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Heart Over Height, These Are The Shortest NBA Players In History

Heart Over Height, These Are The Shortest NBA Players In History

Basketball

The NBA's shortest player in 2020, Isaiah Thomas, splits two defenders

Without question, basketball is a big man’s game and size, they say, is something that cannot be taught. Since the beginning of basketball history, coaches at all levels have preferred taller players on their teams over those who might be more talented. Defying all odds stacked against them, these defiant sportsmen have proved there’s exceptions to every rule, as the shortest NBA players in basketball history.

25. Allen Iverson: 5’10” (1.78m)

Often listed at 5’11” or 6 feet tall, Allen Iverson’s height has been the subject of debate over the course of basketball history. Yet while his height may be in question, his track record on the court is cemented in basketball legend. One of the best point guards to ever play, Iverson revolutionized the way the position is played, and sits 25th on the NBA’s all-time leading scorer’s list.

shortest players

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Iverson played two years at Georgetown, racking up virtually every collegiate accolade along the way. When he declared for the 1996 NBA draft, he was nicknamed “the Answer”, seen as the answer to the NBA’s marketing woes following Michael Jordan’s retirement. What AI lacked in height, he had to make up for in skill; because he played every game so hard, it led to injuries and an earlier retirement than fans would have hoped for.

24. Michael Adams: 5’10” (1.78m)

Over the course of his young life and playing career, Michael Adams’ stature didn’t change much since his days in middle school. He is one of the shortest NBA players, but also one of the most successful “little” men to play the game, measuring in at just 5’10” and weighing 162 pounds. He was a basketball standout in his hometown of Hartford before playing four years at Boston College.

shortest NBA players

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Renowned for his ‘push shot’ which he launched from his hip, Adams was a prolific three-point shooter. Since his time, today’s game coaches have embraced math, and encourage more three-point attempts.  From 2010 to 2020, the average number of three-point attempts in a game has increased by over 14%. More recently, this one-time NBA All Star has returned to his home state of Connecticut, where he works as a basketball referee.

23. Avery Johnson: 5’10” (1.78m)

As a high school senior in New Orleans, Avery Johnson led his team to a perfect 35-0 record, and a state championship. He later played in junior college before transferring to Cameron University and then Southern University, where he still holds an all-time NCAA record of averaging 13.3 assists per game.

shortest nba players

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Johnson was not drafted by any team in the 1988 draft; most teams passed on him because of his height. He played five seasons for various teams at the start of his career, often on temporary contracts. When he returned to San Antonio to join the Spurs for the 1994 season, he flourished, beginning a seven-year stay that culminated with an NBA championship in 1999.

22. Damon Stoudamire: (1.78m)

At Woodrow Wilson High School in Portland, Damon Stoudamire led his team to a 74-4 record and state championship, while racking up two national high school All-American awards. He starred as a point guard for the University of Arizona before being drafted as the seventh overall pick in the 1997 NBA draft.

One of the NBA's greatest short players, Damon Stoudemire, next to teammates Rasheed Wallace and Arvedis Sebonis

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Stoudamire earned the nickname “Mighty Mouse” because, as one of the shortest NBA players, he stands at only 5’10”. He went on to have an impressive NBA career that spanned 13 years. His lifetime averages of 13.4 points per game and 6.1 assists are hallmarks of a highly successful NBA career. Currently, he is the head coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of the Pacific.

21. Eddie House: 5’10” (1.78m)

Growing up in Northern California, Eddie House transferred high schools to play four years of varsity basketball (his local school did not allow freshmen to play varsity). He played college basketball at Arizona State University, where he had his number retired and is the school’s all-time leading scorer. When House was in the prime of his NBA career, he was listed in programs as being 6’1″, but fans have speculated over the years that his height has been exaggerated.

shortest nba players

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After being drafted in the second round of the NBA draft, House managed an NBA career that spanned 11 years. He is known for being a highly effective three-point shooter, and an explosive scorer. Today, he works as on-screen analyst for Fox Sports.

20. J.J. Barea: 5’10” (1.78m)

Only the seventh Puerto Rican basketball player to enter the NBA (let alone one of the shortest NBA players out there), J.J. Barea made a name for himself during international competition which earned him the eye of college scouts. He attended Northeastern University, where he absolutely dominated competition. At the end of his senior year, he ranked eighth in the nation in points per game, and third in assists.

JJ Barea drives against LeBron James

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Despite going undrafted in the 2006 NBA draft, Barea played for the Golden State Warriors and Dallas Maverick’s summer league teams, eventually earning a multi-million dollar contract with the Mavs. Barea proved a valuable resource as a backup, eventually starting point guard for several of their teams that went deep into the Western Conference playoffs. To the joy of Dallas fans, he was recently re-signed by the team after a brief two-year stint in Minnesota.

19. Kemba Walker: 5’10” (1.78m)

Kemba Walker has been a basketball prodigy since his time growing up in the Bronx. He earned All-American honors and was a top recruit coming out of Rice High School in Harlem, which eventually led him to the University of Connecticut, taking his career aspirations way up a notch.

shortest nba players

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Since stepping foot on campus at UConn, Kemba played in every game for the Huskies, filling the starting point guard spot and leadership role that resulted in an NCAA Championship his junior year. For the past four years, he has been a perennial NBA All-Star and one of the best point guards in the league.

18. Khalid El-Amin: 5’10” (1.78m)

Another standout, and NCAA Champion from UConn, Khalid El-Amin helped to pave the way for future Husky point guards Kemba Walker, Ben Gordon, and Shabazz Napier, who all went on to have NBA careers. El-Amin is probably more known from his college career, taking UConn deep in the NCAA tournament, than for his short tenure in the NBA.

shortest NBA players

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But Amin did make the league, and was selected over many players much bigger than he was. He was selected by the Chicago Bulls and played in fifty games for them before taking his talents overseas. He played 13 seasons internationally, and earned an MVP honor and league championship playing in Ukraine during 2006. Currently, he serves as a high school coach in his hometown of Minneapolis.

17. Sebastian Telfair: 5’10” (1.78m)

In the history of basketball, there has perhaps been no “little” man who’s received as much hype as Sebastian Telfair. Growing up in the infamous Coney Island projects and attending nearby Abraham Lincoln High School, Telfair was a top-three recruit in the country, before electing to forgo college and enter the NBA draft.

sebastian telfair

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Following in the footsteps of his cousin Stephon Marbury, Telfair opted to entered the NBA draft in 2004 as the smallest player to ever make the jump from high school straight to the NBA. He was selected thirteenth overall, beginning a journeyman career for multiple teams. His last season of professional basketball was with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association.

16. Scott Brooks: 5’10” (1.78)

True basketball fans will know that before he was a famous coach, Scotty Brooks was a darn good player in his own right. Hailing from the San Joaquin Valley in Central California, Brooks played for a season at Division I Texas Christian University, before returning to community college in California. He would later accept a scholarship to UC Irvine.

shortest NBA players

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Despite his ability to score, he went undrafted in the 1987 draft, and would spend one year in the CBA before embarking on a 10-year stint in the NBA. Perhaps more well-known for coaching the Oklahoma City Thunder teams from 2008 to 2015 that included James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook, he remains one of the most highly regarded coaches in the league and is currently the head coach for the Washington Wizards.

15. Tyler Ulis: 5’9″ (1.75m)

As an incoming high school freshman in Illinois, Tyler Ulis was recruited by several schools who wanted them to play on their basketball teams. At the time, he was just 5’3″. Over the course of one year, he grew five inches and eventually started getting recognition for his play during his junior year in high school.

shortest nba players

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After two years as a standout at the University of Kentucky, Ulis elected to enter the NBA draft as one of the shortest NBA players of his time, where he was selected in the second round. He has played three NBA seasons, and most recently was picked up by the Sacramento Kings’ G-League affiliate, where he is currently working towards a return to the league.

14. Isaiah Thomas: 5’9″ (1.75m)

Isaiah Thomas was destined to make the list of the shortest NBA basketball players when his mother named him after Detroit Pistons legend, Isiah Thomas, who missed our list by an inch. Currently, Isaiah is the shortest active player in the NBA at 5’9″.

isaiah thomas

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Thomas, who often speaks about overcoming adversity during his basketball career on account of his height, was selected as the last pick in the NBA draft. He used the criticism that he heard as motivation to improve and beat out the two other Kings draft picks for a roster spot. In his first year, he was a member of the NBA’s all-rookie team, and later became an All Star.

13. Kay Felder: 5’9″ (1.75m)

Kay Felder was not highly recruited when he committed to play basketball at Michigan’s University of Oakland. In fact, he received scholarship offers from just three other schools — all others passing on him because they thought he was too short. By his junior year, he led the country in assists, and was averaging nearly 25 points per game, stats that led to an early entry into the NBA draft.

shortest NBA players

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Despite performing well in the pre-draft skills tests, Felder was selected at the tail end of the draft. His exceptional performance with Cleveland during the summer league earned him a multi-million dollar contract with the Cavs during the 2016-2017 season. After his first year, he was traded and subsequently picked up and released by both the Raptors and the Bulls. Currently, he plays in China for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers.

12. Nate Robinson: 5’9″ (1.75m)

A self-proclaimed Beach Boy, Nate Robinson is extremely proud of his Seattle roots, where he excelled in basketball, football, and track at Rainier Beach High School. His senior team included five future professional basketball players (two of them NBA players). A dual-college athlete, Robinson played cornerback for the University of Washington’s football team as well as point guard on the basketball team.

One of the shortest former NBA players, Nate Robinson, dunks over 7 foot Dwight Howard

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After one year, he chose to focus on basketball over football, eventually completing three years at Washington before entering the NBA draft. Always a fan favorite, Nate Robinson was beloved in all eight cities of his career. A freak athlete, with a vertical leap recorded at close to 44 inches, he won the NBA dunk contest three times. He currently is retired from the league, and lives in Seattle with his wife and three children.

11. Ralph O’Brien: 5’9″ (1.75m)

When Ralph O’Brien was a kid during the Depression era, he used to hang out in front of a grocery store on the west side of Indianapolis and get in fights with other kids for money. Because he was so small, the other kids never wanted to choose him on their side for the fighting games, and he earned the nickname Buckshot when the grocer who worked there said: “You won’t be bigger than a buckshot.”

ralph o'brien

Indy Star/Butler University

A masterful ball handler and shooter, O’Brien attended Butler University on a basketball scholarship, where he averaged over 18 points per game before the advent of the three-point line. He went on to play 119 games in the NBA, and was the only Butler alum to play in the NBA for over 50 years until Gordon Hayward entered the league in 2010. After his career in basketball ended, O’Brien became a successful insurance salesman.

10. Yuta Tabuse: 5’9″ (1.75m)

Born in Yokohama, Yuta Tabuse earned celebrity status in his native Japan since his high school days, when he led his team to three straight national championships. He is considered by many to be the Michael Jordan of Japan and was the first Japanese player to make the NBA — not to mention one of the shortest NBA players ever. Before playing in the NBA, he played division two basketball for BYU-Hawaii and on the national team of Japan.

smallest nba players

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After going undrafted in 2001, Tabuse played on Dallas’ summer league team, but failed to make the roster for the regular season. Two years later, after improving his skills in the ABA, Tabuse was picked up by the Phoenix Suns, where he spent four months before being sent back to the ABA. He returned to Japan in 2008, where he currently plays for Utsunomiya Brex in the Japanese B league.

9. Charlie Criss: 5’8″ (1.73m)

Charlie Criss tried out for his high school’s basketball team because his friends were doing it. At the tryout, several of his shots went over the backboard, and his mistimed passes resulted in too many turnovers. He was cut, and resolved to go to his local court in Yonkers, New York, where he worked on his game every day with the help of a local pro named Ed Foley.

shortest nba players

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After leading his high school team to a state championship, he went to junior college in New Mexico, and later to New Mexico State University. Despite his knack for scoring, he initially didn’t make an NBA team and spent two years honing his skills in the CBA, once scoring 72 points in a single game. He was signed by the Atlanta Hawks in 1977, beginning a flourishing eight-year career in the NBA.

8. Willie Somerset: 5’8″ (1.73m)

Born in Sharon, Pennsylvania about 75 miles outside of Pittsburgh, “little” legend Willie Somerset helped lead his Farrell High School basketball team to two consecutive state championships. He attended Duquesne University in Pittsburgh where he left as the school’s leading scorer of all time.

willie somerset

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After college, Somerset was selected 56th overall by the Baltimore Bullets, but would only feature in eight games for them, averaging 5.6 points per game. He excelled in the ABA where he starred for the Houston Mavericks and the New York Nets. After his playing career ended, Somerset became a pharmacist, retiring from the profession in 2012.

7. Calvin Murphy: 5’7″ (1.70m)

Calvin Murphy was born into a family of baton twirlers, so naturally, he was encouraged to pick up the sport as well. At the height of his high school season, Murphy traveled to Houston, where he won the national baton twirling championship. He was also a two-time national All-American on the Norwalk High School basketball team in Connecticut.

shortest NBA players

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After high school ,Murphy became a star at Niagara University, once putting up 68 points in a single game against powerhouse Syracuse. He was drafted by the San Diego (later Houston) Rockets, where he spent all thirteen years of his career as one of the shortest NBA players in history. He was the organization’s leading scorer until his record was broken by Hakeem Olajuwon.

6. Monte Towe: 5’7″ (1.70)

A standout at Oak Hill High School, in Converse, Indiana, Monte Towe played four years of college basketball at North Carolina State University, where he was also a member of the varsity baseball team. He and fellow basketball teammate David Thompson are credited with inventing the alley-oop, a staple in today’s game.

shortest nba players

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After being drafted as the 57th pick in the 1975 NBA draft by the Atlanta Hawks, he was quickly traded to the Denver Nuggets, where he was reunited with Thompson. He played two years in the NBA before becoming an assistant at his alma mater, NC State. Currently, he is an associate head coach at his former high school in Indiana.

5. Keith Jennings: 5’7″ (1.70m)

Born in the small town of Culpeper in Virginia, Keith Jennings was a standout basketball player for Culpeper High School. The two time All-American racked up 1,740 points during his high school career, which still stands as a school record.

shortest NBA players

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In three out of four years at East Tennessee State, Jennings led his team to conference championships. The climax came in a 1992 victory over Arizona to advance past the first round of the NCAA tournament. He played 164 games in the NBA before taking his talents overseas, where he played mostly in France. More recently, he has returned to his native Virginia to coach.

4. Greg Grant: 5’7″ (1.70m)

Born into a broken home and tough environment in Trenton, New Jersey’s East Ward, Greg Grant rose from difficult circumstances to achieve an unlikely dream. A standout guard at local Trenton Central High School, Grant worked at a fish market while playing basketball in high school.

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He briefly attended Morris Brown University, a division three school, but soon dropped out and returned to New Jersey to attend TCJN (The College of New Jersey). He won the eye of several NBA scouts while leading TCJN to a division three national championship, and also became a legendary fixture in the New Jersey street ball scene. Initially drafted by the Suns, he spent nine years in the NBA, playing for six teams.

3. Spud Webb: 5’7″ (1.70m)

Born into poverty in Dallas, Texas, a young Spud Webb was inspired from a young age to use basketball as a means of improving his family’s financial situation. In junior high, he was told that he was too small to play basketball, and was only allowed to play when two other players failed to get their physical. That game, he scored 22 points, and in his years playing varsity he would average 26 points per game.

shortest players

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Spud could dunk when he was just 5’3″ in high school, yet despite his successful high school career and insane athleticism, colleges showed no interest. He eventually led junior college Midland to a national championship and earned the interest of coach Jim Volvano at NC State. Once in the NBA, he played for 13 years. Spud famously defeated teammate Dominique Wilkins in the 1986 slam dunk contest.

2. Earl Boykins: 5’5″ (1.65m)

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Earl Boykins’ father often snuck his son into gyms using his gym bag so that he could get competition against physically mature players. He led his high school, Cleveland Central, to a 23-2 record as a senior, averaging 24 points per game. One Cleveland newspaper said that he was the best basketball product to come out of the area throughout the ’90s.

shortest players

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After Iowa withdrew their offer of a scholarship, Boykins decided to accept an offer from Eastern Michigan, the only offer he had. During his senior year, he averaged 26.8 points per game, which qualified as the second best average in the entire country for division one. Despite going undrafted, he won several short-term contracts with multiple teams, before locking down a five-year, $13.7 million deal with the Denver Nuggets. He retired in 2012, and most recently coached at a high school in Colorado.

1. Muggsy Bogues: 5’3″ (1.60m)

Tyrone Curtis, better known as Muggsy Bogues, grew up playing basketball in the famed Lafayette Court housing projects in Baltimore. In high school, he was given the nickname Muggsy by fellow teammate Dwayne Woods, who said that his style of play reminded him of a mugging.

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After high school, Bogues earned a scholarship to Wake Forest University, where he averaged 11.3 points and 8.4 assists per game. Despite his lack of height, Bogues could reportedly dunk, albeit never recording one in an NBA game. His vertical leap was recorded at an astounding 44 inches. After 14 years in the NBA, Bogues dabbled in real estate, coaching, and also has appeared in television and movies as himself.

Sources: The Hartford Courant, Basketballnetwork.net , NBA.com