“do you play basketball?”
Of all the questions I get asked about my height this is hands down the second most common one whenever I meet someone new.
Even when I’m going about my own business people will come up to me and ask me this question. A few days ago I was in an elevator full of strangers and out of nowhere this one short(er) man turns to me and says “wow, you’re so tall… do you play basketball?“…
At this point I could have responded in 1 of 3 ways:
- Non responsive: smile and ignore him.
- Negative response: turn the conversation back onto him and ask “do you play mini golf?” or “are you a jockey?”.
- Positive response: in a joking / playful way reply “yes, but I’m retired now… my height gave me too much of an unfair advantage” or some other variant.
I have replied in all of these ways in the past, mainly driven by my mood at the point in time when the question is asked. What I’ve found is that strangers mirror their response and attitude towards you based on how you answer their question. A non-response usually makes the situation awkward and the other person look like a fool for trying to make conversation. A negative response usually will annoy the other person (everyone is really sensitive these days) unless they have a great sense of humour. Most times a positive response will break the ice, make everyone feel at ease (that the tall giant isn’t some crazy maniac) and make you less intimidating.
In the elevator situation above, I replied with a positive response, a few people in the elevator laughed and overall the mood and vibe at that moment was happy. Turns out the man who asked me that question was visiting my office for the day and I bumped into him a few more times that day (he ended up working with a work colleague of mine that sits nearby). Had my response to him in the elevator been negative or non response perhaps his overall attitude towards me would have be negative.
It is interesting though that in society it is perfectly acceptable to point out that a person is tall and make the assumption they play basketball. Yet, if I were to ask a short person if they are a jockey or an overweight person if they are training to be a sumo wrestler I would be quickly made into a villain and told that my comments are not acceptable. Double standards anyone?
In my search for answers as to why this might be the case I came across a book called: The Tall Book: A Celebration of Life from on high by Arianne Cohen. In this book Arianne suggests the reason why people automatically associate height with basketball is because starting in around 1975 all major league basketball games were starting to be televised at an increasing rate. By this time most people with a TV at home started to see very tall people being celebrated in front of sold-out basketball arenas. In addition, by 1995 basketball players such as Shaquille O’Neal (7’1″ or 2.16 m) and Shawn Bradley (7’6″ or 2.29 m) were celebrated all over the media and the idea of being very tall was linked to being an amazing athlete.
Thus, the question “do you play basketball” suggests a cultural comfort with tall people. Being associated with playing basketball because of your height is better than being associated with being part of the circus!
At the end of the day I never let this question get to me or allow it to shake my confidence or self-esteem. It’s a fact that tall people can be seen as intimidating to others so by asking this question the person asking may be feeling intimidated, want to break the ice and the best way they know how is to associate height with the preconceived notion of basketball athletes. I take it as an opportunity to practice some witty responses and feel happy that someone sees me as a person of great athletic potential.
What are your thoughts about being asked this question and how do you typically respond? Please share in the comment section below.
Stand tall and be proud.