You Can’t Teach Height: Bol vs. Bradley vs. Muresan vs. Smits
I have always been fascinated by huge NBA players, particularly players over seven feet tall. Because when you see a seven footer in person, it’s almost cartoonish how big they are. But what about guys that are another half foot or more above that?
With the retirement of 7-6 Yao Ming due to lower leg problems it reminded me of some other players well above seven feet tall. For as rare as it is to have one of these guys in the NBA at one time, the 1993-94 season saw four separate players 7-4 or above in the league; Manute Bol, Shawn Bradley, Gheorge Muresan and Rik Smits.
At 7-7, Bol and Muresan are the two tallest players to ever play in the NBA, with Bradley and Yao Ming tied for third. Interestingly, Bol’s height was the result of his genetics while Muresan’s was the result of a pituitary disorder.
Even though they were all 7-4 or above they each had different skill sets. Bol was a straight shot blocker, who led the league in blocks twice, who would occasionally drift behind the three point line and nail a three, which looked especially weird. In 1992-93 he actually shot a respectable 31% from downtown. Statistically he ended up with more blocks than points in his career (2,086 vs. 1,599). Toward the end of his career Bol played for both the 76ers and Bullets specifically for the purpose of mentoring Bradley and Muresan.
Muresan was more prone to offense and led the league in field goal percentage twice. Strangely at 7-7, his career average for blocked shots per game is only 1.5. I remember playing as him in NBA Live 96 for Sega and how incredibly slow he was, just like in real life.
Bradley was the most athletic of the four but that was almost his undoing in certain regards because he didn’t just focus on one thing. He led the league in blocks once, but he got posterized as much as any big man in history which warps people’s perception of his career.
Interestingly, Bradley had two of the best games of his career against Muresan. In the 95-96 season he tallied a season high 27 points against him, adding 9 rebounds and four blocks. The next season he had his first career triple double on Muresan, with 19 points, 17 rebounds and 11 blocks.
Smits had the success of any player 7-4 or above in NBA history. In a 12 year career, Smits averaged 14.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg and 1.3 bpg for his career. He was an all-star in 1998 and played in the NBA Finals.
But what’s interesting is even though they were the biggest guys on the court, they were also the most fragile and for whatever reason unable to handle the pounding on their bodies for long. All four players’ careers were ultimately ended due to lower leg injuries, just like with Yao Ming.
Who was your favorite freakishly tall NBA player? Did I hear someone say Chuck Nevitt??