We’ve all read articles that talk about the best players of all time, the best players to ever play a certain position, the best players to never win a championship, the best players to never win an MVP award, the best players to wear a (insert team name here) uniform, and the like.
What I have yet to see, however, is an article that examines the best players of specific heights. This is somewhat surprising to me, particularly since the defining feature of a basketball player is height. Ask any 8-year-old to describe a professional basketball player and the most common response you'll hear is "tall."
But does bigger always mean better? Are the taller players necessarily the better ones?
Was Manute Bol, who stood 7'7" tall, the best player to ever play an NBA game? Of course not! But was Manute the best player of his height to ever play an NBA game?
Given that only two players in the history of the NBA were listed at that height (Manute and Gheorghe Muresan), the answer may be yes.
Who was the best NBA player to ever stand 5’9” tall: Nate Robinson or Calvin Murphy?
This one is not so easy, since we’re comparing two very talented athletes. I stuck with Calvin, but may change my opinion in a few years once Nate has had a greater opportunity to prove himself.
If you think these are hard to decide, wait until you choose a height which boasts a talent pool so deep that you’ll have trouble narrowing it down to your best three.
Here are the criteria I used in making the list:
(1) Player height used will be that which is listed on NBA.com (other sources may provide conflicting data);
(2) Only the player's NBA career will be considered (we’re not counting what they did in college or international leagues); and
(3) Only one best player for each listed height will be selected.*
*For the height of 6'9", I had to break this rule by listing both Bird and Magic. They were inseparable during their careers, so I think we can let this one slide.
Anyway, without further ado, here is the list. The main competitor(s) at each height are listed in parentheses (maximum of three). Feel free to make corrections or suggest alternatives. Thanks for reading.
- 7’7” Manute Bol (Gheorghe Muresan only)
- 7’6” Yao Ming (Shawn Bradley only)
- 7’5” Chuck Nevitt (Slavko Vranes only)
- 7’4” Mark Eaton (Rik Smits, Ralph Sampson)
- 7’3” Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Arvydas Sabonis)
- 7’2” Kareem Abdul Jabbar (Dikembe Mutombo, Artis Gilmore)
- 7’1” Wilt Chamberlain (David Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal, Robert Parish)
- 7’0” Hakeem Olajuwan (Dirk Nowitzki, Patrick Ewing)
- 6’11” Tim Duncan (Bill Walton, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard)
- 6’10” Bill Russell (Moses Malone, George Mikan, Alonzo Mourning)
- 6’9” Larry Bird/Magic Johnson (Karl Malone, James Worthy)
- 6’8” Lebron James (Dominique Wilkins, Grant Hill, Scottie Pippen)
- 6’7” Julius Erving (Clyde Drexler, Alex English, George Gervin)
- 6’6” Michael Jordan (Kobe Bryant, Charles Barkley, Manu Ginobili)
- 6’5” Oscar Robertson (Elgin Baylor, Adrian Dantley, John Havlicek)
- 6’4” Dwayne Wade (Walt Frazier, Jeff Hornacek, Jason Kidd)
- 6’3” Earl Monroe (Deron Williams, Sidney Moncrief, Steve Nash)
- 6’2” Jerry West (Tony Parker, Stephon Marbury)
- 6’1” Bob Cousy (Nate Archibald, John Stockton, Isiah Thomas)
- 6’0” Chris Paul (Allen Iverson, Tim Hardaway)
- 5’11” Avery Johnson (Terrell Brandon)
- 5’10” Damon Stoudamire (Michael Adams)
- 5’9” Calvin Murphy (Nate Robinson)
- 5’8” Charlie Criss (no competition; thanks to )
- 5’7” Spud Webb (no competition)
- 5’6” (none found)
- 5’5” Earl Boykins (no competition)
- 5’4” (none found)
- 5’3” Muggsy Bogues (no competition)