The freaks are now legion in the NBA, but were much less numerous in the league during the ’90s. A player of nearly 2m35 however almost evolved there at that time, before his North Korean nationality came to hinder his path.
At a time when the pivots globally dominated the circuit, the NBA franchises engaged in a veritable arms race in the paint. The 1990s therefore gave pride of place to gigantic big men, with Manute Bol and Gheorghe Mureșan well established in the league’s rackets. From the height of their double meter 31, the two colossi could even have faced an opponent even taller than them.
Dreams and geopolitics: the sad fate of the giant Michael Ri
As the NBA gradually began to open up to the Asian market, a North Korean international was close to becoming the first representative of his continent. Ri Hyung Mun, 2m34, thought he could join the highest league on the planet, and face Dennis Rodman, among others, whom he later met in his native country.
Spotted by an American agent in 1998, Ri Hyung Mun immediately went to Canada, where he changed his name to Michael Ri, in tribute to his favorite player, Michael Jordan. Very quickly coveted in North America, he thought he was about to realize his dream, and to be recruited in the NBA. This, before the legislation of the United States prevents it from doing so on the background of geopolitical conflict.
Indeed, while the league had given its approval for it to evolve on its floors, Michael Ri saw the American Department of Foreign Affairs deprive him of this chance. The latter considered that his arrival would violate the “Trading with the Enemy Act”, which prevents companies from doing business with North Korea. The titan therefore had to abandon his plans and return home, despite a size that predestined him for a bright future abroad!
With his extraordinary physique, Michael Ri seemed destined to join the NBA, until the tense context between the United States and North Korea interfered in this file. Enough to make it one of the most unique what-ifs in history!