 ft. 7 in. (1985-1998)
A former point guard who made it to the NBA by way of North Carolina State University, Spud Webb was initially extremely underestimated by scouts and recruiters. Predicting that he would end up playing overseas or as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters, Webb had something to prove from the first time he stepped onto the court. Drafted in 1985 by the Detroit Pistons in the 4th round, his first 6 seasons were played with the Atlanta Hawks. However, statistically speaking, his best years in the league were when he was a member of the Sacramento Kings (1992-1995). Playing in 814 games over the course of his career, Webb averaged 9.9 points per game; 8,072 points earned for the entirety of his career. As if that was impressive enough, in 1986 he not only entered the slam dunk contest, but won. This made him the shortest player in the NBA ever to win a slam dunk contest.
3. Nate Robinson – 5 ft. 9 in. (2005-2015)
Born and raised in Seattle, Nate Robinson was drafted into the NBA in 2005 by way of the University of Washington. Over the course of his career, he played for teams such as the Denver Nuggets, the Boston Celtics, the New York Knicks, and much more. With 574 games played, and an average of 11.4 points per game, Robinson scored a total of 6,569 points while he was in the NBA. However, his most impressive feat had nothing to do with playing in regular games. Although he was one of the league’s shortest players to date, he also managed to become the first and only player to be a three-time slam dunk champion!
2. Isaiah Thomas – 5 ft. 9 in. (2011-Present)
A point guard who made his way to the NBA via the college team, the Washington Huskies, Isiah Thomas has so far had an impressive career in the NBA. King of a big deal, Thomas had his own documentary filmed in regards to his journey to the NBA entitled, “Road To The NBA-The Isaiah Thomas Story.” Although making it into the league was no easy feat, he managed to more than make up for it once he joined. In addition to his average of 15.3 points per game, Thomas has become the shortest player in NBA history to score a triple-double and well as one of 2 of the shortest NBA players to earn a spot on the all-star team.
1. Calvin Murphy – 5 ft. 9 in. (1970-1983)
Lastly, a 3-time All-American guard who attended Niagara University, Calvin Murphy was the man well before he entered the NBA. Drafted by the San Diego Rockets (which are now known as the Houston Rockets) in 1970, Murphy had already established a track record for being a high scoring player. Known for being quick on his feet as well as for being adept at defense, Murphy was a solid, well-rounded player. One of the best free-throw shooters to ever grace the league, Murphy set records for the most consecutive free throws made as well as the highest free throw percentage in a season in 1980 and 1981 (although both records have since been broken). He was also the leagued all-time leading scorer until that record was broken by Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, he will go down in history as one of the shortest to play in an all-star game as well as the shortest player ever to be inducted into the NBA hall of fame!