True or False: Half of All 7-Footers are in the NBA | Truth About It.net

True or False: Half of All 7-Footers are in the NBA

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Updated: May 3, 2012



[The Bullets-Wizards have had 15 different 7-footers suit up over the years. Only one appears in this photo. Via SI Vault and B-R.]

Roy Hibbert is a very, very tall man. Seven feet-and-two-inches tall, in fact.

And over on Grantland, there is a really, really good article about Hibbert’s development. How D.C.’s own Big Roy went from Georgetown scrub to NBA All-Star in eight years.

Go read it.

Author Jordan Conn captures the routine — from Hibbert’s pre-game stretching to his mixed martial arts practice — that transformed a 7-foot-2 non-athlete into one of basketball’s best players. But in the sea of detail, there was one data point that jumped out to me. (Bolding is mine.)

Citing data from the Centers for Disease Control, Sports Illustrated estimated that there are fewer than 70 7-footers between the ages of 20 and 40 in the United States. Seventy 7-footers; 30 starting NBA centers.

If you’re Nate Robinson’s height, you need to be an exceptional athlete to make the league. If you’re Hibbert’s, you just have to be pretty good.

In my 1 a.m. perusing, I misread Conn’s point – concluding that nearly half of all young 7-footers are in the NBA.

And as Matt Yglesias, Tyler Cowen, and a few other folks quickly pointed out on Twitter, there are some major flaws with that calculus.

  • “Starting centers” don’t have to be 7-footers, as fans of 6’8” Ben Wallace know. (Unless you’re counting Wallace’s 4-inch afro.)
  • Many aren’t U.S.-born.
  • And at least a few have rounded up their heights — in the NBA, it makes cents (and many, many dollars) to add centimeters.

The NBA: A jobs program for really tall men

But there are confounding factors the other way, too.

“Starting centers” don’t include all the stiffs who arrived in the NBA on basis of height alone, only to ride the bench or quickly wash out. And at least one player, Kevin Garnett, is famously known for underestimating his height.

It’s a messy data set.

And understanding that, I went to the indispensable Basketball-Reference.com for the most comprehensive review, based on listed heights and NBA appearances.

Here’s what B-R tells us:

  • In the past two decades, 88 different players identifying as U.S.-born and at least 7-feet tall have played at least one minute in the NBA. (Fifty-two list themselves as an even 7-feet.)
  • Thirty-five of them, from greats like David Robinson to curiosities like Chuck Nevitt, are now over-40-years-old.
  • That leaves 53 seven-footers in our target age and nationality.

It’s hard to know how many of those 7-footers are actually rounding up by a few inches, unfortunately. But even assuming that half are fibbing (probably those closer to an even-7-feet) still gives us about 25-to-30 legitimate 7-foot NBA players and alums.

And what about that denominator? Conn also cites a Sports Illustrated article that goes deeper into how the CDC got its “70 seven-footers” figure. Again, bolding is mine.

An actual accounting of 7-footers, domestic or global, does not exist in any reliable form. National surveys by the Center for Disease Control list no head count or percentile at that height. (Only 5% of adult American males are 6’3″ or taller.)…

The curve shaped by the CDC’s available statistics, however, does allow one to estimate the number of American men between the ages of 20 and 40 who are 7 feet or taller: fewer than 70 in all. Which indicates, by further extrapolation, that while the probability of, say, an American between 6’6″ and 6’8″ being an NBA player today stands at a mere 0.07%, it’s a staggering 17% for someone 7 feet or taller.

Later in that SI piece, an NBA scout says that he’ll “check up on anyone over 7 feet that’s breathing.” So while there’s no guarantee of stardom, it’s a pretty sure thing that any 7-footer will at least get a shot at the NBA.

That a giant like Alan Ogg or Peter John Ramos will get a chance — maybe more chances than he deserves — to stick with a team. In wild hopes he’ll blossom into a Hibbert, not a Nevitt.

And that’s not a tall tale.



4 Comments

  1. Callmelennie

    May 4, 2012 at 10:35 am

    The listed heights of NBA players measure how tall they actually are on the court with their shoes on. Any list that mesures players in their stocking feet is always a inch shorter than the heights you see in the program. So anyone listed at 7’0″ is actually 6’11′, or even a tiny bit shorter. Even a person listed at 7’1″ could actually be 6’11″ and three quarters. So probably only two thirds of the players listed at 7 ft and over actually are seven feet tll

  2. bobby

    September 29, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    I knew a guy that was 7’3. Grew up playing basketball and played off the bench for a D2 team. Never made it close to the NBA – simply wasn’t fit enough and didn’t work at it hard enough. Smart guy though, he now works at a computer business. These guys have tough lives if they aren’t basketball players. Everybody stares, maybe even asks if you are in the NBA, things like that.

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