Good news, American citizens who stand over 7-feet tall. While annoying (and often downright rude) gawkers may enervate you on a daily basis, you might be shocked to know that you have a 17 percent chance of playing in the NBA. Seventeen. That speaks to how surprisingly few American males between the age of 20 and 70 walk among us, and just how many actually make the NBA. Counter that with the percentage of American males who stand between 6-6 and 6-8 and their probability at making the NBA: .07 percent.
All this comes from a fascinating feature on 7-footers penned by Sports Illustrated's Pablo Torre this week. This isn't a documentation of once-millionaire 7-footers wingeing about their height and how people treat them, rather, it's just a study on how they get by. And how a 7-2 center might not look all that different when working amongst 6-10 power forwards, but they certainly do warrant a second look walking past you and your girlfriend at Whole Foods.
Here's a snippet of the must-read:
Finding footwear that fits can be an even more painful pursuit. "People won't stock shoes over size 15," says Bruce Teilhaber, the owner of Friedman's Shoes in downtown Atlanta. "We have more 17s than 8s, so the biggest guys are all mine. And I don't know what I'd do without them." Nor they him. Former Pacers center Rik Smits, who stands 7'4", wore such tight shoes at home in the Netherlands as a teenager that he developed excruciating nerve damage in his feet. In 1962, as an impoverished 12-year-old in Chipley, Fla., [Artis] Gilmore was so outsized, he says, that he went barefoot for an entire year. Today, both Smits (size 20) and Gilmore (18) are customers at Friedman's—as is every retired player quoted in this story. (As Teilhaber exclaimed on a recent afternoon, "I just sent [7'2" former Jazz center] Luther Wright three pairs of 20s!")
But no matter how many niche businesses emerge to serve big men, complications of fit are guaranteed. "Nothing is ergonomically correct for a 7-footer," says 7'2" James Donaldson, who played center for five teams over 14 years and now runs the Donaldson Clinic, a physical therapy center in Mill Creek, Wash. "I would love, just once, to fill up a hotel bathtub with bubbles and soak in it like a normal-sized person can." But that will never happen. More frustrating—not to mention dangerous—are doorways, which have long been standardized at 6'8", along with ceiling fans, exit signs and steel emergency sprinklers, lying in wait like caltrops. "With those things, you're talking about scalping an individual," says Gilmore. Rare is the pivotman who has emerged unscathed.
Yikes. Consider that Smits' career ended far earlier than it should have due to foot problems created by those shoddy shoes.
I can't get over the rarity inherent in these men. That 17 percent probability rate blows me away, and it's certainly something to think about the next time we rank our team's 6-11 center as "undersized."
Also, would it kill you to politely ask a former NBA center before whirring (you think) surreptitiously to position yourself in frame to take a picture with one? They can see you down there, you know.