Enter Muggsy Bogues, the “missing link” that completed the Baltimore Dunbar High School basketball squad that 35 years ago began a two-year undefeated reign as the consensus national champions. What he lacked in height (at 5’3”), Bogues more than made up for in heart, smarts and quickness of hands and feet that propelled the Poets to greatness, all in the hands of their longtime mentor Bob Wade.
In his book, The Boys of Dunbar: The Story of the Greatest High School Basketball Team, Alejandro Danois recalls the unparalleled success of the team in a time of terrible turmoil in Baltimore, chronicling the 1981-82 team, but always in the context of how difficult life had become in the city. The once thriving industries gone, Baltimore was in a horrendous economic tailspin that hit the large African American community hardest. The city had not yet experienced the renaissance at the end of the decade that included the resurrection of the Inner Harbor as a tourist destination, capped by the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in the early 1990s.
The Baltimore in which Bogues and fellow stars David Wingate, Reggie Williams, Reggie Lewis and others resided was riddled with crime, drugs and abject poverty. Wade, through discipline and love, helped countless youngsters become better players and people, stressing education and skills that proved invaluable on the court and in life.
On the court, this team is arguably the best ever. Danois takes readers into the players’ homes to show the unique challenges each faced: one having to care for his paralyzed mother; another needing to temporarily move in with an aunt whose boyfriend was abusive.
Through interviews with many of the participants, Danois is able to detail stories from locker rooms, buses and practice gyms that provide flavor and deepen readers’ appreciation for Wade’s methods and how they influenced the boys so positively.
That so many went on to college scholarships and four — Bogues, Wingate, Williams and Lewis — to the NBA, gives further credence to this team’s claim as the most talented ever.