The tallest player in NBA history is a tie between seven-foot-seven-inch Manute Bol and Gheorge Muresan. Both players played in the 1990s and were considered giants among their peers; peers in themselves who are considered giants among men. But both Bol and Muresan get dwarfed by the tallest player to ever play basketball.
At Eight-foot-four-inches tall, Gilbert "Tiny" Reichert was truly a giant of giants. Reichert played in an era where the average center was maybe six-foot-four or six-foot-five and he towered over players.
Reichert played for a couple of barnstorming teams during the barnstorming era, he most notably played for the House of David Israelite; a barnstorming team made up of mostly people of Jewish decent in and around the Cleveland, Ohio area. The team was unique in that all it's members grew beards. Beard were a rarity in basketball at the time because it was well within the rules to grab and pull on a beard. He also briefly played for a team called the Detroit Clowns.
Before playing basketball Reichert made a living as a circus or sideshow freak. During this time a lot of his physical measurements get confusing with some reports having him listed at over 12 feet tall and others at a more modest 7-foot-six inches tall. The most reliable reports come from the House of David official pamphlets and Reichert himself which state him between 8'1" and 8"4'. It should be noted that he is not listed on the Guinness Book or World Records list for tallest human beings.
The House of David would bring Reichert along due to the attendance he would draw. The House of David was an interesting team in that they were a sideshow comedy act as well as a highly regarded basketball team; think Harlem Globetrotters but playing real teams. In addition to their lengthy beards, the House of David players often had long hair down to their waist.
The tallest recorded basketball player ever is Suleiman Ali Nashnush, a Lybian player who played in the 1960s. If the measurements for Reichert are correct, than Reichert would be the tallest basketball player ever.
It was no surprise that Reichert was tall, both is parents were over six-feet tall and all his siblings were tall with one brother reaching the height of 7'2' or 7'3'' Reichert did marry and fathered at least four children, with a woman of all of five-feet-two inches, and all his children seemed to be of normal sizes; though this cannot be confirmed as they dropped out of public life. The children are of special interest to scientist as this is the only case where a giant has produced children.
A giant is someone who is 8 feet tall or taller, which would certainly include Reichert. People who are at least 8 feet tall suffer from a condition called gigantism, and it often affects their motor skills as well as other organs. It is rare for someone this tall to be able to play sports due to the strain their body puts on the skeleton. Tall NBA players have a history of knee and back issues. Of all the players in NBA history Seven-foot-Six or taller, the only one who did not routinely miss 30% of their games or be forced to retire early due to injuries, is 7'6' Shawn Bradley. Bradley, for as big as he is, is almost a foot shorter than Reichert. Bradley also weighed just 235 pounds compared to Reichert who weighed over 300.
Reichert is often confused with another giant basketball player named "Tiny" Burnett. Burnett had a shorter more basketball focused career, were as Reichert was more of an entertainment act.
In a game against the Hammond All-Americans in 1938, Reichert was a main attraction , and fans cheered when he touched the ball. The game was the All-Americans first ever game and came back in the final minutes to win the game.
The House of David would play an insane number of games by today's standards. In the NBA teams play at most 100 games, that includes pre-season, regular season and a trip to the NBA finals; most play around 90. The House of David would regularly play 200-250 games in a season, sometimes up to three or four a day. Reichert would play in as many as he could, but would often miss lesser marquee games to save his body.
The owner of the House of David, Dempsey Hovland, also owned several other barnstorming teams including an all-girls team. He would have Reichert play for his other teams at times as well.
The House of David began to feel the intense antisemitism that started to permeate the world in the 1940s with the rise of Nazi Germany. The team was scheduled to play in Germany before Adolph Hitler rose to power, but decided against it.
Reichert also played for another comedic barnstorming team called the Detroit Clowns. The Clowns wore clown costumes as they played basketball. This was nothing new to Reichert who had spent many years with real clowns in the circus.
The Clowns were a poor draw and quickly faded into basketball obscurity, but Reichert stayed around basketball and entertainment. In 1952 he appeared in a movie called the Greatest Show on Earth, that same year he was named the tallest man on Earth.
In 1953 he became to coach of the Vagabond Kings, a team that had briefly played in the NBL, a precursor to the NBA, but now was a barnstorming team playing 150 plus games a year all over the country. He coached the Kings only for a few years before retiring to raise his family. There are, however, several media mentions of him in later years with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus.
Gilbert Reichert died at age 48, which is not surprising since many afflicted with gigantism die at an early age. Of every record human being 7'10" or taller, only one has lived by the age of 55 and only Reichert is recorded to have produced offspring. There will always be debate on Reichert's true size, but there is no doubt that he was the first true giant to play basketball.