The NBA’s tallest rookie is 7 feet 4 inches tall with an 8-foot wingspan, but last year, a series of video clips highlighted his surprisingly nimble, and often shoeless, feet. In one clip, he’s pressing knees and ankles together while wiggling his toes and hopping forward. In another, he’s bear crawling along the baseline. And in yet another, his right heel and left toes are gliding in opposite directions, gym music pounding in the background, as he eases into the splits.
Victor Wembanyama (pronounced wem-ben-YAH-muh), was selected first in last June’s NBA draft at the age of 19. By then, he had played four years of professional basketball in his native France. With a preternatural blend of size, athleticism, and skill, Wembanyama is routinely described as a generational talent. And if the toe-exercise videos are any indication, his trainers appear determined to protect that talent: Sports medicine experts say that long limbs and feet—Wembanyama’s shoe size is 20.5—confer potential physical vulnerabilities.
Leg, arm, and foot bones all function like levers, and the longer they are, the more force is needed to stabilize them. Tall athletes may find it harder to control their movement as they land from a jump or quickly shift direction. Seven-footers, of course, aren’t the only athletes who get hurt while playing. Across the NBA, injuries are on the rise, with knee, ankle, and foot problems leading the way. Anecdotally, physicians and trainers also report seeing children, some as young as 10 years old, with severe sports-related injuries and chronic wear-and-tear that was once seen mainly in adults.
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