We all know that impressive height can give you a major advantage in the sport of basketball, but it isn’t a factor that is delved into in any great depth especially often.
Instead, we tend to just assume that most American National Basketball Association (NBA) and other senior league basketball players are made of somewhat different stuff from the rest of us, and enjoy the entertainment they’re able to serve up to us as a result.
But author Pablo S. Torre has done a deep dive into the height stats of the entire NBA cohort and compared it with the general population.
His standout findings, published in Sports Illustrated magazine, were that there were very likely fewer than 70 men in the whole of America who topped out at more than seven feet tall.
Over the last season for which we have figures available, the NBA featured 13 players of American heritage who were at or above this mark.
So SI came to the rather intriguing conclusion that, if you’re an American man above seven feet tall, you have a near one-in-five (18 percent) chance of breaking into the NBA.
While height has always conferred some degree of an advantage on the basketball court, however, the trend has generally been heading steadily upwards.
By the 2019-20 season, the average height of an NBA player was 6’6” (198.8cm). Compare that with the same figures right across the mail population of the US, where the average was 5 feet 9½ inches, or about 1.765 metres.
Tale of the Tape
The 2019-20 season was the first time that teams in the NBA were obliged to submit height statistics for all of their players, measured without shoes, by official team doctors.
So now, no one can pull the trick that ex-NBA star Kevin Durant subsequently owned up to, and add a few extra sneaky inches – especially when he was chatting to women! – because the facts are out there for all to see.
How Has The Height Of NBA Stars Changed Down The Years?
The average height of NBA players started being calculated back in what seems like ancient history, but in reality less than 70 years ago.
The first such available figures date from 1952, and show that players were, on average, more than three inches (7-7.5cm) shorter than the players of the current day.
From that point, the stats took off steadily upwards, reaching their zenith in 1987 when the average player stood at 6 feet 7 inches (201.2cm) tall.
Interestingly, since then players’ heights have started to fall, but they continued to get increasingly hefty right up until 2011, when the average player tipped the scales at 221lbs (100.24kgs).
The continuing escalation of this figure is easily accounted for, as players reaped the benefits of becoming more muscular and powerful.
In the decade since then, the pendulum has again swung the other way, because of the demands of playing today’s faster game with its greater emphasis on spreading the ball right to the edges and all the perimeters of the court.
How Tall Are The Players Who Spend The Most Time On Court?
Of course, physiologically, it’s difficult for those at the tallest end of the spectrum to spend a great deal of time on court. Coaches realize this, of course, and use their tallest squad members sparingly.
The 28 players who came in at above seven feet accounted for 5 percent of playing time, but more revealing is the statistic that players between 6’6” and 6’8” are considered by their coaches to be of the optimal height for the game, and contributed more than one-third of all the minutes played (34.8 percent).
In the main, the tallest players are concentrated in the positions of forwards and centers, and the main reason for this is simple – these are the players who are expected to score the vast majority of a team’s points.