We’ve seen what it’s like to watch a giant in 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara play hockey. We came close to seeing 7-foot-7 Manute Bol on the ice, but sitting on the bench during an Indianapolis Ice game in 2002 caused his chronic rheumatoid arthritis to flare up and swell his feet, preventing him from taking a shift during a publicity stunt.
But if you want to see a 7-foot-2, ex-NBA player lace ‘em up and skate, head out to the Ice Den in Scottsdale, Arizona and you’ll catch Greg Ostertag playing beer league hockey.
Ostertag, who spent 11 years in the NBA with the Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings, grew up in Texas loving hockey before steering himself towards a professional hoops career. Once he left the game in 2006, he eventually grew tired of the standard retired athlete hobby of hitting the links.
“One day, I just decided to go find something to do besides playing golf every day,” says the 41-year-old Ostertag. “I was lucky to have a guy in Utah send me a pair of skates. Then I went to a rink, started skating around, and, once I got my feet under me again, I got into a league. I’ve been doing it ever since.
“I don’t do it to stay in shape. I do it because it’s fun. I love playing hockey, and I love being around the guys. I’d do it five days a week if I could and if I had time.”
Ostertag told Leitner that he gave up hockey for the same reason many kids do at a young age: it became too expensive. Obviously growing in a 7-foot-2 frame helped his hoops career along.
After moving to Arizona, Ostertag became friendly with Shane Doan and Derek Morris of the Coyotes, who helped keep his love of hockey alive.
Once a big presence on the basketball court, Ostertag now prides himself on his good positioning on the ice and his ability to act as a screen in front of opposing goaltenders. It makes sense. Chara is used in the same way at times. With a few extra inches on the Boston Bruins captain, how is any netminder supposed to see around that?
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