The game of basketball has always catered to those blessed with the gift of height. From Mikan and Wilt dominating the center position to Magic towering over every other point guard in the league and every position in between, size matters in the NBA.
In an effort to identify those who have truly towered over their positional counterparts, let’s take a look at those who are the tallest at their positions in NBA history.
Tallest Center in NBA History
Gheorghe Mureșan – 7’7″
Much like the heavyweight division in combat sports, the center position is where the biggest of the big compete. Standing at an absolute towering 7’7, no player was bigger was than Gheorghe Mureșan. The tallest player in NBA history, Muresan played from 1993 until retiring in 2000 and even won Most Improved Player in 1996.
His career, like many players who reached 7’3 or taller, was cut short by injuries that robbed the world of seeing an extended prime. During those seven NBA seasons though, it was always a sight to behold when the tallest man in NBA history stepped on the court.
The second tallest player at center goes to Manute Bol at 7’6 ¾ who played with the shortest NBA player ever in Muggsy Bogues, leading to the iconic photo below.
Tallest Power Forward in NBA History
Ralph Sampson – 7’4″
The most accomplished starter on the all-time tall team, Ralph Sampson was able to win and achieve enough that despite injuries cutting his basketball career short, Sampson is still a member of the Hall of Fame. From starring in college at Virginia to dominating the paint with fellow Hall of Fame player Hakeem Olajuwon, Ralph Sampson used his 7’4 frame to take over games from smaller competition.
Coming into the league putting up 20-10, making the All-Star team, and winning Rookie of the Year just shows the potential Sampson had before the Rockets drafter Hakeem and slid Ralph down to his natural position, power forward. His first year at the power forward position was the peak of his powers, making All-NBA Second Team and winning the All-Star game MVP. The Rockets would reach their peak with Sampson the following season, seeing Sampson eliminate the defending champions with a buzzer-beating shot that has to be seen to be believed.
That would be the highest point of Sampson’s NBA career though and a few years later injuries quickly started to take their toll. In his last six seasons before retiring in 1992 he was only able to play more than 30 games once; for Golden State in the 1989 campaign. But his legacy will always have that buzzer-beater that was only made possible because of the height advantage being the tallest power forward in NBA history.
Tallest Small Forward in NBA History
Lauri Markkanen – 7’0″
A move mocked by many in the NBA media (myself included) had three players 7’0 starting for the Cleveland Cavaliers. That decision has given the Cavaliers one of the best records in the Eastern Conference and the lineups with all three 7’0 players on the court have one the most dominant defenses in the league.
Surrounded by two all-defensive level talents in Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley, Markkanen is making the most of his size advantage on the smaller forwards by crowding them and forcing them to attack the rim. That height advantage is one of the keys to unlocking the defensive potential of that lineup.
Still, early on in the development, Lauri will have to play a few more seasons at this position to lock this starting spot in behind fellow 7’0 small forward Kevin Durant. But watching the two play I feel Lauri is the bigger of the two and Lauri’s size at the small forward position ties directly into his success so, for now, this is his spot to lose.
Tallest Shooting Guard in NBA History
Tracy McGrady – 6’8″
Tracy McGrady is the tallest shooting guard in NBA history as well as the second Hall of Fame talent on this list. The player who has arguably seen his reputation rise the most thanks to analytics, McGrady was still a seven-time All-NBA talent in large part because of the advantage his height gave him.
Whether he was knocking down some of those beautiful jump shots or driving past his man to the rim, McGrady nearly always had the advantage of being taller than his defender. When a player as talented as McGrady can pull up at any time (think Kevin Durant today) the defense is forced into an impossible situation. Speaking of Durant, the ease with which both players score reminds me of each other and I think the size they have over the competition has something to do with it.
While McGrady never had the playoff success that he and his fans hoped for, his regular-season numbers speak for themselves to go along with the highlights. Using his size to be an absolute bucket, McGrady led the league in scoring with 32 points a game at his apex. When you consider the Magic only scored 98 points a game as a team that number looks even more impressive. While he never won a ring, McGrady stood head and shoulders above most of the competition he faced.
Tallest Point Guard in NBA History
Ben Simmons – 6’10″
The newest addition to the Brooklyn Nets, Ben Simmons was going to come in and change the point guard position with his size. That hasn’t come to fruition but Simmons was one of the three best defensive players last year thanks in large part to his size. His defensive abilities are far more than just being tall but his height and length are what propel him into the elite category he finds himself in.
One of the most scrutinized players in the league, Simmons’s accomplishments have been overlooked in light of his more recent shortcomings. But winning Rookie of the Year, making multiple All-Defensive and All-Star teams, and cracking the All-NBA team before turning 26 screams elite talent on a Hall of Fame trajectory.
Playing beside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will help that trajectory get back on track but the real questions are about Simmons’s willingness to get fouled. If he can overcome the mental hurdles he has on the offensive end it’s likely he ends up the third Hall of Famer on this starting lineup. Until then he’ll have to settle for being the tallest point guard in NBA history.
The Bench Unit: Second Tallest at Each Position
Center: Manute Bol – 7’6 ¾”
Power Forward: Kristaps Porzingis – 7’3″
Small Forward: Kevin Durant – 7’0″
Shooting Guard: Steve Smith – 6’8″
Point Guard: Magic Johnson – 6’9″
The bench unit includes two more Hall of Fame talents and two of the 15 greatest players of all time. With size up and down this unit, it would be a nightmare facing up against a team with this much length all over the court. Combine that with Magic’s passing ability to these shooters and it would be a recipe for success in any era.
Who is the Tallest Player in NBA History?
Gheorghe Mureșan is the tallest player in NBA history. Mureșan stood at a massive 7’7″, and was a shot-blocking menace, but his career was unfortunately cut short by a string of injuries.
Size isn’t the only thing that matters but judging from the talent on this list, it is a valuable asset to have in this league. These players used the fact they were always bigger than the opponent opposite them to their advantage and many were able to take that advantage and turn it into a Hall of Fame level career. The view from up there must be nice.