Michael Jordan was one of the most sensational dunkers in NBA history. But how does his vertical leap stack up?
Statistically speaking, Michael Jordan’s accomplishments are legendary — 32,292 points (fifth all-time), and top-10 all-time rankings in both steals and free throws. No one has ever scored more points in an NBA playoff game (63) or led the league in scoring more often (he did it 10 times). But Jordan also played in an era before some of the statistical measures we consider canon were regularly available.
Things like shot location data weren’t collected until his time with the Washington Wizards and the NBA‘s database of Draft Combine measurements only go back to 2000. Because of this, we don’t know how high Jordan could actually jump and his vertical leap has become something of an urban legend.
How high was Michael Jordan’s vertical leap?
Recently a poster on NBA Reddit took a swing at calculating it from other publicly available measurements. The back-of-the-envelope calculation relies on an anecdote about Jordan being able to get his entire hand above the square of the backboard. It then works backward with things like his listed height without shoes (6-foot-5), his wingspan (6-foot-11) and hand length (9.75 inches) to arrive at an estimate of 43.75 inches.
That’s well below other reported numbers. Reliable sources are hard to find but Jordan’s vertical was often mentioned to be 48 inches and at least one article I found said that it was once measured at 46 inches while he was at North Carolina. This new Reddit post is certainly not the only amateur sleuthing that’s been done on the question and it’s unfortunately no more definitive than anything else. However, we can use some of the reliable measurements in the modern Draft Combine database to put those various measures in context.
Only five players, going back to 2000-01, have tested with a max vertical leap of 44 inches or higher at the combine. (Shouts to Kenny Gregory, who was an absolute legend). If Jordan’s vertical was actually 46 or 48 inches it would be, by a wide margin, the highest recorded. The number our NBA Redditor arrived at seems much more plausible and much less urban legend, but honestly, who knows?