How I Became 'Muggsy'

Before anybody called me Muggsy, my family called me Apple.

I used to cut my hair real low and keep a shiny head, like a shiny apple. It was a term of endearment. I didn’t really think about it much, but I liked it.

But you don’t get to choose your nickname, which is why you’ve never heard of “Apple” Bogues.

“Muggsy” was born when I was seven years old, on the courts of my neighborhood — the Lafayette projects of inner city Baltimore.

I’ve always been the smallest guy on the court. Every age group, always the smallest. As I got older, everyone kept growing except me. Eventually I realized my parents were also pretty short, so I wasn’t going to get much taller. So from an early age, size became a motivating factor. Being short made me fearless as a player, set out to prove everyone wrong. I let everyone I guarded know they would always feel my presence. Getting up underneath them, never letting them relax. They even became fearful just to dribble, because I could be so disruptive.

That style became a strength for me.

At the same time, there was a very popular old show with some of the bigger kids in our neighborhood called ‘The Bowery Boys.’ They were a crew. Always had something going on, something to overcome — usually another gang they came up against. Well, one of the Bowery Boys was named Muggsy. He was the leader of the crew.

I always had a crew with me, which included Darryl Wood, and Reggie Williams (everyone called him “Russ”, as long as we’re talking nicknames). Everyone used to say I was the little leader. I didn’t necessarily consider myself that, but I was definitely the most boisterous one, always suggesting we do this or that. (I got everyone in my kindergarten class to play hooky with me once when we were in kindergarten. We passed a court on the way to school and decided to play a little. I guess we just lost track of the time!)

Anyway, one day when we’re playing, Dwayne Wood, Darryl’s older brother, came out and said I reminded him of Muggsy from “The Bowery Boys.” Everyone laughed, tying the joke together. He’s mugging everyone, stealing the ball, hanging with his boys, leading his gang … He’s Muggsy.

“Muggsy” caught on right away. And at first I hated it.

I thought they were talking about my mug, saying that I wasn’t an especially attractive little guy. “Muggsy” feels like somebody is talking about your looks, and I wasn’t down with all that. But I never reacted negatively to it in front of people. I couldn’t start a fight, because then it becomes even funnier to the older guys who put the nickname on me. If your mug breaks down even a little bit, that’s when they really start up. Now he’s really Muggsy because of his mug.

Inside, I was upset, but I didn’t do anything about it. I just kept on playing.

Another thing that made it tough? I had never actually seen ‘The Bowery Boys, so I didn’t even get what everyone was talking about. Now I had to go watch this show. Muggsy was the only character I was focused on, and then it made sense. We each had our own crews. Muggsy was smaller than everybody else. We were both jokesters. I actually liked his character. Muggs was the man, really. I liked the “Satch” character, too. But Muggs was the one for me.

So I just had to adjust. It took several months, but eventually I let my shield down, and the name kind of grew on me.

Good thing, too, because by the time I was eight or nine years old, nobody ever referred to me as Tyrone except for my mom and my teachers, because they had to. (Though by the time I got to Dunbar High, even a few of them were calling me Muggsy.)

If anything, Tyrone felt more like a nickname.

A lot of people think my mama actually named me Muggsy. I absolutely had NBA teammates who didn’t know my real name. I mean, why would they even research it, when everybody calls a guy something for so long, you know? People used to say, “Damn, TyroneThat’s his name?” I know Larry Johnson didn’t know my name for a minute or two … but that didn’t matter, because he was one of the only guys who didn’t call me Muggsy, anyway. He called me “Billy,” which was my daddy’s nickname. He said that I come from my daddy, so to Larry, I was always “Billy Bogues.” Really, I think he just liked the way it sounded.

But here’s what’s funny; My daddy’s real name was actually Richard. Everyone in the neighborhood just called him Billy. I never really got an answer as to why. It just kind of happened, just like my daddy’s daddy was also named Richard, but they called him “Snook.” The same thing ended up happening with my older brother Richard, named after my daddy. Everyone called him “Chucky.” (I believe it’s because he was a little bit chunky when he was young, but I really don’t know the whole story there, either. I should ask Chucky about that sometime.)

The bottom line: Growing up in the inner city of Baltimore, you’re bound to get some kind of nickname, and it becomes attached to you.

In 1984, the summer after my freshman year at Wake Forest, I went back to Baltimore to play in my high school alumni game. One of my teammates was dating this girl, who had a friend named Kim with her that I wanted to meet. I introduced myself to her as Muggsy. She already knew of me a little bit, so she wouldn’t have heard of me as Tyrone, anyway. Five years later, we were married, and to this day, she only calls me Muggsy… unless it’s something sweet like babe, honey or Boo.

But never Tyrone. Ever.

Last April, I had the pleasure of going over to the White House and doing their annual Easter Egg Hunt. I didn’t get a chance to meet President Obama, but I did get a letter from the people in his office thanking me for coming.

It was addressed to “Muggsy Bogues.”

I’ve spent so much of my life being called anything other than my given name, I don’t really even use it anymore. I might introduce myself as Tyrone if I go to the doctor, but those folks normally know who I am, anyway. Maybe if it’s a professional or business call, I’ll use Tyrone. But even then, sometimes I slip up. Otherwise, there’s really no occasion where I feel I have to be formal.

One day, my tombstone will read Tyrone “Muggsy” Curtis Bogues.

By now, my nickname has become a prideful thing for me. Muggsy came from the neighborhood. That’s where nicknames usually start. It grew with my basketball career, and I came to understand the respect behind it. It’s also one of the most unique NBA nicknames you’ll ever hear. It stems from a specific character, and you’ll never see another nickname like that. You got your “Diesel” and your “Black Mamba.” “The Mailman.” “Air Jordan.” “Grandmama.” You’ve got so many nicknames out there, but Muggsy just rolls off the tongue so smoothly.

Still, it’s funny to think how my career might have been different if people had kept calling me Apple.

Maybe I would have gotten a few computer commercials.