Since the NBA’s inception, the hoop has stood 10 feet above the floor. This height has proved perfect as players grow taller and more athletic. More NBA players than ever can dunk, but the league has embraced it. Each year, the NBA Roster Survey tries to find the average player height (although teams and players have been dishonest in the past).
Notably, we’ve seen the average height rise since the league’s beginning. It currently averages 6-foot-6.54 tall, according to the NBA Roster Survey. So, what’s causing players to stand taller than ever?
It’s very rare for players to continue growing once they’re in the league. Yet, as more players forego college and the average age in the NBA drops, some players won’t be fully grown when they sign their first contract. Still, height is mostly a question of genetics.
The NBA’s global search for height
The first reason for taller NBA players involves scouting. At 6-foot-9 and 7-feet-tall respectively, Pascal Siakam and Joel Embiid made their presence known in the NBA immediately.
A decade ago, neither had much basketball experience. Their physical attributes helped these giants become major threats, but in the early days, the NBA wouldn’t even notice two young men from Cameroon. Luc Mbah a Moute’s work with African players brought Siakam and Embiid to America.
Yao Ming sparked Chinese interest in the NBA through the 2000s and eventually made it into the NBA Hall of Fame. The first international player to be drafted first overall, Ming’s 7-foot-6 frame ascended the league’s average height on his own.
The late great Manute Bol also enjoyed NBA success. One of the first foreign players to make a huge impact in the league, Bol opened doors for other tall global prospects.
Second-generation NBA players
Another reason NBA players continue to get taller? Height is largely genetic. As taller players succeed in the NBA, they produce taller children who make it to the league on their own.
The young Bronny James Jr., who seems destined for the NBA, broke 6-feet-tall in his early teens. Manute’s son Bol Bol has the chance to succeed in the NBA because of his father’s career and work. The younger Bol easily clears 7 feet as well.
The NBA spent the past three decades expanding its reach globally. An often-cited statistic claims 17% of the world’s 7-foot-tall men play in the NBA. No real science ever confirmed this statistic, but it’s clear that the global NBA encourages more players from abroad. Without Mbah a Moute it’s unlikely we’d see Siakam and Embiid in the league.
Can shorter players still succeed?
Humans aren’t growing much taller than before. However, global reach and multi-generational families give more tall players the chance to make it in the NBA. Average league height remains below 6-foot-7 for now. It’s unclear how much higher it will grow but global giants continue to drive the average up.
Basketball’s focus on pure height will allow tall players to succeed with minimal training as long as they commit to learning fundamentals. Manute finished his career with more blocks than points — the only player to ever do so.
Height is a massive boon to aspiring players but dozens of stars succeeded below six feet. The most important factor in NBA success is how badly a player wants it. But having an extra foot or two on the field doesn’t hurt.
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