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30 for 30

Muggsy Bogues is thrilled to see the story of his Dunbar team on screen

‘Baltimore Boys,’ a 30 for 30 documentary, premieres Tuesday night on ESPN

There was no social media in the early 1980s to amplify Muggsy Bogues’ true abilities, which is why the 5-foot-3 Bogues was often mistaken for a bench player. Or the team manager. Or the water boy.

But once the ball was tossed and play began, opponents of Baltimore’s Dunbar High School quickly understood who Bogues was: the best player on what’s widely considered the greatest high school team of all time.

The Dunbar team of 1981-82 finished 29-0. The Poets were dominant the next season, going 31-0 on the way to being crowned the top basketball team in the nation by USA Today.

Three players on that team — Bogues, Reggie Williams and Reggie Lewis — were first-round picks in the 1987 NBA draft, joining David Wingate, who was a second-round pick the previous year.

On Tuesday night, that Dunbar High School team is featured in Baltimore Boys, an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary. The film is inspired by the critically acclaimed 2016 book The Boys of Dunbar, written by Alejandro Danois.

The Undefeated spoke with Bogues — who played 15 years in the NBA and remains the shortest player in league history — about the film, which airs at 8 p.m. on ESPN.


How does it feel to have the story of your Dunbar team shared with a national audience?

It’s awesome. We’ve been talking about this for so long, and now having it come to life is great. As kids growing up we had to overcome so much adversity and so many obstacles. To see us all be able to become successful, we give all the credit to coach [Bob] Wade because he was such a big part of it.

At what point did you realize that your Dunbar team was going to be special?

Right away. We all grew up with each other in the city. We would play neighborhood against neighborhood: Me and Reggie Williams played at the Lafayette [Recreation Center], and David Wingate and Reggie Lewis played with the Cecil Kirk. We would always play against each other but didn’t play for the same team until we got to Dunbar. We knew we had talent, but how it was all going to come together was all up to Coach Wade. He did a great job of managing all of those massive egos and bringing us into one solid unit.

How difficult was it maintaining dominance while going on the road to face some of the nation’s top teams?

We weren’t thinking about the national rankings. We just wanted to destroy whatever opponent was in front of us. As we continued to beat these good teams, we started to get the recognition.

What was your best memory from the Dunbar years?

I have a lot of favorite memories. But the one that stands out was when we played against Camden High School [New Jersey], because they were considered to be the best team in the country and they had the guy considered to be the No. 1 player in Billy Thompson.

Coach Wade used to pump them up like they were the greatest team on earth. He would talk about how good Billy Thompson and their guards were, and how they never lost a game in their building in so many years. That got under our skin.

Coach Wade was making a speech about that before the game, and Reggie Williams cut him off. Reggie said, ‘I’m tired of hearing about this team. Can we just go play?’

When we got on the court they were laughing at me, saying why they got this little kid playing against us. They called me the water boy. Coach looked at me and said, ‘Little fella, you OK?’ I just looked at him and said, ‘Coach, I’m about to have a party.’

Once the ball went up in the air, the game was over [Dunbar won the game at Camden, 84-59]. We crushed them and showed them who was No. 1.

Have you ever seen a high school team since then that could match up favorably with your Dunbar team?

I haven’t seen it. People talked about LeBron James’ team in Ohio. And the team Jerry Stackhouse played on at Oak Hill. But until we see three guys get drafted in the first round of the same draft — and we already had one player in the NBA when that happened — that remains to be seen.

David Wingate was a defensive presence in college and the NBA, but he was an offensive machine in high school. And of course we had the silky smooth Reggie Williams, who became the No. 1 player in the country.

And you can’t forget about Reggie ‘Truck’ Lewis coming off the bench. We were so deep that a lot of guys could have gone to other schools and started. All 12 of us went to Division I programs. I can’t see another team matching up with what we had.

The high school game has changed a lot over the years. Do you think it’s possible today to put together another team as great as your Dunbar squad?

Our team came together naturally. Coach Wade didn’t have to do any recruiting. It’s a school we all wanted to go to. My whole family went to Dunbar, which was right across the street from my house. Reggie Lewis got cut from Patterson High School, and he decided to transfer to Dunbar.

I’m sure it can happen again. But you need the right coach and players with the right mindset.

Why do you think other players your size have failed to make it to the NBA?

When you’re my size, you just have to understand what your role is and what you’re capable of doing.

You look at Aquille Carr, who came from Baltimore. I tried to get into his head a little bit, but I didn’t have the opportunity to give him a message that could really soak in, like how to be a floor general, how to run a team.

He wanted to focus on scoring and wasn’t able to elevate the game of anyone around him. And that makes a big difference. You have to be an extension of the coach when you run that position. He had the talent and ability, but I think he was focusing on the wrong things.

At my size, I had to be a disrupter defensively. And you have to be able to make everybody around you better.

There’s a moment in the documentary when all the guys come back to Dunbar, put on basketball gear and run drills under the watchful eye of Wade. What was it like to get everybody back together in the same room?

That was the ultimate. We were missing the one big piece, with the late Reggie [Lewis] not being there. For him to go on and to have one of the top NBA careers from anybody in Baltimore and then have it cut short because of a tragedy is sad.

But it was great seeing everybody, and seeing everybody taking care of themselves. Everybody’s doing well. It was a special moment to see us all come together and be humbled by where we came from. And seeing Coach Wade healthy and proud of all of us growing up from teenagers in Baltimore to grown men, that was a blessing.

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at The Undefeated. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright, and watching the Knicks play an NBA game in June.