Coaches can’t teach height. They can work with a player for 15 years and never teach him to be 7 foot tall. But that is what makes achieving in the NBA so difficult. Chances of being tall are not good. Only 5% of adult American males are 6’3″ or taller. Being tall, having athleticism, learning the game quickly, being coachable, durable and pure luck all play a part.
So that should make a tall player more valuable when it comes to basketball, right? We have all seen George Muresan, Manute Bol, Yao Ming, Shawn Bradley, Chuck Nevitt, Mark Eaton and Ralph Sampson’s amazing height. They truly stand above the crowd, even in the NBA! Their lofty height brings the 10 foot rim closer to them therefore increasing the player’s value. But does it? Each of these players suffered injuries that hindered bigger successes.
Being tall has its advantages in basketball, no one disputes that. But tall men are less likely to match the pace and speed of an NBA game, more now than ever. Unfortunately, history has shown that these tall players are more likely to have an injury. Because taller players tend to be injury-prone, it actually makes them a greater risk for professional teams, especially when they are drafted high.
Countless times I have heard, “If I had your height, I would be unstoppable! Just give me a couple inches.” I was “only” 6’11″ at my tallest and far from skinny. I am built more like a football player. Currently, I stand a little over 6’10″ and weigh in the range of 285 lbs. I exercise daily, if not every other day, to keep me under the 300 lbs. mark. In my career, I counted on injuries. I was always in pain, and am still in pain today. I didn’t break a leg, blowout a knee or shoulder. However, I did break bones; all were smaller stuff, fingers, toes, hairline fractures in my feet. Injuries I could and had to play with. Not being blessed with tons of natural talent, my work ethic and lack of big injuries allowed me to break into the NBA. Who knows, each person is different, but maybe because I DIDN’T reach 7 foot and didn’t suffer any major injuries, I made the NBA.
History has also shown that NBA teams have not received the value they put into the tallest players:
· Marcus Camby, Yao Ming, Michael Olowokandi, Andrew Bynum and Greg Oden all high draft picks, touted as great beasts and quite talented, unfortunately, each had their professional basketball careers diminished by injuries.
· 30 years ago the Portland Trailblazers didn’t win a coin flip and lost out on big man and great center Hakeem Olajuwan. The year before, they drafted Clyde Drexler and needed a big man; Sam Bowie was drafted into the NBA before Michael Jordan. Bowie was injury prone and was not much of an impactful player in the NBA. Although very talented, it is hard to play on broken legs. He had breaks in both legs in Portland and played sparingly in 10 years in the league.
Are big men that get injured in college less valuable in the NBA? There is a lot of body in a seven footer to be injured. Joel Embiid, a former Kansas Jayhawk center with a history of injuries was found to have another one. Recently, the Cleveland Cavaliers discovered a stress fracture in Joel’s right foot. The Cavs own the first pick and this news cannot help his chances of being drafted as the No. 1 pick. He underwent surgery to repair the damage. But the damage was already done, as the draft is tomorrow.
So here comes the draft. What will happen to the big tall centers available for the draft?
Is the future of the NBA 6’10″ and shorter?
Is the true center position slowly going wayside?