Isiah: “I lied about being 6’1”

In 1988, Jack McCallum wrote a piece predicting that the center position was dead. The young kids like Olajuwon and Ewing weren’t playing the same way anymore and the game changed. One change McCallum wrote about, and see if this sounds familiar, were “versatiles” – players who could guard 4 positions on the court. Turns out coaches always wanted to have wing-sized players that can cover almost all positions on the court. OK, very tall guys are in trouble if they don’t know how to dribble and shoot. What about short guys? 

In an episode of Open Court, Isiah Thomas talked about his expectation that smaller guards are slowly being phased out of the league with all the tall players handling the ball so well on the perimeter. “The other thing I see is getting ready to happen, and Kenny (Smith) this is gonna hurt you and I, the small guards, we’re gonna start getting phased out because McChale, Bosh, Grant – these are the sizes of the point guards coming in.” Then Isiah had an honest moment and said something many of us understand:

“Everybody had big point guards, and it was very controversial to draft me at 6’1…you know, I lied about being 6’1″, everybody got that extra inch. It was controversial to take a small guy at no.2 (in the draft). Then we won and everyone went to the small point guard. I see right now, everybody is sizing up.”

Isiah Thomas, Open Court

There is a trend that happens, someone tries something new, and then other teams assimilate that approach to the game. Isiah’s last sentence points that out. After the Pistons won with him as a point guard, everyone started drafting small players. So while the current trend is length at all positions, it only takes one or two small guards to develop a new style of play and the pendulum will swing another way. The only thing is, it may not swing as far back as you would think. Remember that even in his best days as The King of the Fourth, the Celtics Isaiah Tomas was such a liability on defense that he made sense on the floor only while he was the best fourth-quarter scorer in the history of the NBA. That’s an atomic margin for error from a team-building perspective.

Lying about height is not just a basketball thing. It’s above all, an ego thing. Research on dating apps has shown that women tend to lie about their weight and age, while men lie about their height and income. It aligns perfectly with the images that society projects on us, and NBA players believe it or not, also can be vain. Surprisingly, one of the rare players to probably lie about his height, making himself shorter is the guy who had fake twitter accounts to praise himself and argue with random people online.

Guards usually add an inch or two, while tall players sometimes reduce their height. Both do that because they want to play a certain position. For a guard, being tall enough to play both the one and the two is value-added. For a lot of 7 footers saying you are 6’10” helps you project yourself as a power forward, and a lot of players didn’t want to play the five (see Kevin Garnet). As KD said to Chris Herring from the Wall Street Journal

For me, when I’m talking to women, I’m 7 feet,” he said. “In basketball circles, I’m 6-9. But really, I’ve always thought it was cool to say I’m a 6-9 small forward. 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.

Kevin Durant, WSJ

KD said it best, for women he is 7 feet, for coaches and GM’s he is 6’9″. In the age of advanced analytics, we still haven’t figured out how to measure someone’s height. Go figure.


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