The Plight Of The Super-Tall Basketball Player

In general, taller NBA players have longer careers, but as Yao Ming’s retirement reminds us there are limits to this:

However, too much size turns out to be a bad thing. The curve inverts at 6-foot-10; that’s the optimal size for a career length, but at greater heights the injury risk outweighs the benefit of increased height. We see this somewhat with 7-footers, but it’s players of Yao’s size that really drive the point home.

Players who are 7–3 or taller just aren’t destined to have nice, orderly 15-year careers. Despite the size advantage that these players possess, not one of them has managed to have a 1,000-game NBA career. Eaton, at 875, came the closest.

Generally, they have back, knee or ankle problems after a few years, and from there it’s a war against their bodies. Smits and Ilgauskas were able to fight their feet to a draw and make a reasonable go of it; Yao, unfortunately, could not.


I used to love watching Yao play in his prime. Just such an unusual game.