Many tall people get asked routinely if they play basketball. Some of those people respond with an enthusiastic "yes," while others answer with a “no" and grumble about how everyone assumes, since they are tall, that they play basketball.
(Pixabay / mohamed_hassan)
While being tall can definitely be a perk for basketball players, especially those in the NBA, height certainly doesn’t guarantee on-court success. That said, no one can argue that a few extra inches definitely help when playing against other big guys. Being short, however, isn’t a deal breaker. In fact, it can have its advantages as well.
Currently, the average height in the NBA is 6’7”. Seven players on the Utah Jazz’s roster are below that average, including Donovan Mitchell, Ricky Rubio, and Dante Exum. The shortest active NBA players are the Denver Nuggets’ Isaiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons’ Kay Felder, who are both 5’9”. However, these players don’t even come close to being the shortest person to be drafted. That title goes to Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues.
Bogues stands at just 5’3” and was drafted by the Washington Bullets in the 1987 NBA draft. His career lasted 14 years. As the shortest player in league history, Bogues was known for being disruptive on the court. He leveraged his stature to steal the ball and move with ease around taller players who were guarding him.
Bogues played in 889 games during his career and averaged 7.7 points per game, 1.5 steals per game, and 7.6 assists per game. After his rookie season with the Bullets, he spent nine years of his career with the Charlotte Hornets.
Other short NBA players include Earl Boykins (5’5”), Mel Hirsch (5’6”), Greg Grant (5’7”), Herm Klotz (5’7”), Keith Jennings (5’7”), Wataru Misaka (5’7”), Monte Towe (5’7”), Spud Webb (5’7”), Charlie Criss (5’8”), Dino Martin (5’8”), Howie Carl (5’8”), and Willie Somerset (5’8”).
The tallest player in NBA history was a contemporary of Bogues and towered over him by 2 feet and 4 inches. That player was none other than Gheorghe Muresan. The Romanian player stood 7’7”, making him the tallest player by just a quarter of an inch.
The second tallest player in NBA history was Manute Bol of Sudan. He was already playing for the Washington Bullets when Bogues was drafted, so the pair caught a lot of attention when they played together on the court or just stood next to each other. Since they were teammates during the 1987-88 season, and Muresan didn’t play in the NBA until 1993, the Washington Bullets boasted both the tallest and shortest player in the history of the league at that time.
Other tall NBA players include Shawn Bradley (7’6”), Yao Ming (7’6”), Chuck Nevitt (7’5”), Sim Bhullar (7’5”) Pavel Podkolzin (7’5”), and Slavko Vranes (7’5”). Yasutaka Okayama of Japan was the tallest player drafted for the NBA (7’8”), but he never played in the league.
The tallest players in franchise history for the Utah Jazz, who are also some of the tallest in NBA history, include Mark Eaton (7’4”), Aleksandar Radojevic (7’3”), and Tibor Pleiß (7’3”).
Eaton spent his 11-year career with the Utah Jazz and was a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year in the 1980s. He is considered one of the best defensive players in NBA history. He currently sits fourth as one of the all-time leaders in the NBA for blocks.
While all these players have extreme height differences in common, their stature alone didn’t determine their legacy in the sport. Some of the tallest players in the league, like Canadian Sim Bhullar, played only a few games in the NBA and then spent most of their career outside of the United States playing in other leagues. Other shorter players like Bogues and Webb had careers in the NBA spanning over a decade, proving with their skills that basketball is a sport for players of any height.
Other players who sit on the tallest and shortest NBA player spectrum influenced the sport in different ways. Japanese-American player Misaka is one of the smallest players in NBA history, but his primary claim to fame is as the first player of color and the first player of Asian descent to play in the league. Meanwhile, Ming is tied as the third-tallest player in NBA history, but one of his most significant contributions to the sport was helping popularize the NBA in China. China now boasts a significant national basketball association that offers opportunities to players from all around the world despite only existing since 1995.
Players of every size have shown throughout the years that size doesn’t matter in the sport of basketball. The good players take their size, whatever it may be, and use it to their advantage. In the end, the players who stand out the most aren’t measured by how tall they are, but by their skills, attitude, and work ethic.