Monday, August 13, 2007

In Sports (and Life), Height Doesn't Matter (Unless You're Short)

I read some time ago a fascinating book on size by a scientific writer named Stephen Hall. The book is titled Size Matters. Hall is an evolutionist and his theories were less than compelling, but his personal experience, his research, and his reflections combined to make for a fun and informative read. Hall essentially poses the title as a question and finds that in society, size does indeed matter, but oftentimes only because people assign value to height, albeit value that height does not deserve.

I reflected on this in light of the constant debates over the physical abilities of various athletes. Being a former basketball player and a current fan, I am well aware of the premium placed on physical prowess. Every year in June, around NBA draft time, one hears experts droning on about the endless physical gifts of this player or that. The player is often drafted early, signs a massive contract, and everybody glows for a while. Then the season comes and the player stinks up the joint. He has "endless physical gifts," yes, but he lacks only one thing: skill. This process is repeated constantly not only in basketball but in all sports as people repeatedly make the error of thinking that size necessarily signals ability.

I'm a short guy, and I can say from prior experience that there is huge bias against short athletes. Yet returning once more to basketball, one wonders why this bias must be so strong. Look at just the last seven seasons of NBA basketball. A guy 6'2 or shorter has won the award three times--Allen Iverson in 2000-01, Steve Nash in 2004-05 and 2005-06. Both of these players are relatively short, perhaps even tiny, in the NBA. And yet both of them were the best player in the entire league in a given year. Perhaps it's time to reexamine our stereotypes about height, and automatically assume that the tallest player--or business executive, or friend, or pastor--is the most gifted. Perhaps we ought to reconsider how we think about height. Height and girth look impressive, but impressive looks aren't everything. Just ask the 76ers or the Phoenix Suns.


Blogger Joseph Gould said...

Good post Owen, although I'll push you on a few things just for fun.

If I owned an NBA squad (don't look for that to happen this millenium) I think I would go for the tall guys with skill to fill my roster. I'd always take 5 unseslfish tall guys over 5 AI's.

Also, a player who is 6' 2" is not short in the grand scheme of things. I think the avergage height for American males is like 5' 9" or 5' 10", so Nash (6' 3") has 5-6 inches over your average guy (and 4 inches on me). As for short guys, there is no way someone who was actually average height or below height is going to compete in the NBA. Even John Stockton was 6' 1".

Sorry Owen, your NBA dreams are misguided. :)

7:53 AM  
Blogger Joseph Gould said...

Oh yeah, almost forgot.

Total titles between 76ers, Suns, and Jazz with AI, Nash, and Stockton: 0

7:55 AM  
Blogger jaycb472 said...

when that guy said As for short guys, there is no way someone who was actually average height or below height is going to compete in the NBA, that is not true. everyone in the NBA is tall. Allen iverson is average height and look at him. He's 5'11 on a phone book, so that was just a stupid, uneducated statement

4:30 PM  

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