Fans of the ‘Last Dance’ that lived the era will undoubtedly remember the iconic ‘Wings’ poster of Bulls legend Michael Jordan standing – arms fully extended – massive hand palming a bookended basketball. What if our fascination with ‘remakes’ were to reimagine the poster with Kawhi Leonard’s wingspan?
Elite Defense and the Fascination with Wingspan
Jordan stands 6ft 6in and has a wingspan of 6ft 9in. And that poster remains ingrained in the minds of a generation. Long ago molding the idea that wingspan might just be a tremendous value asset in basketball.
In 2014, NBA combine participants averaged an incredible 4.8 inches longer wingspan than their actual height. In the NBA, above-average wingspan has become as important – if not more – than height.
A long wingspan enables players to cut down passing and dribbling lanes, steal the ball, and play defense that prevents opposing players from getting by them. Standing 6ft 7in, Kawhi Leonard’s outstretched reach checks in at 7ft 3in.
Kawhi Leonard’s wingspan has helped make him the NBA’s premier defensive player. The 2015 steals leader and two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, .
Fan Favorite Tacko Fall Wingspan
In 2018, a study by Dr. Tesla Monson revealed that a large wingspan has a direct correlation to athletic performance.
So it is really scary when an NBA player combines unheard of height and unparalleled wingspan. Boston Celtics center Tacko Fall stands an incredible 7ft 5in tall. His wingspan is even more exceptional at 8ft 2.25in.
Not only is he an imposing defensive player and rebounder, but Fall can keep offensive players away from the basket thanks to his width.
But its not just basketball where athletes might gain an advantage over opponents due to the length of their arms.
The Legend of Tennis Great Pete Sampras
Sampras won 14 Grand Slam titles during his illustrious career and was known for an incredible serve. A decade before others would bomb serves approaching 150mph, Sampras’ serve clocked in at 130 mph.
Standing ‘only’ 6ft 1in tall, Sampras possessed a purported wingspan of 7ft. And, a strong serve was only part of the legend’s game. His long wingspan allowed Sampras to reach returns and volleys that a shorter arm length wouldn’t have reached.
Professional Career Over Before it Began?
Buck up! The study did find that not all elite professional sports athletes have above average wingspan. And the average wingspan ‘only’ 2.1 inches longer than his height.
Stephen Curry is one player that possesses a wingspan that is below average for his height. Curry is 6ft 3in tall, relatively small in stature for an elite NBA star, and amazingly, has an arm length of just 6ft 3.5in.
So while the evolution of basketball played on the perimeter has led to a tremendous value for a Kawhi Leonard wingspan, as positionless NBA basketball evolves further, wingspan will likely only become more critical. And anthropometrics like a Kawhi Leonard reach might even become a significant variable in other sports like tennis.