Height is pretty important in the NBA. It's a factor pro scouts look at closely when determining which prospects to draft. It can affect a player's efficiency in navigating pick and rolls or their rim protecting abilities. However, height isn't a be all, end all indicator of basketball skill: Chris Paul, the Point God, is 6' nothing, but he's one of the best defensive point guards of all time, and his passing abilities and basketball IQ are second to none (Other than maybe LeBron, who came to Earth as part of the meteor that killed the dinosaurs). Conversely, Kwame Brown was blessed with great height and size, but was so uncoordinated that he makes JaVale McGee look like a ballet dancer. In the olden days, when Wilt Chamberlain was breaking records and abusing offensive interference rules, height was everything. The league was ruled by giants. But nowadays, while height is still important, it's no longer vital, and the league has seen a fundamental shift towards small ball lineups and voluminous three point shooting, both of which cater to shorter players.
The NBA has been home to thousands of players over the course of its 70 year lifespan, all of varying height, skill, intelligence, and handsomeness. This list will focus on height, commemorating the twenty best players at their respective heights, between 5'8" (Dude you went to high school with) and 7'3" (Dude who makes Darth Vader look like a tiny baby wuss).
20 5'8" - Willie Somerset
- 1 Time ABA All-Star
This entry is cheating a little, since Willie Somerset only played in the NBA for one very uneventful season, but there have only been three 5'8" players in NBA history: Somerset, Charlie Criss, and Dino Martin. While Criss and Dino have great names, Somerset is the only one who had any real basketball success, albeit in the ABA. He was drafted fifty-sixth overall by the Baltimore Bullets in 1965, but only averaged 5.6 points per game in eight games played and was out of the league by the end of the season. After a season off, he joined the ABA, played for the Houston Mavericks for two seasons and the New York Nets for one. He averaged 22.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists across his ABA career. He retired in 1969, after making the only All-Star game of his basketball career.
19 5'9" - Isaiah Thomas
No, not that Isaiah Thomas. The Isaiah Thomas currently doing his best Allen Iverson impression for the Boston Celtics. The All-Star caliber point guard with numbers comparable to Kyrie Irving that the Sacramento Kings and the Phoenix Suns stupidly wasted. It's impossible to hate Isaiah Thomas. He has that scrappy underdog aura that Nate Robinson had, but he's also a really, really great basketball player. Originally drafted sixty overall by the Sacramento Kings in 2011, making him the NBA Draft's Mr. Irrelevant. He played three seasons for the Kings before being traded to the Phoenix Suns. However, the Suns shipped him off to Boston soon after, where he's thrived as the team's offensive sparkplug. Last season, he averaged 22.2 points, 6.2 assists, and 3 rebounds per game and made his first All-Star team, making him, tied with Calvin Murphy, the shortest man to ever play in the NBA All-Star Game.
18 5'10" - Slater Martin
Slater Martin is old, old, old school NBA. He entered the league in 1949, three years after its inception, and originally played for the Minneapolis Lakers (Minneapolis being a place that has lakes, unlike Los Angeles, which has very little water in general). He was George Mikan's All-Star point guard, helping the legendary big man win four of his five championships. Despite not being particularly potent on the offensive end of the court, he was known for his considerable skills as a defender and a facilitator. After seven seasons with the Lakers, he played four season with the St. Louis (Now Atlanta) Hawks, where he helped the club win their only NBA Championship. He averaged 9.8 points, 4.2 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per game on .364% shooting on his career, which was on-par for old school ballers. It was... bleak.
17 5'11" - Terrell Brandon
You've probably never heard of Terrell Brandon, partially because he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 90s, when the franchise consistently made the Playoffs, but were essentially Eastern Conference gatekeepers, and partially because, asides from a very good, All-Star caliber run between 1995-1997, he had a rather lackluster NBA career. Originally drafted eleventh overall by the Cavaliers in 1991, Brandon's career was a slow build until he finally broke out in 1994-1995, averaging 13.3 points and 5.4 assists per game. The next two seasons, he made two straight All-Stars teams, averaging 19.4 points, 6.4 assists, 3 rebounds, and 1.8 steals over those two years. He signed with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1997, and played a few more seasons there and in Minnesota before retiring in 2002.
16 6'0" - Allen Iverson
Honorable Mention: Chris Paul
They don't call Allen Iverson the pound-for-pound best basketball player of all time for nothing. Standing at a mere 6'0" in sneakers, Iverson would have been undersized for a point guard, but he played shooting guard (For comparison, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, the two best two guards of all time, are both 6'6"). With an unstoppable ability to put the ball in the hoop, killer handles, and a knack for stealing the ball, AI was one of the most popular, endearing figures in basketball history. Drafted first overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1996, AI carried some of the worst teams in basketball history, even bringing the 2000-2001 Sixers, a team that started Eric Snow, to the NBA Finals. His eccentric images and lifestyle even inspired several NBA rules, including the oft-ridiculed dress code.
15 6'1" - Isiah Thomas
Honorable Mention: John Stockton
This is probably the most controversial and difficult entry on this list. While John Stockton holds the all-time NBA records for assists and steals, Isiah Thomas arguably had a more unique, impactful, and successful career (Unless you're a Knicks fan, in which case this entry is making you scream inside your soul). Drafted second overall in 1981 by the Detroit Pistons, Zeke used his unselfishness, basketball IQ, and creativity to become one of the best pure point guards in NBA history. As the engineer of the Bad Boy Pistons, Thomas led the club to two straight championships in the late 80's and early 90's, overcoming legends like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan on route to gold. He also helped write the Jordan Rules, the guidelines teams used to
unrelentingly physically assault defeat the nigh-unstoppable MJ, which was effective for a grand total of three seasons, but still.
14 6'2" - Tony Parker
One of the best foreign players to ever ball in the NBA and quite possibly the biggest steals in the history of the NBA Draft, Tony Parker emerged from obscurity to become Tim Duncan's right hand man and the point guard of one of the most cherished dynasties in professional sports. Drafted twenty-eighth overall by the San Antonio Spurs in 2001, Parker wasted little time defining himself as one most offensively creative guards in the NBA. His reckless abandon when driving to the basket and his ability to finish at the rim made him the perfect compliment to Tim Duncan's constantly changing, yet strikingly simple, post game. His willingness to step up in high intensity situations helped the Spurs win four championships in the last fifteen years. As Parker gets older and the Spurs enter a new era of Kawhi Leonard led basketball, the Frenchman's guidance will be essential to helping the club's perennial success continue.
13 6'3" - Stephen Curry
Honorable Mention: Russell Westbrook
Although Russell Westbrook is an unstoppable triple-double machine made of pure chaos with a Super Saiyan aura made of pure destruction, Steph Curry has accomplished so much and cemented himself in NBA history in such a short amount of history. Drafted seventh overall in 2009 by the Golden State Warriors, Steph struggled with injuries and playing time early in his career, but when he was finally given full reign to play the game, he quickly developed into the greatest shooter in the history of basketball (Sorry, Ray Allen). A deadeye three-point shooter, Steph manipulated the game like never before, turning the Warriors offense into a free-flowing juggernaut with all the attention he received from defenders. He holds the NBA record for most three-point field goals made in a single season with 402 (For reference, no one else in NBA history has 300 in a season) and it's no doubt he'll own Ray Allen's career record before long.
12 6'4" - Dwyane Wade
Honorable Mention: Walt "Clyde" Frazier
Walt Frazier may be the best defensive guard in NBA history, but Dwyane Wade, the man whose name your misspelling right now, is a top three all-time shooting guard and was the franchise player for one of the most successful franchises this millennium. Drafted fourth overall by the Miami Heat in 2003, Wade quickly surfaced as a surefire superstar, showing out as a rookie and being arguably the best part of the 2004 Men's Olympic Basketball team. His generational skills, and the sensational South Beach climate, helped the Heat lure All-Stars like Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James to the club. Even today, at the age of thirty-four, he's still considered one of the best players in the association, even if it's very, very weird to see him in anything other than a Heat Jersey, and he's adapting to his new environment in Chicago by becoming a great three-point shooter seemingly on the fly.
11 6'5" - Oscar Robertson
Oscar Robertson is one of the most tragically underrated players in NBA history. Everyone knows about the triple-doubles and his statistical greatness, but few talk about his life long struggles with racism and his efforts in establishing the NBA Players Association. Oscar was as legendary and vital off the court as he was on it. Drafted firth overall by the Cincinnati Royals in 1960, Oscar was great from the get-go. In his sophomore season, he accomplished one of the most ludicrous feats in basketball history: he averaged a triple-double. e averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists (And an unknowable number of steals and blocks) per game. He also owns the NBA record for most triple-doubles in a career. He would eventually help a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Then Lew Alcindor) win the 1971 NBA Championship.
10 6'6" - Michael Jordan
Honorable Mention: Kobe Bryant
No entry on this list was easier to decide than this one. As good as Kobe Bryant was, and as much as recency bias wants him to hold some spot on this list, Michael Jordan surpasses him in almost every way. The (Should-Be) Undisputed Greatest of All Time, His Airness isn't just the top player in NBA history, he's a top athlete ever. Drafted third overall in 1984 by the Chicago Bulls, Jordan was placed onto an aimless Bulls team, charged with bringing the franchise to glory. Although he struggled to attain post-season glory, it was clear that he was a transcendent talent and with the right team, he would be unstoppable. From 1986-1993, he led the league in scoring every season, a total of seven times, and did it three more times between 1995-1998. Alongside Scottie Pippen, and later Dennis Rodman, Jordan would rampage through the basketball world, winning six championships in eight years. His resume is peerless and his status in NBA history is untouchable.
9 6'7" - Scottie Pippen
Scottie Pippen doesn't get nearly as much love as he deserves. Arguably the best perimeter defender of all time, Scottie spent his career as the Robin to Michael Jordan's Batman, which was great for championship glory, but bad for personal achievement and individual awards. Drafted fifth overall by the Chicago Bulls in 1987, Pippen was handpicked to be Jordan's wingman, the superstar teammate that would push His Airness and the Bulls over the edge. He took a while to develop, learning slowly in the shadow of the GOAT, but when he finally broke out, in 1989-1990, he helped kick the team into overdrive. His stats were never incredible, as Jordan handled most of the scoring duties, but it's worth noting that in 1993-1994, when Jordan was off playing minor league baseball, Scottie was third in MVP voting. Not bad at all.
8 6'8" - LeBron James
LeBron James: the man who would be GOAT. LeBron James is easily one of the most polarizing athletes of the past thirty years, maybe ever. He's spent the entirety of his career being compared to Michael Jordan, to an unfair degree, and thanks to events like The Decision, his announcement that he was leaving Cleveland for Miami, have rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Still, he has a legion of very dedicated fans and is without a doubt one of the most popular athletes on planet Earth. Drafted first overall in 2003 by the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron was simultaneously tasked with being the next Jordan and pulling the city of Cleveland out of a historic championship drought. Despite his individual greatness, Cleveland could never field a team good enough to win a championship, causing King James to flee to South Beach, where he won two rings with the Heat. Fortunately, LeBron eventually returned to The Land and brought the city their long awaited championship.
7 6'9" - Magic Johnson
Honorable Mentions: Bill Russell and Kevin Durant
There are few NBA players that match the sheer legend Magic Johnson has enjoyed. His sensational feud with Larry Bird, playing center in place of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals as a rookie, and his much publicized battle with HIV/AIDS and his return to basketball despite the disease. Magic, the only man great enough to give himself the nickname Magic, is on a level of importance and esteem few athletes ever achieve. Drafted first overall in 1979 by the Los Angeles Lakers, Magic wasted no time ascending to megastar status. Alongside Kareem, he led the Lakers to a championship his rookie year, becoming the first rookie in NBA history to win the Finals MVP award, totaling 42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals in the deciding Game 6. After that stellar rookie showing, he would go on to win a slew of awards and championships, cementing himself as the greatest player in the Lakers pantheon and as one of the most inspirational athletes in American history.
6 6'10" - Moses Malone
Honorable Mentions: Chris Bosh and Anthony Davis
Moses Malone deserves a lot of credit for the effect he had on the game of basketball. He was the first player in modern hoops history to skip college ball and go right from high school to the pros. Although he wasted a few years in the ABA, the ABA-NBA merger in 1976 brought him to the big big leagues of the National Basketball Association. Originally drafted to the Portland Trail Blazers in the ABA dispersal draft, he never played a game for the Blazers, eventually ending up on the Houston Rockets. It took the legendary big man a little while to adjust to his new environment, and the different rules of the NBA, but he broke out before too long and achieved the megastar status he was always capable of. One of the best rebounders of all time, and easily the best offensive rebounder of all time, Moses was nearly unstoppable on the basketball court. Unfortunately, he never found a permanent home, as he hopped between seven teams in his incredibly durable nineteen year NBA tenure, but those teams rightfully count him among the best players they've ever had.
5 6'11" - Tim Duncan
Honorable Mentions: Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett
Despite stout competition from one of the best foreign players of all time in Dirk Nowitzki and possibly the greatest defender of all time in Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan's spot on this list was never in danger. Duncan was simply transcedent, one of the most unique and consistent talents the sport has ever seen. He was a constant winner, an outstanding leader, and the absolute best player of an entire generation of ballers (Sorry, Kobe). He's hands down the best power forward of all time, even making Karl Malone, second on the all-time scoring list, look inferior to him. He led the San Antonio Spurs to five NBA Championships over his nineteen year career and the team never registered less than fifty wins per season with him on the team (Excluding the lockout-shortened 1999-1999 season, which saw Duncan win his first ring).
4 7'0" - Hakeem Olajuwon
The term "basketball unicorn" has been tossed around frequently lately, due to Kevin Durant dubbing New York Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis one, but the Latvian Legend is far from the only unicorn in NBA history. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, LeBron James, and Giannis Antetokounmpo are all wildly unique players. However, Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon may be the most unique player to ever step onto the court. Drafted first overall by the Houston Rockets in 1984, Hakeem had grown up wanting to be a soccer player, but his giant stature demand he play basketball. As a result, he had incredible, graceful footwork no big man has ever had before. He was on the basketball court, wielding an unstoppable arsenal of post moves and annihilating any man who stepped to him on defense. His versatility and awe inspiring consistency made him one of the most successful players in NBA history. Now if only we could have seen him clash with MJ in the Finals. A beautiful "what if?"
3 7'1" - Shaquille O'Neal
Before we discuss any of Shaq's basketball achievement, of which there are many, please remember that he starred in a movie titled KAZAAM, where he played a genie named Kazaam. Think about it, one of the most physically dominant athletes of all time played a genie that came from a magic boombox. That's just... just wonderful. Originally drafted first overall by the Orlando Magic in 1992, Shaquille O'Neal was a monster right out of the gate. He immediately turned the Magic from a bottom dweller to fringe playoff team, then later on, with Penny Hardaway, a true contender. However, he eventually left Orlando for the Los Angeles Lakers, where he and Kobe Bryant formed one of the most dominant and successful duos to ever play. Shaq used his otherworldly skills to lead the Lakers to a three-peat, then was promptly exiled from the franchise when he and Kobe reached critical mass. He went on to play for four more teams, helping the Miami Heat win their first franchise championship, and was able to use his substantial charisma and legacy to distract the world as he slowly got washed.
Honorable Mention: Wilt Chamberlain
2 7'2" - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
When people talk about the best center of all time, Shaq is usually the name they jump to. It makes sense: Shaq was possibly the most physically dominant man to ever lace up a pair of sneakers, and his overwhelming popularity and charisma put him at the forefront of people's minds. However, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has a resume that gives him a powerful case for the title of "best center." Drafted first overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1969, after possibly the best collegiate career ever, Kareem would go on to have one of the most successful, durable, and consistent careers of any athlete ever. He played for 20 years, never playing less than 62 games in a season, and played at an All-Star level almost the whole way. Alongside Oscar Robertson, he brought the Milwaukee Bucks their only franchise championship, and alongside Magic Johnson, he made the Showtime Lakers one of the greatest teams in NBA history. His signature move, the Skyhook, is remembered today as one of the most dangerous and dependable scoring moves ever, right next to the slam dunk and the Dream Shake.
1 7'3" - Mark Eaton
NBA history has an unfair tendency to commemorate brilliant offensive players, even if they can't defend, like Steve Nash or James Harden, but ignores defensive minded players who were bad at offense, like Tony Allen or Ben Wallace. That latter category definitely fits Mark Eaton. Drafted seventy-second overall by the Utah Jazz in 1982, Eaton had very little offensive abilities to speak of, outside of alley-oops, put backs, and lay-ups. However, on the less glamorous end, he was an absolute beast. He could pull down rebounds with the best of them, but he truly excelled as a shot blocker. He deflected shots at such an dizzying pace, it would make Hassan Whiteside cry. In 1984-1985, his third season in the league, he averaged 5.6 blocks a game! That's incredible. He also holds the NBA record for most averaged blocked shots on a career with 3.5. There's always a place in the league for a player that skilled, even if he has the scoring chops of your friend Gary at the playground.
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