He’s too tall.
Simon, a 35-year-old center for Anyang KGC, stands about 6 feet 7 inches, or 202 centimeters. Unfortunately for the Illinois native, who has played multiple seasons with the KBL and leads the league in scoring, he is two centimeters over a new height limit imposed on foreign players. (By comparison, the average height of a center or forward in the NBA is about 6 feet 9 inches, according to a 2016 analysis done by FiveThirtyEight.)
League officials announced last month that teams can have only two overseas players; one cannot be taller than 2 meters, or about 6 feet 6 inches, and the other must be below 6 feet 1 inch, the Korea Times reported. The rule will take effect next season, which begins in October, according to Business Insider.
The announcement has caused tall players, including Simon, to attempt something unheard of in the basketball world: make themselves shorter.
According to the Yonhap News Agency, some KBL teams have instructed players to hold heavy equipment or jog before measurements to decrease their height.
While the strategy may have worked for American Charles Rhodes, who was listed at 200.1 centimeters and managed to measure in at 199.2 centimeters, Simon wasn’t so lucky, according to the Korea Times.
On ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” Simon was asked if he tried slouching or hunching his shoulders during the measuring.
“I tried just to stand normal,” he said. “Playing basketball you always want to be taller, so when I got measured the first time, I was standing as tall as I could. This time I just wanted to stand normal and show that I really wasn’t over the height, or I was close enough to it.”
Despite initially registering at 203 centimeters and reducing his height to 202.1 centimeters, Simon was still barred from continuing to play in the KBL, the Yonhap news agency reported.
In an interview with the BBC, Simon said the decision “stinks.”
“I was a little upset obviously,” he said. “Just to be so close, if you think about two centimeters, I don’t know if you can really measure how small of a distance that really is.”
Simon added that he is not the tallest player in the KBL or even on his team. The league’s tallest player is Ha Seung-jin of Jeonju KCC Egis, who is 7 feet 3 inches tall, according to Korea JoongAng Daily. But since he is Korean, fans can expect to see him on the court next season.
The height restriction that has upended Simon’s career stems from the KBL’s desire to boost its dwindling audiences by recruiting shorter foreign players who may be faster and more skilled, Yonhap reported.
“We set the limit at 200 cm because from our analysis, foreign players who played the best in the KBL were around that height,” KBL Secretary General Lee Sung-han told Yonhap. “We believe this new height restriction will revive the popularity of pro basketball in the country.”
KBL Commissioner Kim Young-il said the league’s games had become dull in recent years as a result of teams’ relying more on tall men. The number of spectators per game last season was about 2,796, declining from 4,372 in 2013-2014, the Korea Times reported.
Smith told the BBC he doesn’t understand the rationale behind the new rule.
“Most of the guys there aren’t super small, or there isn’t that much difference in the skills,” he said, noting that there were only two or three players over the limit.
KBL fans were predictably outraged that one of the league’s stars had been ousted and filed a petition to abolish the height restriction, Yonhap reported. In the 2017-2018 season, Simon was the league’s top scorer, with an average 25.7 points per game.
According to the news site, the petition decried the situation as “an international shame.”
“It’s disgusting that a player like Simon is forced to retire in South Korea because of this ridiculous rule,” the petition said.
Other fans took to social media, posting photos of Simon and bidding the athlete farewell.
On Instagram, one user wrote that Simon was his “basketball role model.”
“Never felt heartbroken and shattered as much as now for an athlete that is leaving,” the post read. “You’ve been always a big inspiration of my life who gave me joy, pleasure and impression through your basketball skills and humanity.”
While returning to the KBL is unlikely, Simon told the BBC that if he’s presented with opportunities to continue playing basketball at a high level, he plans to take them.
“I still feel pretty good,” he said. “I don’t feel like the old guy, even though some people say I am.”
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