The NBA has the tallest average height of any major sport, and for good reason. While athleticism and talent is important in professional basketball, height gives players the advantage that they need to dominate the floor. Players with major height typically do well in the NBA, controlling the paint and setting up explosive drives to the basket. Of course, not every tall player has been an enormous success – as this list shows – but most have managed quite incredible careers with an adoring fanbase that was in awe of their physical stature. So without further ado, here is our list of the…
15 Tallest Basketballers in NBA History
15. Zydrunas Ilgauskas (7’3, 2.21)
The Big Z, as he’s mostly known around the basketball world, was an important sidekick to Lebron James’ early years Cleveland teams. The sweet-shooting 7’3 center from Lithuania managed a nice career despite multiple foot and ankle troubles that cost him almost two full seasons in the early 2000s. Zydrunas managed to get two All-Star selections in 2002/03 and 2004/05, when he averaged close to 17 points, 8 rebounds, 1.5 assists and a couple blocks per game. It’s worth mentioning that Zydrunas is not only one of the tallest players in the history of the NBA, but also certainly ranks among top-5 of Lebron’s favorite teammates.
14. Arvydas Sabonis (7’3, 2.21)
It is really a shame that Arvydas’ own health and political circumstances of the 20th century kept Sabonis out of the Association for so long: the big Lithuanian only debuted for Portland when he was over 30 and already with numerous Achilles issues on his bill of health. But even then he wowed players, coaches and fans with his IQ, versatility and skills. European fans old enough to watch basketball of the early 1980s will remember Sabonis as one of the most dominant players of all-time.
Watching Arvydas play is like watching a 7’4 Larry Bird, who could also dominate the paint. It’s only fitting that Sabonis’ favorite team, in his own words, is Boston Celtics
13. Boban Marjanovic (7.3,5; 2.22)
Boban might just have finished his rookie season in the NBA, but he’s a very seasoned professional player: Boban started playing high-level pro basketball in 2005/06 season, when he was just 14 and standing a meager (by his own standards) 6’11. He had an up and down inaugural season with the Spurs and their D-League affiliate, but Marjanovic definitely showed potential to be a quality rotational player in the NBA. And yes, wherever he goes after this summer, it’s pretty much guaranteed he will be a fan favourite.
12. Priest Lauderdale (7.4, 2.24)
Probably two most remarkable things about Priest Lauderdale are his size (7’4, 330 lbs) and the list of countries he played at: Greece, USA, China, Venezuela, Cyprus, Lebanon, Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bulgaria. Priest played only two seasons in the NBA, being drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in the 1996 Draft. His second season, which he played in Denver, was best of the two, with averages of 3.7 points, 2.6 rebounds in 8.8 minutes per game.
11. Ralph Sampson (7’4, 2.24 m)
One of the most titled players on the list, Sampson was chosen as the No. 1 pick in the 1983 NBA draft after being named the College Player of the Year a stunning three years in a row during his career at Virginia. His NBA rookie season was also incredible, with 82 starts, 21 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2.5 blocks on average, and he also played three amazing seasons for the Houston Rockets before foot injuries started to decrease his playing time and impact. One highlight of his career was a buzzer-beating shot to win the Western Conference Championships against the then-champion L.A. Lakers.
10. Rik Smits (7’4, 2.24 m)
Rik a.k.a. the “Dunkin’ Dutchman” Smits spent his entire professional career in Indiana after being drafted out of Marist College in 1988. Originally from the Netherlands (one of the tallest nations in the world) he was drafted as a backup player but ended up playing the key, albeit somewhat underappreciated, role on a Pacers team that challenged for the Eastern Conference Finals. Smits was a great player throughout his career, but foot problems sidelined him after the 2000 season.
9. Mark Eaton (7’4, 2.24 m)
Mark Eaton played for the Utah Jazz for 11 years, winning defensive player of the year several times, and being named to the NBA All-Start Team twice during his career. He might not have been the best shooter, and NBA commentators always joked about his lumbering walk and slow speed, but he is known as one of the best defensive centers in NBA history – and he holds the current record for most blocked shots per game, most blocked shots over the course of a season and one of the all-time top players in almost every advanced defensive stat.
8. Slavko Vranes (7’5, 2.26 m)
Slavko Vranes is one of the tallest active basketball players in the world, but he was waived from the NBA after only a couple years playing in the development league – despite the hopes of the New York Knicks that drafted him in the second round of the 2003 draft. Slavko played a single game for the Portland Trail Blazers, making him eligible for this list – but not eligible for any real remembrance in the hearts of NBA fans.
7. Pavel Podkolzin (7’5, 2.26 m)
Podkolzin is another tall player that never quite made it to high level NBA play. Podkolzin was selected in 2004 as the 21st overall pick by the Utah Jazz, and there were high hopes for his eventual success in the NBA that have never quite materialized. He has been playing in Russia for various professional teams in the local leagues – and it is highly unlikely that he will make a return to the NBA.
6. Chuck Nevitt (7’5, 2.26 m)
Chuck Nevitt only played in a small fraction of the games he was eligible for over his nine years, due to a series of injuries and an overall lack of skill and athleticism necessary to be a rotational NBA guy. Harsh as it may sound, Nevitt had an unremarkable career, and wouldn’t have stood out much except for his incredible height. In 2014, Chuck Nevitt was named one of the four worst players in the NBA by the TNT “Inside the NBA” crew.
5. Sim Bhullar (7’5, 2.26)
Sim Bhullar is the only active player in the top-5 and the youngest guy on our list. He has only two professional seasons under his belt so far, with most of his playing time in the D-League, between Reno and Toronto (with quite decent production for a man of his mobility and athleticism). Sim’s game might not be much in terms of general stats, but his first NBA basket is a heck of a historical significance, as it was the first NBA points scored by a player of Indian descent.
4. Yao Ming (7’6, 2.29 m)
No single player in NBA history can be credited with doing as much to advance the global appreciation of basketball quite like Yao Ming. Before Yao Ming started playing for the Houston Rockets, China was not considered a “basketball country” with only a tiny percentage of the population playing basketball recreationally at any level. Since Yao Ming, however, Chinese people have embraced basketball and they have fielded competitive Olympic teams and had several successful professional players, and a typical Chinese city can now rival New York or Southern California in terms of amount of street hoops and basketball parks. Yao Ming’s height stands out even more as a Chinese national, since the average height of Chinese men is well under the average height for most other nationalities.
Fun Fact: There’s certainly been no shortage of people on Twitter over the years wondering “where on earth does he shop for clothes!?” Yao’s short size along was a staggering 46″, +1 inseam and +2 rise – so he’s not exactly going to be able to walk in and buy pants that fit off the racks. Luckily for Yao he can afford to get his own stuff tailored up specifically to fit him.
3. Shawn Bradley (7’6, 2.29 m)
Usually most tall players have short careers due to inevitable injuries or skeletal fatigue that comes with the extreme height and hard non-stop athletic training. Shawn Bradley actually played in the NBA for 12 seasons – and he had several all-around good seasons, when he actually was a resemblance of a threat on offense and an absolute stalwart of defense, averaging 3.3 blocks per game during his first 6 seasons. Apparently, that was enough to earn a gig in a generational-level movie Space Jam and tell Michael Jordan that “perhaps he (Jordan) doesn’t have it anymore”
2. Manute Bol (7’7 2.31 m)
Manute Bol is one of the most popular players in the NBA – no doubt thanks to his incredible height as well as his charming personality. Bol is actually known best for his activism on behalf of his other Sudanese countrymen, and he was a tireless supporter of peace movements up until his death at the age of 47 in 2010. On the court, Manute made a name for himself as one of the greatest rim protectors of all-time and one of the first bigs who could protect the paint and stretch the floor with potent 3-point shooting.
1. Gheorghe Muresan (7’7, 2.31 m)
A Romanian player who played briefly from 1993-2000 in the NBA (alternating between the Washington Bullets and the New Jersey Nets) he was named the NBA’s most improved player in the 1996 season, when he started 76 games and put up 14.5 points, almost 10 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game in 29 minutes. Gheorghe has the distinctive privilege of sharing the “tallest player in the NBA” honors with Manute Bol. Interestingly, he didn’t rely solely on his size for advantage – he was also a great field goal shooter, hitting 57.3% of his shots over the course of his career.