Hall of Fame center stood tall — but was not top dog in height
Shaquille O’Neal's height and talent made him one of the most dominant and imposing centers in NBA history, and his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016 further cemented his legacy. Though centers today are developing more of a perimeter-focused game and shooting more three-pointers, O’Neal used every part of his 7-foot-1-inch, 325-pound frame to dominate the post. O’Neal put together a 19-season career comprising four NBA Championships, 15 All-Star appearances, the 1992-93 Rookie of the Year and the 1999-2000 Most Valuable Player award.
Alarmingly, though, O’Neal was far from the tallest player to play in the NBA. In fact, standing 7 feet 1 inch tall is not even good enough to crack the top 15. Some younger NBA fans will believe that 7-foot-6-inch Hall of Fame center Yao Ming would be the tallest by far. There’s no way that someone who is any taller can possibly play in the NBA, right?
Manute Bol and Gheorghe Muresan — a pair of 7-foot-7-inch centers from South Sudan and Romania, respectively — stood high above the competition during the latter stages of the 20th century. Bol (right) played for 10 seasons while Muresan’s career spanned seven, and their NBA playing careers overlapped for two seasons (1993-94, ’94-’95). In fact, the 1993-94 Washington Bullets roster featured both Bol and Muresan, so having any success in the post against the Bullets that season was an extraordinarily tall task.
Here are some other notable NBA big men who — in stature and in play — towered over the competition.
- Chuck Nevitt (7'5"): Tallest NBA champion (1984-85 Lakers)
- Mark Eaton (7'4"): Two-time Defensive Player of the Year, four-time league leader in blocks, No. 53 retired by Jazz
- Rik Smits (7'4"): “Dunking Dutchman”, 1998 All-Star, played with Pacers from 1988-2000 including playing alongside Reggie Miller in the '90s
- Ralph Sampson (7'4", right): No. 1 overall draft pick by Rockets after being named three-time NCAA player of the year, three-time consenus first-team All-American at Virginia, 1984 Rookie of the Year and four-time All-Star
- Zydrunas Ilgauskas (7'3"): Two-time All-Star, No. 11 retired by Cavaliers (only 3rd European to attain such an honor), previously worked as special advisor in Cavaliers front office
- Arvydas Sabonis (7'3"): Played seven seasons with Blazers after beginning career in Europe, believed to be the trailblazer for versatile big men prominent in current NBA
- Hasheem Thabeet (7'3"): 2nd overall pick in 2009 after strong career at UConn including 2009 Final Four appearance