The Wall Street Journal did a deepish dive on something every basketball fan already knows—about zero percent of NBA players are actually as tall as they're listed to be.
In most cases, players lie about their height to make themselves taller. Take J.J. Barea, the diminutive reserve guard for the Dallas Mavericks, for example.
“I remember laughing when they said, ‘6 feet,’ because me and about 20,000 other people in the arena knew that was a lie,” Barea said. “I’m 5-foot-10 on a good day.”
The discrepancy is for obvious reasons—being viewed as taller can be the difference between a player sticking in the league or being cut and having to start a career overseas. And how does their measured height change so much? Because players can be measured with or without shoes on.
With no standardized way of tracking height, a number of players have seen random, year-to-year growth spurts—or sudden bouts of shrinking—when they change teams. And a handful have seen their heights change even while staying with the same team.
According to the league’s data, which has been kept loosely since 1994, former guard Dan Dickau went from being 6-feet tall with the Clippers in 2008 to 6-foot-3 in training camp with the Suns in 2009. He turned 30 years old in between.
Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie alternated between 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-4 for years with Philadelphia. He was also listed at 6-foot-3 once. It’s still happening today, too. Los Angeles Lakers forward Tarik Black was officially listed as 6-foot-9 this season. Last year he was 6-foot-11.
But what's interesting is that once a player is tall enough—and good enough to know they'll be in the league no matter what—the tendency to lie about one's height goes the other way.
Former Timberwolves president Flip Saunders remembered seeing Garnett play for the first time. "At 6-foot, 13 inches—because he never wanted to be a 7-footer—at 6-foot-13, just how he shot the ball and how he handled the ball," Saunders said in 2014. "If you were like 100 yards away and watched him play, you thought you were watching a 6-3 guard play, not a guy who is 6-foot-13."
The popular theory is that Garnett didn't want to be regarded as a seven-footer because he didn't want to be pigeonholed as a center.
Kevin Durant had similar reasoning behind his underselling his actual height, which he admits is 6'11".
“But really, I’ve always thought it was cool to say I’m a 6-9 small forward,” the Oklahoma City Thunder star said. “Really, that’s the prototypical size for a small forward. Anything taller than that, and they’ll start saying, ‘Ah, he’s a power forward.’”
But when he's away from basketball, Durant doesn't mind embellishing in the other direction.
“For me, when I’m talking to women, I’m 7 feet,” he said. “In basketball circles, I’m 6-9.”