The NBA has been in business since 1946-47. But never in league history has there ever been a regular starting center as short as Houston's 6-foot-6 Chuck Hayes.
That counts all those guys in tight shorts who played in dingy gyms before there even was a shot clock. Guys in the pivot wearing Chuck Taylors weren't as low to the ground as Chuck Hayes.
FanHouse went to the Elias Sports Bureau, which researched NBA starting lineups since the first NBA game on Nov. 1, 1946. Nobody could be found as short as Hayes who was a team's regular starter at center.
So Hayes, just like the 5-3 Bogues being the shortest player in NBA history, feels like a pioneer.
The starting center the previous seven seasons for the Rockets (11-9) was 7-6 Yao Ming, barely shorter than 7-7 Gheorghe Muresan for being the tallest player in NBA history. But Yao is out for the season with a foot injury.
Enter Hayes who, due to desperation, was thrown in as the starter for the final four games of the Western Conference semi-finals last May against the Lakers after Yao went down. In the previous series against Portland, 7-2 Dikembe Mutombo was lost for the season due to a knee injury, and Mutombo since has retired.
"It's who we had,'' Rockets coach Rick Adelman said of having to turn to Hayes, normally a power forward.
So when had Hayes previously been a starting center?
"Not since junior high,'' he said. "Hart-Ransom Junior High in Modesto, Calif. I was 6-2.''
The Rockets during the offseason brought in 6-11 David Andersen to possibly be the starting center. But Hayes beat Andersen out during training camp, and the fifth-year man has started all 20 games this season.
"Chuck is incredible,'' Adelman said of Hayes, who can guard players at all five positions. "He's so gifted defensively. He's never been given the credit. ... But what Chuck Hayes has done (defensively) this year has just been incredible. ... He doesn't have the length to go block shots. ... But nobody moves him. He strips the ball. He gets steals. He gets charges. He knows exactly what we're doing defensively.''
All of this, and the 240-pound Hayes often is looking up a half foot in the pivot.
"I've never heard of a 6-6 center,'' Ariza said. "It's like high school.''
It certainly isn't like the NBA. The most notable short center in league history has been 6-7 Wes Unseld, a Hall of Famer who manned the middle for the Bullets (now Washington Wizards) from 1968-81, including helping lead them to the 1978 NBA title.
From 1988-95, when Don Nelson brought small ball to Golden State during his first stint as Warriors coach, he used the likes of 6-7 Rod Higgins and 6-7 Tom Tolbert at center. But nobody 6-6 or shorter has been found who has been a regular NBA starting center.
"We went back to the beginning,'' said Elias researcher Sal D'Agostino. "But it's unofficial. We don't measure the players. We go by listed measurements.''
D'Agostino found Dennis Rodman, which Elias has listed at 6-6, having started one December game and 13 games from Feb. 28 on during the 1997-98 season for Chicago. But Rodman wasn't the Bulls' regular center, having filled in at times for 7-2 Luc Longley.
And Rodman, who had been listed at 6-8 when he entered the NBA, was listed at 6-7 in the 1997-98 NBA Register. The Web site BasketballReference.com has him at 6-7.
D'Agostino found some instances of teams having quirky short-term lineups. Cliff Hagan, a 6-4 Hall of Fame guard and forward, got four starts at center in 1963-64 for the St. Louis Hawks, and 6-4 Hall of Fame guard Walt Frazier started at center for New York on Nov. 1, 1972 at Kansas City-Omaha.
But nobody 6-6 or shorter has started 20 straight NBA games at center. The way Hayes is going, he might make it 82.
"I'll do whatever they need me to do to help the team win games,'' Hayes said. "I'm sure I can bring it up. I'll be a point center.''
Hayes probably could do that. He said he played point guard, small forward and power forward at Modesto Christian High School. That was before he played power forward at Kentucky, where he already had grown to his current height of 6-6.
Then again, is that really his current height? Rockets general manager Daryl Morey believes Hayes is shorter than that.
"He's about a half-inch taller than me and I'm 6-4 so he's probably closer to 6-5,'' Morey said. "I know he's not 6-6. ... He's got the lateral quickness of a guard and the strength of a center and his basketball IQ is as good as I've ever seen.''
Morey admits Hayes is "pretty limited offensively, and it's probably generous to call him that.'' With Morey saying defense is "harder to quantify,'' that's the main reason Hayes went undrafted in 2005.
Hayes often has been overlooked. Pun intended.
So much for NBA players watching film. More than a month into the season, Hayes said counterparts at center still get a bit overconfident going against him.
"It's kind of funny because everybody kind of assumes it's going to be an easy basket when they post me up,'' Hayes said. "Defensively, you've got to use your speed and you've got to find different angles. You've got to be crafty offensively.''
Let's just say it's often a struggle on offense even when Hayes isn't being guarded. Hayes is shooting 50 percent from the foul line, which is at least an improvement from last season's 36.8.
What is it about these short centers and free-throw shooting? Unseld was a 63.3 percent career marksman and Rodman shot 58.4 percent.
But it all comes down to defense for Hayes. He recently helped limit 7-foot Clippers center Chris Kaman to 10 points, about half his average.
Lakers' 7-footer Andrew Bynum was averaging 20.8 points when Hayes helped hold him to 17 on Nov. 4. And Portland 7-footer Greg Oden averaged 4.0 points in his first two games this season against the Rockets.
"He makes up for his height with his quick hands defensively and his strong lower body,'' Oden said before last Saturday's third meeting with Houston, shortly before suffering a season-ending knee injury early in the game. "He has really strong legs and he can smack balls out and get a lot of steals. And he's still able to move people out and get rebounds. Whatever he lacks in size, he makes up with his skill and IQ."
Next up for Hayes is a Wednesday meeting with Cleveland's giant centers, 7-1 Shaquille O'Neal and 7-3 Zydrunas Ilgauskas. It figures to be just another day at his office in the paint.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson.