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HomeFeaturesWhy athletes across sports inflate their heights

Why athletes across sports inflate their heights

NBA players have been known to stretch the truth when it comes to height.

Charles Barkley, one of the league’s most decorated individual players and now a league commentator puts it plainly. “They lie,” he told The New York Times in 2008.

He was speaking from experience. Over the course of his 16-year career, Barkley claimed to be 6’6” but in reality, he was a little bit over 6’4”.

An overview of the NBA media guide offers further insight into the problem. The annual guide is published after every training camp and contains the height of each player in the league.

According to Sam Smith, a former NBA writer for the Chicago Tribune, the guide is an exercise in futility.

“We sort of know the heights, because after camp, the sheet comes out,” he told the Times. “But you use that height, and the player gets mad. And then you hear from his agent. Or you file your story with the right height, and the copy desk changes it because they have the ‘official’ NBA media guide, which is wrong. So you sort of go along with the joke.”

Throughout the years it’s become normalized to lie, everyone from high school to professional athletes. Why is it so common?

Current NBA players Jose Alvarado and Chris Paul are both listed as six feet tall, but when you search images of them online, it’s immediately clear they are not the same height.

Tarik Black, a forward for the Houston Rockets in 2015, was listed as 6’11”. But the next season his height was bumped down to 6’9”.

When the players are above six-foot, the question of why they feel the need to lie about their heights still stands. This isn’t just an issue for the “short kings.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo is listed at 6’11,” which may seem weird because The Greek Freak is just as tall as backboard busting Shaquille O’Neal who is listed as 7’1.”

The 7-foot giant has said on the record that he is 6’11” but just plays like he’s above seven foot. This confession came out after Antetokounmpo made a statement on social media claiming to be taller than O’Neal.

Jonas Felix, a first year on the men’s volleyball team at Durham College said he can relate.

“I understand how it can give you opportunities,” he said. “It’s like lying on your resume. Some schools might not look at me because I’m short.”

Adding a few extra inches to his listed height can improve his chances of being scouted by coaches, he adds.

“If I lie, the coach might show up and be like ‘Well, you’re not six-feet but I’m already here so you might as well show me what you’ve got,” he said.

There’s a lot of pressure to be noticed by scouts and coaches. As time goes on, more and more coaches start to fall into the height over talent mindset. “The phrase ‘you can’t teach height’ has been a staple of the NBA Draft for decades now,” writes Alex Raskin, a sports journalist with The Daily Mail.

But the strategy of adding a few extra inches of height can also backfire.

“It’s like getting caught cheating,” Felix said.

Standing at 5’9,” Felix initially believed he wasn’t tall enough to try out for the Durham College volleyball team, so he stuck to intramurals until the beginning of this year. He made the team and is now playing on a high-level team for the first time.

Standing at the net getting ready for a play, Felix said he will sometimes hear taunts from the other side, including not worry about him because he’s just as tall as the bottom of the tape. He takes the insults and jokes and turns them into his inspiration to continue playing.

Although he had his doubts in the past because of his height, he is now listed on the roster at 5’9.” He said he has no need to add any inches.

“If the roster says I’m six feet, and then I am actually three inches shorter than six feet, when they see me, they’ll go, ‘What the hell?’” he said.

In 2019, the NBA started to crack down on lies on the roster. Before the second week of training camp, players must now certify their height and weight with a team physician, along with a form of identification verifying their age.

The added attention seems to be working, as player’s listed heights have started to remain more consistent in recent years.

Athletes like Felix also show that height isn’t everything. As John Wooden, the storied UCLA men’s basketball coach used to say; “It’s not how big you are, it’s how big you play.”