The NBA Big Man: The Tradition of Height and Talent in the National Basketball Association

3 min read

Pedro Olivias-Holguin Jr.

Staff Writer

From its early days, the National Basketball Association (NBA) was dominated by giants. Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, both around seven feet tall, would regularly face off in the finals during the 1960s. In their twilight years, another giant came to dominate in their place, Kareem Adbul-Jabbar, who, like those before him, would go on to have an illustrious career. This big man dominance set the foundation for early basketball, as throwing the ball to your tallest and strongest players to use their size to their advantage. Of course, there is still much nuance and skill that makes up the rest of basketball, but being the tallest man on the court never hurts. Players like Shaq and Yao Ming carried on the torch of using size effectively and almost unfairly in the NBA. The center position embodied one of dominance, offensively and defensively but usually as close to the rim as possible. This soon changed, when a new player entered the NBA in 2007, by the name of Kevin Durant. KD, as he is known, was a seven-foot-tall skinny player who went on to become one of the most skilled scorers to ever touch a basketball. But, unlike those before him, his skillset relied more heavily on scoring outside of the paint, using his height to shoot over defenders. Not only was his use of his size different, but it was also reflected in his position, as he more often played as a small forward, not a center. This shift rippled throughout the league; larger players were now diversifying in skills. Some, like Nikola Jokic, who are more pass oriented, use their size as a tool for seeing the court. People like Giannis Antetokounmpo use their size and strength to run over people, but also defend multiple positions. These players have put into question the tradition of what it means to be big and tall in basketball. That tradition will soon fall in the welcoming of two incoming rookies. The first being Chet Holmgren, a 7’1 player who was drafted second overall in 2022 for the Oklahoma City Thunder and Victor Wembanyama, a 7’4 basketball player from France who was recently drafted first overall this year to the San Antonio Spurs. These two players recently faced off in a preseason game and have become what those have expected since the introduction of Kevin Durant. An incredibly skilled player with absurd measurement in terms of height and wingspan, and not only has the NBA received one but two. Wembenyama particularly stands out, who has now been dubbed the most hyped prospect since LeBron James. The NBA big man remains as merely a piece of the puzzle, but after being dominated by the likes of forwards and guards, the NBA might be in for a repeat of the once all powerful center. Now, they are 7’4 with the skillset and body control of someone who is six foot.

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