You don’t have to be tall to be good at basketball, but it certainly can help. For the majority of us, our global superstar NBA player ambitions fade away once it becomes evident that around six feet is as tall as you’re going to get, as you do not get too many smaller players than this in the NBA and those normally excel in at least one area such as shooting, handles or speed. The height of the players in the NBA adds to the appeal as it is almost otherworldly, and it is always entertaining to see 6-foot-6 plus enormous players towering over a journalist, showering them in their sweat from a tough game.
The average American male stands at just over 5-foot-9 , or 1.763 metres, whilst the average height of a player in the NBA is around 6-foot-7. This is an enormous difference, and when you factor in how well built, fast and athletic these players are then you really begin to see just how impressive these players are. Every now and then there will be a player discovered that is very tall, even for an NBA player, leaving many in awe as they can dunk the ball without even leaving the floor. These 7-foot plus players will always create trouble for the opposition on both sides of the ball, even if their skill set or coordination is not the greatest. There are also some of these enormous players that possess excellent abilities and coordination, making them almost unplayable and incredibly dominant. As you will see, unfortunately many of the taller players often struggle with injuries (particularly with their joints), as the strain their body is put under becomes too much. This is not always the case however, as some of these players have managed to go on and have long, successful careers in the NBA.
It surely won’t be long until another player breathing slightly thinner air enters the NBA, but for now here are the 10 tallest players to have played in the league so far.
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10 T8. Ralph Sampson (7-foot-4)
Selected by the Rockets with the first pick in the 1983 draft, 7-foot-4 Sampson was a handful as soon as he entered the league, picking up the Rookie of the Year award at the end of his first season. Paired with legendary big man Hakeem Olajuwon, they became one of the greatest and most imposing front-courts to ever play the game, earning them the nickname “Twin Towers”. Sampson hit a famous turnaround jumpshot to eliminate the Lakers in the 1986 NBA Finals, before faltering to the Celtics in the finals. Unfortunately injuries would soon plague Sampson’s career as he moved on to a few other teams, and this would force him to miss many games and eventually he was waived by the Washington Bullets in 1991-92.
9 T8. Rik Smits (7-foot-4)
“The Dunkin’ Dutchman” was a huge handful for any team, and his interior presence combined with Reggie Miller’s 3-point ability made for a deadly Pacer team that gave a number of teams a run for their money in the postseason. He spent his entire career at Indiana and became a fan favourite, but injuries soon became a problem as he suffered nerve damage in his feet (reportedly from wearing shoes too tight as a teenager). He underwent multiple surgeries, including back, knee and ankle procedures before retiring in 1999-00.
8 T8. Mark Eaton (7-foot-4)
Also standing at an imposing 7-foot-4 was Utah Jazz center Mark Eaton, who will go down as one of the greatest defensive big men to play the game. Eaton was limited offensively, but he more than made up for this on the other end and helped to instill a toughness to the Jazz, and his shot blocking ability will be forever remembered and helped him to two Defensive Player of the Year awards. Eaton spent 11 years patrolling the paint in the NBA, averaging 3.5 BPG for his career (all-time leader) and as high as 5.6 per game in the 1984-85 season. Since retiring, the Jazz honoured his legacy by retiring his jersey.
7 T5. Slavko Vranes (7-foot-5)
The NBA was clearly not right for Montenegrin Slavko Vranes, who was selected by the Knicks in the 2nd round of the 2003 draft. He was then waived in December later that year, but would be picked up on a 10-day contract by the Portland Trail Blazers. He played just three minutes of one game, where he missed one shot and picked up a personal foul. Following this hugely disappointing chapter, Vranes returned to Europe and has played for a number of teams including Partizan Belgrade and Zob Ahan Isfahan. This goes to show that even if you are one of the tallest players in the world, it does not necessarily mean that you can have an impact on this hugely talented league where many struggle to adjust to its speed and physicality.
6 T5. Pavel Podkolzin (7-foot-5)
Pavel Podkolzin is an absolute mountain of a man at 7-foot-5 and 303 pounds. Drafted by the Jazz with the 21st pick before being traded to the Mavericks, Podkolzin withdrew from the draft a year earlier after discovering he had Acromegaly (a pituitary disorder often associated with gigantism), but following his trade to the Mavs he finished his season in Europe, had surgery to fix his disorder and joined the team. He struggled to adjust to the league however, and only made five appearances and totaled just 10 minutes for the 2004-05 season.
At the start of his second season Podkolzin had to have surgery on his foot, keeping him out of action till March when he played in the development league. He would make his only appearance on the last day of the season, scoring 3 points and pulling down 7 boards in 18 minutes. He contract was soon bought out and he returned to play in his native Russia.
5 T5. Chuck Nevitt (7-foot-5)
Colorado born Nevitt was selected in the 3rd round by the Rockets in the 1982 draft, but in a 9-year career he would only log 826 minutes in just 155 appearances. During this time he played for Houston, the Lakers, Detroit, back to the Rockets, the Bulls (with Jordan), and finally one game with the Spurs before retiring in 1994. Despite failing to make an impact at any of the teams he arrived at, Nevitt was on the 1985 Lakers championship roster, and is therefore the tallest player in NBA history to win an NBA title.
4 T3. Yao Ming (7-foot-6)
Another selection by the Houston Rockets (the 3rd player on this list) with the 1st pick in the 2002 NBA draft, Yao Ming made the biggest impact in the league out of all the players on this list. The 310 pound center from China was much more than just an enormous player; he was also one that possessed a great skill set and most crucially, a desire to get better. Yao had a fantastic shooting touch for a player of his size, he was an excellent passer and developed a great variety of post up moves and improved his footwork. Before injuries forced him into early retirement, Yao spent nine seasons with the Rockets and put up impressive career averages of 19 PPG, 9.2 RPG and 1.2 BPG and is an 8-time All-Star. He will be remembered as a Rockets legend, playing on a talented team alongside Tracy McGrady but they unfortunately struggled to advance in the playoffs.
In addition, Yao also became China’s most famous athlete and consequently drew millions more fans to the NBA and he has played a key role in globalizing the game.
3 T3. Shawn Bradley (7-foot-6)
Unfortunately for Bradley, the former 76er, Net and Maverick (where he spent most his career) will be best remembered for getting dunked on by just about everyone (or possibly his appearance in Space Jam). He was put on a number of different posters, but the American/German center also swatted his fair share with a career average of 2.5 BPG and as high as 3.6 per game in the 1995-96 season. Bradley’s thin frame meant that he got pushed around a lot by players smaller but a lot heavier than him, and his limited offensive skill set also held him back. Nevertheless, Bradley enjoyed a lengthy career in the NBA with plenty of minutes logged, and he played an important role on the Mavericks thanks to his shot blocking ability and length.
2 Manute Bol (7-foot-6 and ¾)
Manute Bol stood a towering 7-foot-6 and ¾ as measured by the Guinness Book of World Records, but weighed just 200 lbs, giving him a very thin frame which hindered him in a few aspects of his game. He was an elite shot blocker however, averaging 5 BPG in his rookie year and 3.3 for his 10-season career (placing him 2nd on the all time league leaders list). Bol was selected in the 2nd round by the Washington Bullets in 1985, but would also play for the Warriors, 76ers and Heat throughout his career. The Sudanese center became a fan favourite for many, and this is also thanks to his many charitable causes and humanitarian work he carried out during his playing days and also after retiring.
Unfortunately Bol passed away in 2014 at the age of 47, after suffering from severe kidney trouble and a skin condition. He will always be remembered as much more than just one of the tallest players to play the game, as he was a gentle person who did everything he could to improve the world around him in addition to entertaining crowds with his play. He was recently honoured by his former team the Warriors, with an impressive life sized bobblehead doll being on display, as well as giving fans a 10-inch Manute Bol bobblehead doll before a game with the Bulls.
1 Gheorghe Muresan (7-foot-7)
Standing a fraction taller than Manute Bol, Muresan is the tallest to grace the NBA at a staggering 7-foot-7 or 2.31 metres. The Romanian, who even players had to crane their neck to hold a conversation with, was a second round pick by the Bullets in the 1993 draft after playing in France. Unlike a few other entries, Muresan showed promise in the NBA, and so much so that he even took home the Most Improved Player award in 1996. That season he averaged an impressive 14.5 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 2.3 BPG and shot .584 from the floor. Unfortunately a persistent back injury restricted Muresan to just six seasons in the NBA, playing four with the Bullets before playing two with the Nets.
During his playing days, Muresan would wear number 77 in references to his height. A full foot taller than the average NBA player and nearly two feet taller than the average American male, will there be a player to play in the league taller than Muresan?
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