Height has always been an advantage for a basketball player. Some of the tallest basketball players take part in NBA, which is the most popular and competitive professional basketball league in the world.
Here’s a list of the top 10 tallest basketball players in the NBA. Some have achieved worldwide fame, while others are hardly known to anybody. Some had long fruitful careers while others hardly played. In an era dominated by the LeBrons, Kobe Bryants and Kevin Durants (none of whom are very tall), let’s take a look at the careers, styles of play and other factors which made some of these players greats of the game while others mere extras in the fabric of the game.
10. Ralph Sampson – 7′ 4″ (2.24 m)
At #10 in the list of top 10 tallest basketball players in NBA is Ralph Sampson.
Ralph Lee Sampson Jr. was born on July 7, 1960. He’s the tallest player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He was a three-time college player of the year. He was the No. 1 draft pick in 1983, drafted by Houston Rockets. There were a lot of expectations riding on him after his stellar first season at the Rockets, in which he bagged the Rookie of the year award and also got selected to the All-Star Roster.
The media even started comparing him to Wilt Chamberlain (like anybody could attain Chamberlain’s legendary status!) and Bill Russell. He seemed well-set to achieve his true potential when the Rockets added Hakeem Olajuwon to their roster. The two were nicknamed the “twin towers” as they proceeded to wreck havoc on their opponents.
After the 1986 season, which they lost to the Boston Celtics in the NBA finals, Sampson started picking up injuries. His relationship with Rockets coach Bill Fitch worsened and he was traded to the Golden State Warriors. However, his back and knee injuries took a turn for the worse. He played 4 less than satisfactory seasons with the team before being shipped off to Sacramento. Sampson was never able to regain his former glory and his career ended on a low note, and people were left to think about what might have been.
Stats: 456 Games PLayed, 15.4 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.6 BPG. He also played for 3 All-Star Games.
9. Rik Smits – 7’4″ (2.24m)
At #9 in Sportskeeda’s list of top 10 tallest basketball players in NBA is Rik Smits.
Rik Smits was born on August 23, 1966. He was nicknamed “The Dunkin’ Dutchman”. He was the No.2 Pick in the 1988 draft, being drafted by the Indiana Pacers. He played there for 12 seasons from 1988-2000. By a fortunate turn of events, Smits who was the back-up for Steve Stipanovich, ended up as their starting Centre after Stipanovich was forced to end his career with a terrible knee injury.
This was more than enough for Smits who made it to the All-Rookie first team of 1983-84. Smits followed through his successful first year with double digit point totals throughout every season of his career. Smits’ consistent stats and leadership on the court earned him huge popularity among the fans and he was named to the 1998 NBA All-Star team.
Smits developed nerve damage from wearing tight shoes as a teenager. His foot problems worsened year by year and he finally retired after Indiana lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals 4 games to 2 of the 1999-2000 season. Rik Smits was selected to the Pacers’ 40th Anniversary Team, which was chosen by the fans. He ended up with the fourth most votes, trailing only behind Reggie Miller, Mel Daniels and Jermaine O’Neal.
Stats: 867 Games Played, 14.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG and 1.3 BPG. He played in 1 All Star Game.
8. Mark Eaton – 7’4″ (2.24m)
At #8 in the list of top 10 tallest basketball players in NBA is Mark Eaton.
Mark Eaton was born on January 24, 1957. His career as an NBA professional was a highely unlikely one. He was working as an automobile mechanic before an assistant coach from Cypress Junior College recognized his talent. He went on to play for them before transferring to UCLA. He was the 72nd pick in the 4th round of the 1982 draft. He was picked up the Utah Jazz where he played there for 11 seasons from 1982 to 1993. Utah coach Frank Layden would later explain his choice by quoting the old axiom, “you can’t teach height”.
Eaton was never a great offensive player. His height enabled him to become one of the greatest defensive centres of NBA history. He won two NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards in 1985 and 1989. Eaton was also a vicious shot blocker. He currently holds the record for BPG (blocks per game) with 3.5 BPG. Eaton’s strong defense was perhaps their greatest factor in the Utah Jazz’s first-ever playoff appearance in 1983. Eaton blocked 351 shots during this season. One interesting fact is that one of the shots he failed to block was Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s hook, which gave him his 31,421st point (the all-time record for maximum number of points EVER).
Karl Malone, John Stockton and Mark Eaton together formed one of the deadliest teams in NBA history. Their mixed styles of play made Utah Jazz a great team. Like every player of his height, knee and foot problems occurred and slowed down his career. He finally retired in the 1992-93 season. To honor his contributions to the team, the Utah Jazz retired Eaton’s number 53 during the 1995-96 season.
Stats: 875 Games Played, 6.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG and 3.5 BPG. He took part in one All-Star game.
7. Slavko Vranes – 7’5″ (2.26 m)
At #7 in Sportskeeda’s list of top 10 tallest basketball players in NBA is Slavko Vranes .
Slavko played for a brief time at the NBA. He probably holds only one record which would be extremely difficult to beat. He played for just three minutes (that’s right, you read it correctly) for the Portland Trail Blazers before his NBA career ended. Though in all fairness to him, there was just too much expectations on him due to his height. He was drafted by the Knicks in the 2003 draft (39th pick, 2nd round). They later transferred him to the Trail Blazers. He’s currently playing for Sanaye Petroshimi BC in the Iranian Super League.
Stats: 1 Game Played, 3 minutes, 1 missed field goal, 1 personal foul. (There were no other stats to mention).
6. Pavel Podkolzin – 7’5″ (2.26 m)
At #6 in the list of top 10 tallest basketball players in NBA is Pavel Podkolzin.
Yet another tall player who glimpsed through life at the NBA. He was the 21st pick in the first round of 2004, by the Utah Jazz. Although he did not have much of an impact on the game, he proves two deep seated misconceptions false in the NBA: Tall players always play well; first round picks become Great players. He was, however, traded to the Dallas Mavericks for another first round pick. He played for 6 games during two seasons.
5. Chuck Nevitt – 7’5″ (2.26 m)
At #5 in Sportskeeda’s list of top 10 tallest basketball players in NBA is Chuck Nevitt.
Chuck Nevitt (born June 13, 1959) had a mercurial career. He went in and out of NBA. He was bounced around the league playing for Lakers, Bulls, Pistons, Rockets and Spurs. He was actually on the 1985 Lakers Championship winning team. His NBA career spanned nine years but just 155 games. The highest number of games he played in a season was 43. He’s the tallest player ever to win a championship.
Stats: 155 Games Played, 1.6 PPG, 1.5 RPG, NBA Champion (1985).
4. Yao Ming – 7’6″ (2.29 m)
At #4 in the list of top 10 tallest basketball players in NBA is Yao Ming.
Yao Ming was born on September 12, 1980 in Shanghai, China. He’s probably the most talented offensive player on this list. As expected. Yao was the No. 1 draft pick of the 2002 draft. He was drafted by the Houston Rockets. He has played with the Rockets for 10 seasons from 2002-2011. Many predicted that Yao would not be successful at the NBA. His first pre-season had one interesting incident. Charles Barkley said he would “Kiss Kenny Smith’s ass if he scores more than 19 points in one game in his rookie season”. Yao scored 20 points against the Lakers and Charles Barkley kissed the buttock of a donkey bought by Kenny Smith (Kenny Smith’s “ass”).
Yao’s introduction into the top flight triggered a few instances of racism (Shaq’ joke, Miami passing out 8000 fortune cookies). However, Yao took them all in his stride, dealing the instances with good natured humor. Yao was voted ahead of Shaq as the starter for the 2003 NBA All-Star Game. Such was Yao’s popularity that he broke Michael Jordan’s previous record of most All-Star votes with 2,558,278 total votes, during the 2005-06 season.
Injuries started affecting him from 2005. McGrady was brought in the previous year and the two were expected to lead the Rockets’ title-challenge. However, Yao missed 21 games while McGrady missed 35 games during the 2005 season and the duo played just 31 games together. Yao’s body kept being riddled with injuries and he suffered from knee, foot and ankle injuries. On July 10th, 2011, the inevitable occurred. Yao announced his retirement from NBA citing his ankle and foot injuries as the reason.
Although Yao did have a pretty good impact on the game, his greater impact was off the court. Yao played a huge role in popularising the game. For example, on November 9th, 2007, Yao played against fellow Chinese Yi Jianlian and the game was watched by over 200 million Chinese ALONE. He was also one of the most popular players to have ever played in the game. He is arguably the best basketball player to ever come out of China.
Stats: 486 Games Played, 19.0 PPG, 9.2 RPG and 1.9 BPG. He has played in 8 all-star games. Yao also won many CBA (Chinese Basketball association) awards during his initial years there.
3. Shawn Bradley – 7’6″ (2.29 m)
At #3 in Sportskeeda’s list of top 10 tallest basketball players in NBA is Shawn Bradley.
Shawn Bradley was born on March 22, 1972. He played in the NBA for 12 seasons 1993-2005. He was the 2nd overall pick and was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers. He was one of the most successful players in Utah’s high school history.
Bradley, like many of the tall players ahead of him, came into the league amidst great interest. He had both supporters and critics. He was expected to dominate the league with his athleticism while critics argued that his thin build would probably be to his disadvantage. Since he was a 7’6″ player playing for the 76ers, he was issued a Jersey no. of 76. He also played for the New Jersey Nets and Dallas Mavericks.
Bradley was similar to Mark Eaton in a few aspects. Both were never great offensive players. Both were inconsistent in rebounding and scoring. However, both were excellent shot blockers. One main difference was that Eaton, being bigger, was hardly taken advantage of inside.
Bradley was notorious for picking up fouls early on and thereby getting his playing time limited. Just like many others before him, he started picking up injuries soon. He developed back, knee and ankle problems before eventually retiring in 2004-05.
Stats: 832 Games Played, 8.1 PPG, 6.3 RBG and 2.5 BPG.
2. Manute Bol – 7′ 7″ (2.31 m)
At #2 in the list of top 10 tallest basketball players in NBA is Manute Bol.
Manute Bol was born on October 16th, 1962 in Sudan. He was drafted as the 31st overall pick, in the 2nd round. He was drafted by the Washington Bullets. He was known to be a very friendly and popular player by his teammates. Bol played for Washington Bullets, Golden State Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat.
Bol was a tremendous shot blocker, averaging just under 5 BPG during his rookie year. He owed his tremendous shot blocking ability to his great height and long wingspan (8′ 6″, 2.59 m). Other aspects of his game however, were considered weak, mainly of his outrageously thin physique. He weighed just 200 pounds (91 kg). He faced a lot of difficulty against the traditionally buff centers in the low post. Interestingly, Bol occasionally used to shoot threes, and make them.
Bol, typically, developed lot of lower body injuries and his final few years were spent as a mentor to a few tall men of the league, most famous among them being Shawn Bradley and Gheorge Muresan.
Stats: 624 Games Played, 2.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG and 3.34 BPG. He is the only player in NBA history to block more shots than he has made, and is ranked 2nd behind Mark Eaton in Career BPG with 3.34.
1. Gheorghe Muresan – 7’7″ (2.31 m)
At #1 in Sportskeeda’s list of top 10 tallest basketball players in NBA is Gheorghe Muresan.
Although both Muresan and Bol stand at 7’7″, Muresan is generally regarded to be a little taller than Bol. He was born on February 14, 1971. He owes his height to a pituitary disorder called hyperpituitarism. He was drafted by the then Washington Bullets as the 30th overall pick (2nd round). He played for 6 seasons in the NBA.
He flitted in and out of the NBA. He played for Washington Bullets, New Jersey Nets in the NBA and Pau Orthez (France), Despite showing promise, his body was ravaged by injuries right from his rookie season. He won the NBA Most Improved Player of the year for the 1995-96 season. His next years weren’t as good and he finally retired due to his injuries. He retired from NBA after the 1999-2000 season and he played for a few seasons in France and the ABA.
Stats: 307 Games Played, 9.8 PPG, 6.4 RPG and 1.7 BPG.