Sunday, June 19, 2011

Margo Dydek

A few weeks ago on May 27th former WNBA #1 overall draft pick Margo Dydek passed away from a heart attack. It was a tragic death for many reasons, including the fact that she was just 37 years old. Although her name may not be familiar to average sports fans Margo was one of the most unique basketball players of all time. She was picked first in 1998, and despite leading the league in blocks for many years never quite became a star. Although her stats don't set her apart, something else does: Margo was 7'2". 7'2" is extremely tall for a guy (an inch taller than Shaq), but astoundingly tall for women. If Margo were the same height as a male, how tall would she be?

For people of average height, a good rule of thumb is a +5 inch rule; add five inches to a women's height, and that's roughly how tall she'd be as a man. This would put Margo at 7'7", on par with the two tallest NBA players of all time, Manute Bol and Gheorghe Muresan. It turns out however that the standard deviation of female and male heights is not quite the same. According to a study from the early 90's, American men have an average height of 69.3 inches (5'9") and women average 64.1 inches (5'4") (Margo was actually Polish, but we'll ignore that for now). For men the standard deviation was 2.92 inches, but it was just 2.75 for women. This means that when you get to the upper ranges of height (tall basketball players) it becomes a +6 inch rule, making 7 foot tall men roughly equivalent to 6'6" women.

For Margo, the rule is even slightly higher. With a height of 8 sigma greater than the mean (statistically impossible basically) she outpaces even the tallest male NBA players. This chart shows how she compares to varying men.
Margo's equivalent height among men would've been an amazing 7'8.6". This height was likely less a blessing than a curse though, allowing her to play professional basketball but probably contributing to her health problems. RIP Margo Dydek, the tallest basketball player of all time.
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