How High Is The Top Of The Backboard And Who Can Touch It

If you are a fan of basketball, you have probably heard the term “above the rim” thrown around. 

But, above the backboard?! What seems like an impossible feat has actually been done on a number of occasions before. To put into context just how special it is to be able to jump and touch the top of the backboard, we have to discuss how high that actually is. 

The top of the backboard is 13 feet off the ground! While the rim is only 10 feet high, a highly manageable height for pro athletes, adding three more feet – 36 more inches – to a vertical is tough.

Why Touch The Top Of The Backboard

There is no real reason for a basketball player to touch the top of the backboard during a game. Like doing a trick shot in hockey, or watching people shoot one-handed full-court shots on a basketball court, the tasks aren’t useful in a game. Seeing them done, however, is pretty cool.

The Earl “The Goat” Manigault Story

I first learned of The Goat when the movie Rebound: The Legend Of Earl “The Goat” Manigault came out in 1996. The story is about Manigault and his reputation on the playground as one of the greatest basketball players that no one has ever known. 

Part of his myth was the claim that he could touch the top of the backboard. In fact, people said The Goat could “make change” the act of grabbing a dollar and leaving coins on top of the board adding to the mystique.

A 2008 ESPN story about the feat was telling. They went to the US Men’s Team to see if the world’s best could do it and after a little digging (and ultimately an unsuccessful attempt from Dwight Howard) came to the conclusion that many had heard of the feat but none had ever seen it live. The story also spoke with James White, a former University of Cincinnati player who said he could do it. He failed as well.

The Goat was between 5-11 and 6-1, but if players like Dwight Howard and LeBron James had never done it, then how in the heck did he pull it off? 

All of the stories about Manigault’s mythic playground legend are never corroborated by eyewitness accounts. But many are adamant they saw this with their own eyes during Earl’s prime playing days in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Others Who Made The 13 Foot Leap

In 2012, a YouTube video surfaced of playground legend Kirkpatrick McCauley ringing a bell 13 feet in the air. The leap was one of the most impressive things I ever saw on a basketball court and the fans that witnessed it in person rained praise down on him when he landed. 

In 2015, University of Texas freshman Kerwin Roach touched the top of the backboard during training. While his reputation on the court never materialized much after that leap, Roach is one of the only people to have documented their fateful jump of 13 feet. 

The footage and stories about these performances beg the question: why hasn’t a star player ever done this? There are plenty of reasons that you could point to: it doesn’t really matter as the feat doesn’t accomplish much in a game and players are working on other skills like ball handling and shooting

Enter Zion Williamson.

After his freshman year at Duke, one of the rubs on Zion was that he needed to lose weight to compete for such a long 82-game season. He did well to train and lose weight during the off-season, but the one viral video of his training before being drafted into the league was of him jumping 13 feet, the height of the backboard! This jump was probably the most impressive thing I have ever seen.

Sure, he is a physical freak, but with his 6-7, 280-pound frame, his explosiveness is off the charts.

Final Thoughts

The ability to jump to the top of the backboard is a rare one. While the stories of guys doing it over the years have circulated, up until the 2010’s many pro athletes had never seen it done in person. Athletes are changing, getting stronger, and more explosive every year. The ability to jump 13 feet may become more common, but will never get old to witness. 

Have you ever heard of Earl “The Goat” Manigault before this story? Let us know about it in the comments section below!

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  • Keith A Gunther

    Gus Johnson of Idaho (1962-63) and later in the NBA, could touch the top of the backboard. In fact, he could slide his hand along the top of the board for more than two feet.

  • Scott Trauner

    There were reports that Julius Erving would pull $20 bills from the top of the backboard in the 1970s.

    Earl Manigault was a central figure in a Pete Axthelm book in the 1970s. I think it was called “The City Game.”