The highest I’ve seen Lebron get is his head to the top of the rim.
It’s possible he can jump higher than this. That he’s only jumped this high in a game because there is no extra benefit in getting higher. But I think this probably right about his limit. In his indefatigable quest to disappoint people, he’s never done a slam dunk contest. So games are all we have to go by. But as likely the most videoed athlete of all-time, I’d be surprised if someone hasn’t caught him getting higher than the rim by this point.
Lebron is listed everywhere at 6’8″, except for draft express, a repository of NBA draft information. They have him listed as 6’7.25″, but 6’8″ with shoes on. Draft information is often the most accurate. Nobody wants misinformation when millions of dollars are on the line. But Lebron was only 18 at the draft, so he may have grown a little post-draft. We’ll say he’s 6’8″, and add an extra inch for footwear. If you look at enough draft profiles, an inch give or take a quarter inch, is typically what these guys gain from footwear.
The rim is 10 feet high.
- 6’9″ = 81 inches
- 10′ = 120 inches
- 120 inches – 81 inches = 39 inches.
This is not Lebron James’ vertical jump. A pure vertical jump is with no run up.
This 39 inches would be “vertical jump with run up.”
Or the difference between a vertical jump with no step and one with multiple steps. Multiple step vertical jumps are often as many steps as the person wants.
This matters because 1) there is a lot of misinformation on this. When describing Lebron’s vertical jump, Business Insider wrote he can get to 40 inches, while the NBA average is 28. Because Business Insider is attracted to hyperbole like ants to sugar, they are misreporting.
Look at all the vert with steps -“Max Vert”- numbers from the NBA combine this year, and you’ll see one guy is below 28. The average is certainly not 28:
If we look at max vert numbers from all the combines, which is going to include lesser players than only the official combine, a huge majority are still above 28:
The guys not from the NBA combine are unlikely to make the NBA, and bottom barrel of jumpers are the guys least likely to be in the NBA, not the most likely, which is what would need to occur for the average to only be 28.
2) There is going to be a difference between the two jumps. A standing jump is going to cover less vertical distance. How much depends on 3) some guys jump much, much better off one foot than two. A vertical jump with no step, to be at all decent, requires a two footed jump. A vertical jump with a run up can go with one or two feet.
Some people just cannot jump off two feet, but can still get up there off one, with a run up. I’m personally like this. My roommate in college, who I also went to high school with, was a very fast guy, and won the state long jump. He couldn’t jump for shit off two feet. If you only measured his vertical jump with no step, he was mediocre. Get him off one foot, like sprinting or a long jump, and he was in the top 1%.
The freaks can do it all. They can not only jump off both feet at the same time, they can get up off their right or left leg. If you’ve ever examined jumping in some detail, and came across someone like this, it’s truly unusual. There really aren’t many of these people out there. I played with one guy who could do this in high school. He’s the only one I’ve personally known who could do it all, and do it very well.
Lebron James rarely 1) jumps off two feet 2) can’t jump off his right foot. When he needs to get up there, he has a main go-to: his left foot. This is pretty common for 1) right handed people 2) guys who are more “plyo” people opposed to “strength” people. (Kelly Baggett has good info on this.)
What’s a typical difference between no step jumping and multiple step jumping?
Let’s put Lebron in the upper echelon of jumpers. For these guys, what’s a typical difference between different styles of jumping?
Looking at the top jumpers of the 2015 NBA combine:
Type- Vertical, no steps | Vertical, multiple steps
1) J. Anderson 38 1) P. Connaughton 44
2) P. Connaughton 37.5 2) J. Threatt 43
3) J. Williams 35 3) J. Anderson 43
4) K.T. Harrell 35 4) M. Thornton 43
5) K. Oubre 34.5 5) K. Sykes 43
6) J.P Tokoto 34.5 6) R. Boatright 41
7) J. Young 34.5 7) N. Powell 40.5
8) M. Thornton 34.5 8) J. Young 40.5
9) K. Sykes 34 9) J.P. Tokoto 40
10) K. Cochran 34 10) M. Qualis 39.5
First, basketball players really are not great vertical jumpers unless they have a run up. My college football team would easily have had five of the top spots in the vertical jump with no step. And I only played D-1 AA. For comparison, the top ten vertical jumpers at the 2015 NFL combine. This is no run up:
1. C. Conley 45
2. B. Jones 44.5
3. A. Abdullah 42.5
4. D. Tull 42.5
5. B. Dupree 42
6. J. Strong 42
7. K. Bell 41.5
8. R. Darby 41.5
9. K. Johnson 41.5
10. D. Johnson 41.5
Nobody in the top 10 of the NBA draft would even be in the top 10 of the NFL draft. The NFL has more than 15 guys over 40 inches! The NBA has zero! That’s not “NFL players are somewhat better jumpers than NBA players,” that’s “NFL players destroy NBA players in vertical jumping.”
Second, for the NBA combine, Lebron wouldn’t make the top 10 on the vertical jump with run up. In what is his strongest form of jumping, plenty of others get higher than him.
Third, we already know when Lebron or reporters say he can jump 40 inches, (t)he(y) means with a run up, or they don’t know what they’re saying, or they’re lying, or he does what no one else does, which is jump higher without a run up. (He doesn’t.)
Fourth, only five names make both lists for the NBA combine. Even for those who make both, there are sizable differences between the two:
- J. Anderson +5 (gains 5 inches when using a run up)
- J.P. Tokoto +5.5
- J. Young +6
- P. Connaughton +6.5
- K. Sykes +9
Let’s look at how much of a drop off there is for the top guys in the multiple steps category, who aren’t in the no steps top 10. We could call this group “those who get a lot out of a run up”:
- J. Threatt goes from 32 to 43 inches (9)
- M. Thornton 34.5 to 43 (8.5)
- R. Boatright 32 to 41 (9)
- N. Powell 32.5 to 40.5 (8)
-> I took out M. Qualis because his max vert with no steps is 34, putting him in the top 10 of both groups.
That’s an average difference of 8.6 inches. By jumping from a standstill with two feet, these guys, on average, jump 20% less. I highly suspect Lebron fits right into this group. Again, he rarely relies on jumping off two feet, unless he has to. (Minimal run-up.) Even in what is his most famous two footed jump, his block on Tiago Splitter, his head is nowhere near as high as it gets in his left footed take off:
His head doesn’t reach the backboard, never mind the rim. The Tiago Splitter block also has a brief run up before the vertical. This little bounce only helps:
Watching some his best blocks, where he’s more likely to jump off two feet, the backboard, give or take a little, is as high as I’ve seen him get.
-> If you feel you see him get higher, does he have an even greater run up than the Splitter block? Which is as much a pure vertical I’ve seen from him. And don’t forget low camera angles make a person seem higher than they are.
The height of the backboard is ~114 inches. Six below the rim.
Lebron is getting ~3 inches below the backboard in the Splitter block. Six inches below the rim + three inches below the backboard = Lebron nine inches below the rim. We could conceivably say,
- 39 inches – 9 inches = 30 inch vertical off two feet with a brief run up
Let’s go back to percentage differences. We saw a 20% drop-off was the average for those who get a lot out of a run up. For James’ sake, if it were only a 15% difference:
- 39 inches * 0.15 = 5.85
- 39 – 5.85 = 33.15 inches
We’ll call it 33 inches, with that more than likely being generous. I’d be surprised if it were below 30, as 9 inches seems to be a rough max for how much of a drop off a guy will get.
Keep in mind, 15% is what the top jumpers are experiencing, such as P. Connaughton (jumps higher than James) and J.P. Tokoto. J. Anderson is at 12%. At 20%, Lebron’s vertical would be more like 31 inches.
30-33 inches for Lebron James’ vertical jump seems right.
Is Lebron really that athletic?
30-33 inches is the land of “meh” jumping ability. Put more bluntly, plenty of white dudes can hit this. Matt Leinart and Tim Tebow jumped higher than this!
At 39 inches, Lebron James would almost be in the top 10 for a vertical jump with run up, in the NBA. (NFL players would likely whoop him.) This is only in comparison to 2015. In 2015, 2014 and 2013, he wouldn’t have made the top 10. While Lebron can jump, plenty can jump as well, or better, than he can. Every year, between only the NFL and NBA combines, there are probably ~30 guys who can jump higher than he can. Maybe 40-50 who can jump as high or higher. It’s hardly worth fretting over Lebron’s jumping ability. The only admiration we should have here is the admiration we have for all athletes at this level: In comparison to the general population, these guys are very rare.
Nobody in the top 10 of the vertical jump in 2015 come anywhere near Lebron’s height though. Going back to 2008, I count only six guys from the NBA combine who can jump like him and are of a similar height. The fact he is the size he is, and can jump, is where he stands out. (NFL players included.) His athleticism in itself is not that impressive, unless you consider his size as well. (Even so, he does have a few peers.) This is interesting because size isn’t really an athletic measurement by itself. Nobody says bodybuilders are athletic. Nobody says seven footers are athletic purely based on being seven foot. Contrast this to speed. If you’re very fast, you’re already considered to be a certain degree of athletic.
This is where one could conceivably debate how good of a pure athlete Lebron really is. Many have said he’s the best pure athlete of all-time. I’ve even thought that at times. For a long time, many referenced Lebron was a better athlete than basketball player. This is primarily because of what was for a long time, a pretty poor jump shot. It’s still not great -e.g. his three point shooting is below the NBA average- nor is his free throw shooting (hasn’t improved ever), but his field goal shooting overall has improved.
Based on the above though, one could argue Lebron isn’t that great of an athlete compared to his peers. He’s a freak amongst regular people, but athletically, plenty are at his level, or above. (Same thing with Adrian Peterson.) Of course, there is more to athleticism than jumping. For those who can jump like him, can they run like him, do they have his hand-eye coordination? Even with all that, there’s probably at least one Lebron type on every NFL team, if not more. And at least one similar guy in the NBA draft every year (on average). The guy I played with in high school, who could jump off either or both feet, and as high as Lebron, never made it to the NBA or NFL. He didn’t even start on our high school team. Maybe Lebron should have gotten more credit for his basketball prowess early on.
The other argument here is Lebron is damn lucky. Most athletes at this level are, but Lebron is an extreme case. Somehow, he got the perfect mixture of height and jumping ability for basketball. Plenty of his peers are his height and size, plenty jump as well as him; very few have both. If you got to build a player from the neck down, it’d probably look like him. Combine this with staying healthy, going to prep school, being on a good enough team with good enough coaching to win state championships, finding the right woman as a teenager (don’t underestimate the significance of this- many careers are distracted, if not derailed, by chasing tail)…If you could build a player from the neck down, and got to dictate his upbringing, it would probably still be Lebron.
-> The poverty argument doesn’t hold. Lebron was so famous so young, compared to other guys, I don’t think he had it that bad. When you’re 6’8″, 250lbs at 18 years old, you can’t be too short on things. It takes adequate nutrition, and what couldn’t have been too much stress, to get that big.
Having some disadvantages in one’s youth can, long-term, prove advantageous. It provides that metaphorical hunger which is hard to emulate when you already have everything. Lebron may have had just the right mix of all this growing up. Enough to not be short on basic resources, but not too much to miss the hunger. “Give them enough to do anything, but not so much they do nothing.” (Warren Buffet on giving his kids money.)
Watching Lebron into his 30s will be interesting, because that jumping (and running) ability is going to go at some point. I think this period may be the most appropriate time to compare him to Jordan, and his true ability as a basketball player. If he can still dominate with his skill, then fair enough. But I’ve yet to see that guy dominate a series with his skill and not his physicality. Jordan made this transition (and dominated with his psyche, something Lebron straight-up doesn’t have), as did Kobe (also with his psyche, although it’s proven to be detrimental as nobody wants to play with Kobe now), we’ll see if James can.
My hunch is at some point, teams won’t have to bother with having a smaller guy guard Lebron, worrying about his driving ability. Plenty of teams are already willing to let him take jump shots all day, as his lack of shooting ability seems to take care of itself. Once they don’t have to worry about him blowing by people, they’ll be able to right away put a bigger body on him. I doubt Lebron is, on a regular basis, going to do damage when people his size are guarding him in the post, but who knows.
It’s like how Shaq is judged. People can’t mention him without mentioning his physical stature. He is considered a force of nature more than a skilled basketball player. There’s no clinic you can go to to learn how to play like Shaq. Tim Duncan on the other hand…