When it comes to professional basketball, size matters. With a few notable exceptions – like the 5’ 3” Mugsy Bogues, who famously ruled as a master of steals and assists – the NBA is no place for the vertically challenged. 

Though the average height of league players is 6’ 6”, it’s the truly skyscraping guys who stand up and stand out. They’re the ones who can make a difference.


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So, with the NBA finals in progress, where the Boston Celtics’ Kristaps Porzingis towers above the proceedings at 7’ 2”, here is a starting five of players who, during the course of NBA history, stand head and shoulders above all others.

Gheorge Muresan – 7’ 7”

Appropriately nicknamed The Giant, this Romania-born center played in the NBA from 1993 until 2000, first for the Washington Bullets (later named the Wizards) and then for the New Jersey Nets.

While his career average of 9.8 points is nothing to write home about, he was tough to stop in the paint and hit 57 percent of the shots he attempted. His career was cut short by a debilitating back injury. 

Manute Bol – 7’ 7”

Born in Sudan, Manute Bol loved athletics right from the start. He was a keen soccer player until he became too tall to play the sport comfortably and turned to basketball.

Bol came to America in the early 1980s with the intention of playing for Cleveland State University. But his English skills never got good enough for him to matriculate.

So, he did not step onto the court there and eventually attended the modest Bridgeport State University, where, each game, he averaged 22.5 points and 13.5 rebounds.

He hit the NBA in 1985, playing for the Washington Bullets – alongside the pint-sized Mugsy Bogues and preceding fellow big-man Muresan in DC.

Over the next 12 years, Bol played for a number of teams. But he had one very memorable game, in which he was paired against the great Charles Barkley and landed six of 12 three-pointers in the second half. Every time Bol had the ball that night, fans shouted, “Shoot!”

Bol passed away in 2010, due to acute kidney failure. One definite success: Manute Bol put Sudan on the NBA map.

Slavko Vranes – 7’ 6”

Though he played just one NBA game, it still counts and earns him a spot on the list.

Slavko Vranes, born in Montenegro, entered the court for just three minutes, wearing a Portland Trail Blazers jersey. That happened after he signed a 10-day contract in 2004.

Proving that height is not the only thing, it was an unmemorable appearance, with Vranes missing one shot and picking up a foul.

He’s had more success on the European circuit, but his NBA hopes were quickly dashed.

Shawn Bradley – 7’ 6”

Having grown up a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Shawn Bradley was a natural to play college ball on the Christian-oriented Brigham Young University team.

After his freshman year, he took a two-year leave of absence from college to work as a missionary and, ultimately, bailed on higher education. But that did not stop him from getting drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1993.

Moses Malone was brought on to mentor Bradley, but Bradley never got past the point of being inconsistent. He went on to endure up-and-down stints with the New Jersey Nets and Dallas Mavericks before retiring in 2005.

Bradley got truly unlucky in 2021, when he was riding his bike, got hit from behind by a car and wound up paralyzed. He is in rehab and, of course, not losing the faith.

Yao Ming – 7’ 6”

Shanghai-born Yao Ming, cut his teeth in the Chinese Basketball Association.

He entered NBA predictions in 2002 as the Houston Rockets’ center. Ming played for the team through 2011, making eight all-star teams. Over the course of his playing career, he averaged 19 points per game.

 It all might have been better had he not been plagued by injuries. But no one – least of all Ming – is complaining. He made the NBA Hall of Fame, which is a big achievement befitting a big man.

*Credit for the main photo belongs to Alamy*

Michael Kaplan is a journalist based in New York City. He has written extensively on gambling for publications such as Wired, Playboy, Cigar Aficionado, New York Post and New York Times.

He is the author of four books including Aces and Kings: Inside Stories and Million-Dollar Strategies from Poker’s Greatest Players. He’s been known to do a bit of gambling when the timing seems right.