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Tallest Basketball Players: Giants of the Game

Publish Date: 10.06.2024
Fact checked by: Emily Carter

Basketball is, and has always been, a tall person’s sport. Being closer to the basket is a natural advantage when it comes to defense and scoring, so it only stands to reason that most NBA players are vertically gifted. Even so, there are a few who have truly stood out among the trees.

Everyone in the NBA is tall compared to the general population, and most positions settle in around the same height. Still, every now and then someone comes along who breaks that rule. Sometimes, there are players who are tall even for the NBA.

Athletes have become larger and larger with each passing year. That increased height, mixed with a shift in talent and playstyle, has created a taller league. Even so, there are still a few big men who are true anomalies of the game.

Gheorghe Muresan

1. Gheorghe Muresan

How tall is the tallest basketball player is an interesting question, and Gheorghe Muresan is the answer. Standing at a staggering 7’8, the Romanian center is as big as they come. While that height did put him into the record books, it also proved to be a bit of a liability while on the court.

Though Muresan did enjoy a few years in the NBA, his large size simply made him too slow and too injury prone to keep up with the game. He had a string of strong years, including when he won Most Improved Player in 1996, but never went beyond that.

Muresan did nearly average a triple-double for three seasons. That showed his potential and why the Washington Bullets selected him in the second round of the 1993 draft. However, as with so many of the tallest basketball players, size caught up to him eventually.

2. Manute Bol

The above three players, while tall, all stood one inch shorter than 7’7 Manute Bol. The Sudanese athlete, like Yao Ming, became a fan favorite due to his mix of size, skill, and incredible friendly attitude.

The center played in the NBA for ten seasons, where his incredible length and height made him one of the best defenders in the league. He could cover the floor, had a knack for the game, and even threw an assist every now and then.

Though Bol didn’t do much in the way of offense, his presence alone made him an extremely valuable asset. That’s why so many teams took a chance on him, and how he managed to succeed where so many overly tall players failed.

3. Tacko Fall

Another NBA giant who stood at an impressive 7’6, Tacko Fall first garnered a lot of attention while playing at the University of Central Florida. There, his height, strong IQ, and unique frame all put him in the national spotlight. Unfortunately, his career didn’t span much beyond that.

The big men, while skilled enough to make coach’s take notice, ultimately proved to be a bit too slow and a bit too stiff to make it in the modern NBA. While he may have made a splash in different eras, his inability to guard the three proved too detrimental.

He stuck around the league for a few years, playing on two-way contracts for the Cavaliers and Celtics, before going overseas. He’s still there, and hopes to make it back to the bigs one day.

4. Yao Ming

Also coming in at 7’6, Yao Ming is quite possibly the most well-known tall basketball player of all time. The giant man towered above the competition from the moment he entered into the NBA as the first overall pick in the 2002 draft.

While he did not have a terribly long career, Ming put up strong stats in each of eight seasons.

Unlike many of the tallest players of all time, he could score and defend at an extremely high level. That put him above a lot of similar players. He nearly averaged a double-double (points and rebounds) for his career, and made eight all-star games during that span.

5. Shawn Bradley

When asking how tall was the tallest basketball player, the first answer is always Shawn Bradley. Typically, incredibly tall players don’t stick around very long due to injury issues or an inability to keep up with the pace of the game. That wasn’t the case for Bradley.

The big, who stood an impressive 7’6, played in the NBA for over a decade. During that time, he was a two time blocks leader and served as a strong centerpiece for three different teams. His longest run was with the Mavericks, where he played for nine seasons.

Though Bradley was a bit limited in what he could do offensively, his value came on the other side of the ball. He defended the paint well, grabbed rebounds, and managed to put his large frame to use in a way that made him a valuable piece to any roster.

Physical and Career Challenges

Size is something almost all NBA players need to have, but a larger frame does come with certain setbacks as well. One of the biggest is injuries, which tend to happen to those extremely tall athletes due to how much pressure professional basketball puts on the body.

The NBA is already physically demanding, and that demand only goes up for taller players who aren’t used to running, cutting, or sprinting for extended periods of time. That then leads to tears, strains, and breaks that are typically difficult to heal.

Extreme height also makes substitutions tricky, as very tall players don’t have the same stamina as shorter athletes, and they can be a liability when switching onto small guards or going out to the perimeter.

That’s why most players in today’s game max out around seven feet. Typically, those with a few extra inches just don’t have the ability to pace the game or keep people off the line in the way that’s needed for modern basketball.

Despite that, there are a few bigs who have succeeded. The defense of someone with an incredibly long reach is something that cannot be overlooked, especially for teams with strong outside shooting who need a big body down low.

Being tall comes with a lot of advantages. Being close to the rim, being able to shoot, and easier blocks are all great benefits. That’s why extraordinarily tall players almost always find a home on a team for at least a little while.

Conclusion

As with anything, extreme height comes with both pros and cons. The above players showed that being incredibly tall can help on the court, but there are certain detriments to size too. That’s why so few NBA players are over 7’5, especially today.

The game largely sped up over the last decade, and that’s showing no signs of slowing down. Guards are getting stronger, taller, and more athletic while big men are becoming leaner, better shooters, and more agile to keep up with faster offenses.

That combination means that the age of extremely tall players may be over. Height will always matter in the game of basketball, but for the foreseeable future it seems that size and length are on the perimeter rather than inside the key.

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