The standard basketball ring has a height of 10ft — it has been that way since James Naismith invented the game in 1891. Back then, the average height of an American was 5 feet 6 inches, and throwing the ball to a hoop twice your height above was challenging.
As basketball became more competitive, the advantage of taller people became obvious. It was simple math: taller people can reach higher and shoot the ball relatively easily. And, the more baskets you score, the higher the chances you would win games, so teams naturally favored tall players.
While it is undeniably true that shorter players will have a more challenging time playing in the NBA, that does not mean there is no room for them in the league. Basketball is a sport for all heights, and the shortest players to ever play in the NBA have proven that.
What is Considered Short in the NBA?
The average height of an NBA player is 6 feet 6 inches, but being shorter than that does not mean that you’re short for the NBA. Here’s why:
Modern basketball requires a team to field five players: a Point Guard (PG), a Shooting Guard (SG), a Small Forward (SF), a Power Forward (PF), and a Center. Each of these positions plays in different parts of the court. As a result, different positions have different standards, including height.
Point Guards take care of the ball and organize the team on both ends of the floor. PGs are usually positioned far away from the basket to see everyone on the court. PGs are usually the smallest ones on the court, with an average height of 6 feet and 2 inches. The shortest players to ever play in the NBA are all Point Guards. However, specific Point Guards today are also exceptionally tall for the position, like Luka Doncic (6’7), Ben Simmons (6’10), and Nikola Jokic (7’0).
Shooting Guards and Small Forwards usually stand around 6’5 to 6’7. While these positions have similar height ranges, they play different roles in the team. SGs are generally focused on scoring, whereas SFs help the team in multiple ways.
Power Forwards and Centers are the tallest ones on the team because they operate nearest the ring. Being tall helps these players score and defend the basket. Players in these positions stand above 6’9, but the NBA has seen its fair share of undersized PFs and Centers throughout history. Draymond Green (6’7), Dennis Rodman (6’6), and Ben Wallace (6’6) are great examples of undersized big men.
How Tall Do You Have to Be to Play in the NBA?
Technically, the NBA does not have an official height requirement, so anyone can apply for the draft no matter how short or tall you are. Let’s face it, though; you need to be at least 6 feet tall to compete with NBA players — unless you’re incredibly skilled.
What are the Advantages of Short Players in Basketball?
While professional teams favor tall players, that does not mean that shorter players do not have an advantage against their taller opponents. Smaller players often have the edge when it comes to speed and ball-handling.
Shorter basketball players are usually faster on the court, creating problems for the opponents on both ends of the floor. Some short players are hard to guard and pressure because they can easily squeeze through screens and flat-out outrun you.
On defense, short players can easily steal the ball from taller opponents with a high dribbling point. And on the flip side, it’s harder to steal the ball from shorter players because of how low they dribble. To add to that, short players dribble fast and skillfully as well.
5 Smallest NBA Players of All-Time
These players have proven that being short does not necessarily mean you won’t have a career in the NBA.
Muggsy Bogues (5 feet 3 inches)
Mugsy Bogues is perhaps the most famous short player in NBA history. Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues started his professional career in the United States Basketball League in 1987 before being drafted by the Washington Bullets in the NBA during the same year.
The Charlotte Hornets would then pick up Muggsy in 1988, where he would make a name for himself. He would end his career as the assist, assist per game, and steals leader for the organization.
Muggsy is the poster boy for short players, and he was so good that the Monstars from Space Jam even stole his skills.
Earl Boykins (5 feet 5 inches)
Boykins showed early flashes of being the next Muggsy Bogues. Despite going undrafted in 1998, Earl still went on to have a 13-year career in the NBA. He played for 12 NBA teams, and his most successful years were with the Denver Nuggets from 2003 to 2007. In all four seasons with the Nuggets, Boykins averaged double-digits in scoring and was known for his agility and passing.
Mel Hirsch (5 feet 6 inches)
Mel Hirsch played in the Basketball Association of America (BAA), which would later become the NBA. Mel only played for 13 games from 1947 to 1948 for the Boston Celtics. He would be known as the shortest player in history until Muggsy came in 1988. Unfortunately, statistics were not tracked back then the way they are tracked now.
Spud Webb (5 feet 6 inches)
Anthony Jerome “Spud” Webb is arguably the most popular short player in the history of the NBA, alongside Muggsy Bogues. And, if you know a little bit of basketball history, you probably know Spud Webb’s ticket to fame.
After having a decent college career, many scouts thought that Webb would end up playing for the Harlem Globetrotters for entertainment because of his height. To the surprise of many, Spud Webb got drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 1985 and would end up being picked up by the Atlanta Hawks.
Recognized as the shortest NBA player to dunk, Spud Webb won the 1986 Slam Dunk contest — yes, all 5 feet 6 inches of him. After Atlanta, he played for the Sacramento Kings, where he had his best years, statistically.
Greg Grant (5 feet 7 inches)
Gregory Alan Grant’s career started when he was scouted at a young age and was offered to play for an NCAA Division III school, Trenton State College. In 1989, the Phoenix Suns would select him in the draft and play for six teams in the NBA for nine seasons. After professional basketball, Grant gave back to his community by establishing and running a sports academy in Trenton.
5 Tallest NBA Players Ever
The NBA also saw its fair share of giants throughout history.
Gheorghe Muresan (7 feet 7 inches)
Gheorghe Dumitru Mureșan is the tallest NBA player ever. Gheorghe is a Romanian player who started his professional career in Romania in 1991 when he was 20 and transferred to the French league the following year.
Muresan declared for the NBA draft in 1993 and was selected by the Washington Bullets. He had a promising start to his career and even won the 1996-1996 Most Improved Player of the year after averaging 14.5 PPG, 9.6 RBG, and 2.26 BPG. Unfortunately, much like many of the tall players in the NBA, Muresan’s career was short-lived at seven seasons due to injuries.
Manute Bol (7 feet 6 inches)
Manute Bol’s impact would echo throughout history despite having a short career. Drafted in 1985, Bol started his career with the Washington Bullets alongside Muggsy Bogues who is the shortest NBA player in history.
Manute Bol has the longest wingspan in NBA history, and his shot-blocking prowess changed how teams played against his team. Bol ended his career with 3.34 blocks per game — the second highest all-time in BPG. He is also known as one of the best shooting big men in history and is the prototype for many Centers today.
His son, Bol Bol, is one of the tallest active NBA players today.
Tacko Fall (7 feet 6 inches)
Here’s a fan favorite! Tacko Fall’s career has had a cult following since high school because of his ridiculous height. Fall is an effortless rim protector who makes teams think twice about penetrating the paint.
Despite being undrafted in 2019, Fall’s height and potential to become an elite shot-blocker were enough for him to get picked up by the Boston Celtics. Currently, Fall impressed everyone in the 2022 NBA Summer League and has a chance of cracking the Utah Jazz roster, especially now that Rudy Gobert isn’t with the team anymore.
Slavko Vranes (7 feet 6 inches)
Slavko Vranes is a Montenegrin basketball player who had a relatively brief career in the NBA. He started playing professionally in Serbia when he was 17 and was drafted by the New York Knicks in the second round of the 2003 draft when he was 20. In the same year, Vranes was waived by the Knicks. After that, he was picked up by the Portland Trailblazers via a 10-day contract. He played one game with Portland before bidding goodbye to the NBA.
Shawn Bradley (7 feet 6 inches)
Among the players on this list, Shawn Bradley had the longest and arguably the most successful career. Bradley played 12 seasons in the NBA, starting with the Philadelphia 76ers, who selected him as the 2nd overall pick in the 1993 NBA Draft. Despite his slim build, Bradley was undeniably one of the most athletic big men in the NBA.
Bradley’s most significant break came with the Dallas Mavericks in 1996, when he averaged 14.6 PPG, 8.7 RPG, and 2.7 BPG. He played 832 games and was one of the most durable giants in the history of the NBA. And yes, the Monstars also took his talents in Space Jam.
Wrapping Things Up: 5 Shortest Players to Ever Play in the NBA
Contrary to popular belief, height is not necessarily might in the NBA.
Muggsy Bogues, Earl Boykins, Mel Hirsch, Spud Webb, and Greg Grant may have been the shortest players in the history of the NBA, but they were still able to make a name for themselves. These players handled the ball better than anyone on the court. Also, they used their speed to stay ahead of their opponents.
These five and many more short players in the NBA have proven that height will only be an advantage or disadvantage if you let it be one. So, even if you’re undersized for your position, play to your strengths and do everything to help your team win.
We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.