It’s easy to see why player height is so important in basketball. Height brings tremendous advantage to a sport where players are expected to make huge jumps and defend against opponents in the air. Of course, skill obviously goes a long way and sometimes arm reach and hand span are just as important, but height always has its perks. The average height of an NBA player is around 6 ft 7 in (for comparison’s sake, the average height of an American male is 5 ft 9 ½ in), but some of the sport’s tallest players stand much taller than that. Take a look below for our list of 10 of the tallest NBA players to have ever played the game.
1. Ralph Sampson – 7’4″
The only person on this list to be inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame (and thus the tallest player ever to be inducted in the Hall of Fame), Ralph Sampson’s varied career saw him playing for the Houston Rockets (1983-87), Golden State Warriors (1987-89), Sacramento Kings (1989-90) and Washington Bullets (1991). Sampson was the leading pick in the 1983 NBA Draft and everyone had high hopes for him. Despite a promising start, Sampson’s career was plagued by injury and he missed too many games because of three knee surgeries. Sampson later admitted that he tried to come back too quickly after surgery, which resulted in him only playing 441 NBA games out of a possible 820 in his career. After the NBA Sampson played in the Spanish League for one year (1992) before returning to the States to briefly coach a minor league team in Virginia.
2. Rik Smits – 7’4″
Dubbed the ‘Dunkin’ Dutchman’, Dutch-born Rik Smits spent his entire NBA career playing for the Indiana Pacers (1988-2000). A solid player who was often overlooked because of the NBA All-Star power of his teammate Reggie Miller, Smit’s moment of glory came during the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals when he managed to beat the buzzer to score a game-winning shot with just 1.3 seconds left on the clock. Unfortunately, Smits’ career was affected by persistent injuries as a result from nerve damage in his foot and he retired at the end of the 1999-2000 season.
3. Mark Eaton – 7’4″
Weighing in at 290 lb, Mark Eaton was one of the most intimidating and successful defensive players in NBA history. Playing for the Utah Jazz for over a decade (1982-1993), the defensive centre struck an imposing sight. Eaton holds the NBA record for most career average blocks per game (3.50) and he also has the 4th all-time record for most blocks in his career (3,064). The latter is made all the more impressive considering that the number one all-time blocker, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 3,189 blocks, played almost twice as many NBA games as Eaton did in his career (Jabbar played 1,560 compared to Eaton’s 875). Following his retirement in 1993, Eaton went on to become a corporate speaker and a sports commentator.
4. Slavko Vranes – 7’5″
Montenegrin Slavko Vraneš was a prolific European player before he was noticed by the New York Knicks in the 2003 Draft. However, he was subsequently passed on by the Knicks and ended up signing a ten-day contract with the Portland Trail Blazers instead. He only played one NBA game in the 2003-04 season before he went back to playing European basketball for the likes of Red Star Belgrade (2004), Budućnost Podgorica (2004-2007) and Partizan Belgrade (2007-10). He currently plays for the Iranian team Zob Ahan Isfahan.
5. Pavel Podkolzin – 7’5″
Pavel Podkolzin was another international player who only had a brief stint in the NBA before returning to international basketball. Russian born Podkolzin played for the Italian team Metis Varese (2002-2004) before heading to the NBA for the 2004 Draft. He was signed by the Dallas Mavericks but failed to make much of an impression despite his size and strength (he weighs a monstrous 305lb) and only played six games between 2004 and 2006. He returned to Russia and has played for Sibirtelecom Lokomotiv Novosibirsk since 2011.
6. Chuck Nevitt – 7’5″
Chuck Nevitt had a long and varied career in the NBA playing for the likes of the Houston Rockets, LA Lakers, Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls. Active between 1983 and 1993, Nevitt was a fairly reliable center position but he only played 155 games during his 9 years in the league. However, he did manage to become the tallest NBA player to win a championship after the Lakers won the 1985 roster. After the NBA, Nevitt briefly played for a minor team, the Hartford Hellcats (1993-94), before he retired from the sport and became an IT professional.
7. Yao Ming – 7’6″
Chinese player Yao Ming made a disappointing debut when he was picked up in the 2002 Draft and moved to the NBA from the CBA (Chinese Basketball Association). Playing for the Houston Rockets, Charles Barkley once said that he would kiss Kenny Smith’s ass if the rookie managed to score more than 19 points in one of his first season games (incidentally, Barkley was made to eat those words but he chose to kiss the ass of a donkey called Kenny instead). However, the modest player had upped his game considerably by his fourth year and Ming’s 2005-06 season was a remarkable improvement which really showcased his talent.
His field goal accuracy (55.2%) for this period made him the third best in the league and he proved to be equally effective with his free throws and his unguardable hook shot. Unfortunately, Ming was frequently plagued by injury throughout his career and, although an All-Star player, he didn’t quite leave behind the legacy he was really capable of. Ming played for the Houston Rockets between 2002 and 2011 and he also played for the Chinese Olympic team twice (2000 and 2004) and in the FIBA World Championship. Now retired, Ming is an active ambassador for animal conservation.
8. Shawn Bradley – 7’6″
German born Shawn Bradley grew up in Utah and his early years playing high school and college basketball earned him a reputation as a player to look out for. He entered the 1993 NBA Draft and was signed by the Philadelphia 76ers. Although Bradley’s size helped him excel at blocking shots, he was an inconsistent scorer and struggled with rebounds and turnovers. Bradley was traded to the New Jersey Jets in 1995 but despite showing considerable improvement his contract was traded again in 1997 to the Dallas Mavericks. Bradley played for Dallas until 2005 and, although he proved himself to be a strong defender, his presence and performance on the court is remembered by many fans as being frustratingly inconsistent. Retiring in 2005, Bradley became a mentor at the West Ridge Academy private school in Utah and later tried his hand at politics.
9. Manute Bol – 7’7″
Sudanese-born Manute Bol had one of the most striking appearances in basketball. With his elongated limbs and relatively paltry 200 lb weight on his 7ft 7 in frame, Bol’s stature wasn’t as imposing as some of the other, stockier NBA players on this list. However, his height and reach made him one of the best-shot blockers in NBA history and his average of 3.34 blocks-per-game makes him second only to Mark Eaton in the record books. Although his scoring game was much weaker, Bol proved to be an indispensable defender as he played for 6 NBA teams between 1985 and 1995. After brief stints playing professionally in Italy (1997) and Qatar (1998), his rheumatism forced him into permanent retirement and he sadly passed away from kidney failure in 2010.
10. Gheorghe Muresan – 7’7″
Romanian Gheroge Mursean may have been the roughly the same height as his tallest rival Manute Bol (although some records show him as being ¼ inch taller), but the two were very different players on the court. Mursean played professionally in France before he was picked by the Washington Bullets in the 1993 Draft. Playing on and off in the NBA from 1993 to 2000 (he signed with the New Jersey Jets for the 1999-2000 season), his blocking skills couldn’t touch the prowess of Bol (Muresan’s career average was only 1.5 blocks-per-game compared to Bol’s 3.3) but he did average a fairly respectful 9.8 points-per-game and 6.4 rebounds-per-game.
Another tall player whose career was plagued by injuries, Muresan followed his NBA career with brief stints playing in France (2000-01) and in the ABA (2005-06) before retiring. Muresan has always enjoyed his fairly prolific public image and although he briefly tried his hand at acting (he played opposite Billy Crystal in the 1998 comedy My Giant), he now dedicates most of his time to charity work.