A recent blog entry from a company that seems to want to sell information about how to increase your vertical leap provides some data. The quotes are from an article from David Patterson and D. Fred Peterson in Measurement in Physical Education and Exercise Science.
I’ll list the 5th percentile number (the number where 95 percent of subjects exceed the value), the mean number (or average value) and the 95th percentile for both sexes:
Men: 16.5 inches/22.1 inches/28 inches
Women: 10 inches/14.1 inches/19 inches
Note the difference between the 5th percentile for men and the 95 percentile for women. This means that a man who is pretty much in average shape – not overweight but not a trained athlete – can outleap the woman at the 95th percentile value.
It seems that with Britney Griner now becoming a sensation, the haters are moving the goalpost once again.
Initial argument: “Women’s basketball sucks because women can’t dunk.”
Newer argument: “Women’s basketball sucks because the women who can dunk can’t dunk like men.”
Post-Griner argument (brand new): “So Britney Griner throws down? Big deal. She’s 6’8″ tall. She should be able to dunk.”
(I always respond with my “Playboy Dunkers” argument – if everyone in the WNBA looked like a Playboy model and dunked like Superman on crack, the haters would still hate women’s basketball. Their hatred isn’t based in rationality, but in reactionary jerkitude.)
Let’s examine the average NBA player vs. the average WNBA player. The average NBA player is probably around 6’8″ tall. The average WNBA player is about 6 feet or 6’1″.
The height of a rim above the court is 10 feet. A 6’8″ player might have arms which are about 2’6″ long – maybe longer, as basketball is a sport in which a larger reach is more advantageous. (All human proportion figures are from this website, with extrapolation.) Let’s assume that with his arms fully extended, his middle index finger might extend to 9’3″ above the floor. Add the diameter of a basketball ball – about 10 inches – and he needs a 19 inch vertical leap to get at least close to dunking. Lucky that most relatively athletic men should have a vertical leap of 19 inches. If he has long arms, it becomes that much easier.
Let’s look at the 6’1″ woman. Her arms are about 2’3″ long. With her arms fully extended, her index finger might reach to eight feet above the floor. Add the missing two feet and 10 inches, and she needs to be able to jump about 36 inches to dunk – a leap which is fairly routine for some men, who might have vertical leaps exceeding 36 inches, but which would be a ludicrous vertical leap for a woman – theoretically impossible, in fact.
As a matter of fact, let’s go back to the case of Britney Griner. At 6’8″, she also needs to jump about 19 inches in order to dunk. Even for an athletic woman, 19 inches is a very difficult leap, a leaping distance limited only to women which are very fit. Which means that we should expect a few dunks from Britney, but not very many. Still, it’s a lot more than the zero dunks you can expect from her shorter competitors.
As a matter of fact, not every 6’8″ basketball player has dunked.
Maria Stepanova, Haixia Zheng, Razija Brcaninovic, Rhonda Smith, Margo Dydek, Lindsey Taylor, Katie Mattera are the only WNBA players I know in WNBA history who were 6’8″ or taller. None of them ever dunked. Dydek could have dunked – she was 7’2″ tall, for goodness sake – but chose not to, undoubtedly out of fear of hurting herself. (She also seems to have a vertical leap of five inches.)
Lisa Leslie dunked at 6’5″. Candace Parker dunked at 6’4″. They are the only players ever to dunk in a WNBA regular season game. A 6’6″ Sylvia Fowles dunked – on the second try – with everyone agreeing to get out of the way – in the 2009 WNBA All-Star game, an extremely unimpressive dunk. Michelle Snow, who is 6’5″, dunked while she was a player in Tennessee but never in the WNBA.
So Griner’s extra three inches of height above Lisa Leslie not only gives her a major advantage. Furthermore, less than one percent of all the women who have played in the WNBA have been 6’8′ or over – and only one of those was over seven feet tall. Compare that with the NBA. Add the numbers on vertical leap and you’ll see that a dunk is going to be an example of exceptional athleticism in the WNBA – but something so pedestrian in the NBA that the dunkers have to try to add degree of difficulty just to keep it interesting. The haters won’t get it, but anyone with knowledge of how the odds are stacked against female dunkers will be damned impressed.