New Law Passed…Ban All Basketball Players Over 6’7″…Especially Americans

Posted: September 8, 2018 in AVC Men's Basketball


“Small ball” is the new thing in the NBA but you haven’t seen anything yet!

Personal Foul! This League Boots U.S. Basketball Players for Being Too Tall
South Korea seeks to boost local basketball talent and flagging ticket sales by limiting the height of foreign players.

SEOUL— David Simon can no longer play basketball in South Korea. He’s too tall.
Last month, the struggling Korean Basketball League launched a long-shot bid to liven up games with homegrown talent and reverse flagging ticket sales by banning foreign players who surpass 200 centimeters, a hair under 6-foot-7.

Small ball goes abroad.As a result, Mr. Simon, a 6-foot-7 native of Illinois, found himself standing barefoot at KBL’s downtown headquarters to see how he measured up. He was double-teamed by two KBL staffers, who kept a close eye on him: No bending the knees. No drooping the shoulders.  After three measurements that day, Mr. Simon was found a fraction of an inch too tall. He boarded a flight back to the U.S. the next morning.
“I’ve never heard of being too tall to play basketball,” says Mr. Simon, 35 years old, who became a KBL legend after he was too short to play center in the National Basketball Association.

The new ban cuts back on imports of basketball giants. The KBL, which allows only two non-Korean players per team, will limit one of them to 186 centimeters, about 6-foot-1, and a second to 200 centimeters. The goal is to build interest in the game by minting more South Korean stars.
“It’s a matter of survival,” says Lee Sung-hoon, KBL’s secretary-general. He compares the decision with international trade: “[President Donald] Trump says he will make retaliatory trade measures and wants to protect his country’s products. You could say sports is different, but we don’t see it that way.”

Charles Rhodes, a 32-year-old Texan who plays center for the Jeonju KCC Egis, was ecstatic when he was measured at 0.3 inch under the height limit, roughly the thickness of an iPhone. He dropped to his knees in celebration.

Justin Edwards, a guard on the Goyang Orions squad, was previously listed above the 6-foot-1 limit, and he worried about losing his spot on the roster. After a measurement last month, Mr. Edwards came in a whisker below the threshold.  “I wasn’t ever rooting to be shorter until now,” says Mr. Edwards, a 25-year-old Canadian, of Whitby, Ontario. He immediately sent a text to family and close friends: “Oh my god I have great news.”

“From an American perspective, this must be incredibly ridiculous—it’s embarrassing,” says Kim Sae-joung, a sports science professor at Kyungwoon University in Gumi, South Korea, and a former KBL player. “We’re going backwards.”

While leagues in other countries have longstanding height restrictions, the KBL’s policy shift was a surprise. The 82-year-old league commissioner Kim Young-ki gave two explanations: He thought the pace of play was too slow, and he wanted South Korean players to have a bigger influence.

“Basketball centered around players like Shaquille O’Neal is over,” says Mr. Lee, referring to the retired 7-foot-1 NBA superstar. (Mr. O’Neal declined to comment through a spokesman.)
Skeptics point out that while the NBA is enjoying a renaissance of sorts in this era of small ball, that is the result of lumbering players becoming more skilled—not a height limit.
Despite the widespread criticism, Mr. Lee says new rules are backed by a “silent majority” in South Korea.
Three years ago, the KBL knocked foreign players down a peg, imposing a height limit of 193 centimeters, about 6-foot-4, on one of the two foreign player spots. It also limited the time two foreign teammates could be on the court at the same time.

Angry fans have filed around a dozen citizen petitions with the presidential Blue House, demanding the government reverse what they call the “evil” height rule.
“Don’t you think Kim Jong Un would be a better commissioner than Kim Young-ki?” read an online comment on the message board of a KBL fan site, comparing the commissioner with the basketball-crazed leader of North Korea.

If the NBA applied a similar rule, roughly half the league’s players would be looking for other work. Only a fifth of the Golden State Warriors roster, the reigning NBA champions, would be short enough to play.
“The KBL is a bureaucratic nightmare,” says Steve Jantosik, 31, an American attending a KBL game. “The big foreign guys dominate, but the Korean game is already fast-paced. The new rule isn’t going to work.”
The KBL’s height limits are shortsighted, critics say. Attendance for South Korea’s 10-team KBL has slumped, and its TV ratings are a fraction of professional volleyball. Even fans say the country’s pro basketball league is no better than watching a high school game.
During a recent KBL Finals game between the Seoul SK Knights and the Wonju DB Promy squad, fans shuffled quietly into the arena. The loudest pregame cheers were from vendors hawking dried filefish and $9 boxes of fried chicken.

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The height crackdown makes the South Korean basketball league look like a “frog in the well,” says Kim Sang-hoon, 35, a local expression that means an inability to see the big picture.
“Using the KBL’s logic, there should be weight limits, too,” says Mr. Kim, who plays in a South Korean three-on-three basketball league.
Before foreign players came to South Korea, domestic basketball lacked a certain flair, says Lee Chang-hoon, a pharmaceutical sales employee at the recent Finals game. “The crowds want dunks because they look awesome!” says Mr. Lee, 46, making a dunk motion with his right arm.
Mr. Simon was one of those players who became a local favorite. Earlier in his career, his stature was seen as a liability by NBA scouts who worried he wasn’t tall enough for the pros, says Doug Noll, who coached him at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.
Then Mr. Simon landed in South Korea. When he first entered the league, being 6-foot-7 was his big advantage, even if he had shrunk from his college days, when he was listed at 6-foot-10.
“I was trying to be tall,” he says, “because you’d think you’d want to be taller to play basketball.”

—Yun-hwan Chae contributed to this article.  Write to Timothy W. Martin at and Ben Cohen at

Appeared in the April 25, 2018, print edition as ‘Americans Grow Out of Basketball.’


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