Yao and Pals: the NBA's Seven Best Ever Players Over 7'4"

J.B. BirdContributor IIIAugust 23, 2010

Yao and Pals: the NBA's Seven Best Ever Players Over 7'4"

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    After a season lost through injury, the NBA's current tallest player - Yao Ming - is set to return to the court.

    Standing at 7'6", Yao is one of the tallest players to ever grace the NAB hardwood. He combines extraordinary height with a strong shooting stroke, in a manner seldom seen in someone over 7'4".

    But, of all the giants over 7'4"; is Yao the best? In this article we list the Top Seven players over 7'4".

    Read the full slideshow to see if Yao takes the number one spot.

(Dis)honourable mentions

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    Okay, the following three players get considered for this list simply because they are over 7'4" tall:

    • Chuck Nevitt (7'5")
    • Slavko Vranes (7'5")
    • Priest Lauderdale (7'4").

    Other than their height, the above-mentioned players added little to their teams. In fact, Chuck Nevitt (pictured) was known as the 'Human Victory Cigar' as his entry to the court meant that the game was well and truly over.

7. Shawn Bradley

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    Upon entering the NBA in 1993, Shawn Bradley was notable for a number of reasons. Not only was he 7'6", and therefore one of the tallest players to ever play the game, but he was also commencing his professional career after two years spent in Australia as a missionary for the Mormon Church.

    Although drafted second in the 1993 NBA Draft, and touted by many as a gifted big man who would forever change the way that basketball was played, Bradley ended up having a middling career. Despite being a strong defensive force (averaging 2.5 career blocks per game) he was largely ineffective on the offensive end and a lightweight on the boards. 

    Despite all this however, he was able to contribute to a number of NBA teams over his career, and for that reason makes it to number seven on the list.

6. Manute Bol

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    Although never having the scoring prowess of Shawn Bradley, fellow 7'6"er Manute Bol is ranked higher because of his ability, at his peak, of being able to completely shut down the basket. Averaging five (!) blocks per game in his rookie season, Bol was able to send back shot after shot, frustrating opponents and delighting fans.

    Sadly, Bol died in June of this year from acute kidney failure and complications associated with Stevens-Johnson syndrome.

    RIP Manute.

5. Gheorghe Muresan

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    As a result of injury Muresan's NBA career was limited to just a few seasons. However, his inclusion at number five on the list is because of the clear potential he showed.

    At his peak, during the 1995-96 season, Muresan was averaging career highs of 14.5 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. Impressive numbers for such an ungainly giant, and an effort that saw him winning the NBA's Most Improved Player Award for that year.

4. Mark Eaton

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    The first All-Star on our list, Eaton was selected for the 1988-89 All Star Game for his punishing inside presence.

    At one point in time Eaton was blocking shots at a rate almost unseen since the days of Wilt Chamberlian and Bill Russell. In 1984-85 Eaton was averaging 5.6 blocks per game. Such numbers seem unbelievable now, with whole starting frontcourts falling short of such a figure.

3. Ralph Sampson

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    Selected for four consecutive All-Star games, though injury precluded him playing in the final one, Sampson was another player considered by many to signal in the dawn of a new age. A 7'4" high scoring forward who loved to pass, to many it seemed like Sampson was Magic Johnson 2.0. And for a few seasons he was close.

    Sampson exploded onto the NBA scene his debut year, amassing mind-blowing rookie numbers - 21 points per game, 11.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. Teamed with fellow big man Hakeem Olajuwon, the Rockets of the mid-80s were a team to be reckoned with. Sadly though, Sampson was like a shining star; shining brightly but disappearing all too quickly. Despite playing a total of eleven seasons, Sampson's career was in freefall by the end of his second season. 

2. Rik Smits

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    Unlike our other second overall draft pick Shawn Bradley, Rik Smits fulfilled all of his potential during his career with the Indiana Pacers. Despite only receiving one All-Star selection, the 'Dunking Dutchman' was an amazingly consistent player throughout his career.

    Never one to blow you away with high highlights package, Smits delivered a game built on fundamentals and hard work. Smits anchored the Pacers for twelve years, including a trip to the NBA Finals in 1999-0. Although Ralph Sampson reached higher highs, Smits gets the edge for his consistency.

1. Yao Ming

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    Well, in the end it is hard to go past Yao as the all-time best player over 7'4".

    Despite never reaching the NBA Finals like Ralph Sampson, and a career marred by injuries, no other player over 7'4" has been able to perform at an All-Star level for as long as Yao.

    Although the Houston Rockets' playoff success with Yao has been limited, individually Yao has been a rock. Seven All-Star selections and numerous 20-10 seasons.

    However, it was clear that last year Yao's numbers took a dip. With the coming season it will be revealed whether that was just a slight hiccup, or whether Yao will follow his other 7'4" pals into a steep career decline.