So, I was shocked to find out that Chuck Hayes, at 6'6, is the shortest starting center in NBA history, going back to the 1946-47 season. Of course there have been games with shorter players starting at center, but Hayes is the shortest player to regularly start at center for an NBA team, defined by the Elias Sports Bureau as starting for "20 consecutive games"...and that's the catch. You see, Chuck Hayes, while short for an NBA starting center, is not the shortest player to ever regularly start at center for an NBA team. Now, I am not sure how many shorter players regularly started for their teams at center during the NBA's early years without meeting the "20 consecutive games" requirement, because "games started" were not tracked until 1982, and I don't have access to the same sources Elias did, but I'll give one example of a 6'5 center from the early days of the NBA.
Even though he evidently never started 20 consecutive games at center, Ed Sadowski, at 6'5, was one of the premier centers of the early NBA. And looking at some of his teams, it seems like a huge stretch to argue that he wasn't the regular starting center. First of all, everything I've read about Sadowski refers to him as a center, and taking a closer look at his teams supports the "Sadowski as center" theory. Sadowski only played 4 years in the BAA/NBA (I'm counting the BAA as part of the NBA as Elias evidently did to stretch their claim back to 1946-47), as the BAA wasn't formed until he was 29 years old. In 1946-47, after doing his best to forever destroy professional basketball in Canada (a topic for another post), he was traded to Cleveland, before moving to Boston, Philadelphia, and finally Baltimore to end his career in 1950. I'll just look at his last two seasons, as I think they provide enough evidence that he (or someone as short or shorter) was a regular starting center.
Starting with the eminently forgettable 1950 Bullets, their top 6 players appear to be the 6'5 Ed Sadowski (who plays in 52/68 games after coming over in a trade early in the season, the 6'5 Walt Budko (68 games), the 6'4 Blackie Towery (66 games), the 6'3 Tommy Byrnes (53 games) the 6'2 Paul Hoffman (60 games), and the 6'0 Joe Dolhon (64 games). In fact, only three players over 6'5 appeared in a Bullets game all season-Lee Knorek in one game, Ron Livingston in 16 games, and Les Pugh, who appeared in 56 games, averaging 4.5 points per game. Did he start? Sadowski, Budko, and Towery (all frontcourt players) all averaged at least 5 more shots a game than Pugh, suggesting they received more playing time. Even if nobody started 20 straight games at center, I find it hard to believe that Sadowski (or maybe Budko) wasn't the regular starting center for this team, although I suppose it's possible that Pugh was started at center to win the opening tip or something.
But the next case is even more obvious; the 1949 Philadelphia Warriors, for whom Sadowski played all 60 games and finished 7th in the league in scoring. The only players on that team taller than Sadowski were Roy Pugh (probably related to Les) who appeared in 13 games and scored 20 points on the season, and Elmore Morgenthaler who appeared in 20 games and scored 42 points all year. As far as I can tell, the starting lineup on that team was Sadowski, Joe Fulks (the BAA/NBA's first 'star'), Gale Bishop, Angelo Musi, and George Senesky. It's almost impossible for that team not to have started a 6'5 or shorter player as their regular center.
Chuck Hayes is an underappreciated player, and it's very impressive that he's able to shut down centers half a foot taller than him. He's a great defender in the low post, takes lots of charges, gets more than his fair share of steals, isn't a rebounding liability like you would fear, and is one of the best passing centers in the league. I even suspect that I'll be on the "Chuck Hayes for all-defense" bandwagon by the end of the year. But he's not the shortest regular starting center in NBA history. He is probably the shortest regular starting center since the adoption of the 24 second clock, and the fact that someone else did it in the late 1940s does not take away from his accomplishments. And we don't need to obsfucate the stats to acknowledge that. So, stop it Elias Sports Bureau, with your cherry-picking endpoints, and give Ed Sadowski his due, along with Chuck Hayes.