NBA: Why True Big Men Are Becoming Extinct


The Big Man era began when Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell fought for supremacy. Photo Credit: Kip-koech,

Voting for the NBA All-Star Game proved a sad fact: True big men are becoming extinct.

The definition of a true big man in the NBA is a center that dominates the court with his presence and skill. His stature alone creates nightmares for opposing teams. True big men dominate on both sides of the court.

That isn’t the case anymore.

There’s no need to go back to the days of Bill Russell, Willis Reed and Wilt Chamberlain. You don’t even have to look back during the days of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Let’s reminisce 10 years ago, when Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mounring were rookies. Ten years earlier, centers like Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon dominated the NBA’s infrastructure. All three men were at least 7’0”, 250+ pounds. The man in the middle was just as prominent as any position.

What happened to that big man? When did he start his demise?

Tim Duncan played power forward, then center, for the San Antonio Spurs. Photo Credit: Keith Allison,

The shift became apparent when Tim Duncan arrived in the NBA. Duncan arrived as a seven-footer, but he played power forward for the Spurs. He was partnered with David Robinson, forming the “Twin Towers” of the NBA. No one saw two seven-footers play at the same time since the mid-1980s. That era saw Houston Rockets players’ Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon play power forward and center, respectively.

Duncan occasionally played center in his career. This trend began as some of today’s notable stars, such as Kevin Garnett and Chris Bosh fit that same mold. However, they weren’t and aren’t known as centers. In fact, a true center after the 1990s is O’Neal and his main competition, 6’9” Ben Wallace of the Detroit Pistons.

Shaquille O’Neal was the last great big man, for now. Photo Credit: Keith Allison,

O’Neal was the last great big man of the NBA. Everyone else up and coming after that time doesn’t fit into those standards. Dwight Howard offers a glimmer of hope but isn’t consistent. Tyson Chandler isn’t an all-around player. Al Jefferson, Joakim Noah and Brook Lopez are close, but they don’t fit the mold either, at least not yet.

The All-Star voting omitted the center position for good reason. That era is no more. Big men have been becoming extinct swiftly. Don’t expect another big man to come anytime soon. Analyzing the college scene, it’s obvious that not one college has had a Ewing presence, or one reminiscent of Dikembe Mutombo’s.

It’s a sad time in the NBA for the big men. We might not see another true big man for years. Perhaps that role can be redefined. Who’s to say Noah, Howard and Lopez can’t lead an evolution of the center role?

Only time will tell if big men are becoming extinct.