I calculate the force that Zion Williamson’s vertical jump generates. This will showcase his unworldly athletic gift while weighing near 300 pounds.
Zion weighs a massive 285 pounds according to most new’s outlets and is only 6’6″ tall. Yet, he remains agile and fast like a 200-pound player.
Imagine Michael Jordan trapped inside the body of the largest NFL tight end player. That’s Zion!
Even among the best of the best in the NBA, Zion stands out.
I’ve never seen a body type like his at 18 years old. As Steven A. Smith on ESPN shouts, you can’t teach 285.
Zion Williamson is in a league of his own
Zion’s combination of size, strength, and leaping ability separates him from his peers.
I’ve been an NBA fan for as long as I can remember. I can’t recall ever seeing a player like Zion.
Most recently Lebron James compares the best. He stands 6’9” tall and weighs between 250 to 260 pounds.
But, Lebron weighs less at 35 years old and 3 inches taller. Even at his heaviest when playing for the Miami Heat, Lebron didn’t weigh 285 pounds.
Looking at the below graph, you can see the average weight of NBA players throughout the years. Zion weighs 60 plus pounds more than today’s average NBA player.
Then compared to NBA players from the 1950s, Zion weighs 100 pounds more.
For this reason, I’m utterly fascinated by the physics of his body.
For example, how he instantly gets his large body mass so high off the ground. Zion makes a second jump, as his opponents still recover from their first jump.
So, let’s find out how much force Zion Williamson’s vertical jump generates. This will show how even as a teenager he bullies grown men in the NBA.
Measuring Zion Williamson’s vertical jump
For our analysis, we need to first analyze Zion’s peak jump. We’ll rewind to his days at Duke to gather our data.
Zion Williamson’s vertical jump at Duke’s combine showed he cleared a vertical leap mark of 40-inches. This vertical measurement includes him taking a couple of steps before his jump.
To use an exact number in our analysis, we’ll go with what his Duke coach, Mike Krzyzewski, said. Coach Krzyzewski said Zion Williamson’s max vertical jump topped a whopping 45-inches.
I’ve seen Zion’s head above the rim when he jumps. He does this even without a running head start.
Now, did the camera play tricks on me? Let’s do some quick math to find out.
The basketball rim is 120-inches off the ground. Zion stands 79-inches tall in shoes.
So, to get his head above the rim he needs to jump at least 41-inches off the ground. Very doable!
Vertical jump of Zion Williamson compared to Michael Jordan
As a perspective, let’s review one of the greatest NBA leapers of all time, Michael Jordan. Jordan’s vertical jump with a running head start measured in at 45.76-inches. The University of North Carolina made this measurement in 1983.
At the time of measurement, Michael had just turned 20. So, near Zion’s age.
Around the same time in the 1984 NBA draft, Michael Jordan measured in at 6’6” tall in shoes. He weighed a slim 195 pounds.
In height, both Zion and Michael measure roughly the same. But, Zion weighs a solid 90 more pounds than Michael did.
So, Zion needs to lift an extra 90 pounds off the floor when he jumps.
To illustrate, go to the supermarket and pick up 5 pounds of beef. Then imagine walking around with the 5 pounds of beef glued to you.
In short, Michael Jordan has a greater vertical jump than Zion Williamson. But, given Zion’s NFL body frame, I find Zion’s jumping ability more impressive.
The total calculated force generated by Zion Williamson’s vertical jump
It’s important to realize I need to make several assumptions in my calculations.
Given the limited data I have on Zion, my assumptions are critical. Plus, my assumptions will simplify my calculations without losing much accuracy.
I’ll go over each of my assumptions in my calculations below.
With that out of the way, let’s get started and do some math.
Step #1: Calculate Zion’s velocity when he leaves the floor
When Zion jumps leaving the floor, think of him as a projectile. As a result, we can use a kinematic equation to calculate his upward velocity.
What is a kinematic equation? the study of motion, without considering the forces that cause the motion. So, these equations focus on position, velocity, and acceleration only.
= final velocity (meters/second)
= initial velocity (meters/second)
= acceleration (meters/second2)
= displacement, or in our case how high Zion jumps (meters)
When Zion reaches his max height above the floor, his velocity becomes 0. Here he reaches the apex of his jump, while not moving any higher. So, .
Assumption: I’m assuming Zion jumps 45-inches, or 1.143 meters, off the floor. This according to his college coach who spoke of Zion’s max vertical jump.
Also, the acceleration due to gravity acts in the opposite direction of Zion’s jump. Thus, we assume a negative value for ‘a’ or gravity, ‘g’. So,
Step #2: Calculate Zion’s acceleration while he straightens his legs
Here we calculate Zion’s acceleration right before he leaves the floor in his jump.
For this calculation, we need to know how low Zion squats before he jumps. This information I don’t have.
Assumption: I took 2 still screenshots from a Zion Youtube video. The video shows Zion attempting his max vertical jump at Duke.
One screenshot shows Zion at his lowest point squatted down. The next screenshot shows him at the apex of his jump.
I’ll use both of these screenshots to measure how low Zion squats before pushing off the floor.
Screenshot #1: Zion’s body completely stretched out
At the apex of his jump, Zion’s body completely stretches out. Also, I know from his Duke measurements, Zion’s standing reach measures 8’7″ or 2.616 meters
Thus, I assumed Zion from his feet to the top of his fingers measures 2.616 meters in this screenshot.
Next, in my own unitless measurement, I convert the 2.616 meters to 100.
Screenshot #2: Zion’s body squatted at the lowest point
Now, using my unitless measurement of 100 as a guide, Zion squatted down measures to 62.38.
I made this measurement using simple digital measuring software. This was possible because both screenshots have the same fixed camera angle.
Using some math, I convert this unitless 62.38 measurement to meters.
Since Zion stands 6’7″ tall in shoes or 2.007 meters, I can calculate how far he lowers his body.
meters or 14.8 inches.
Finally, I calculate Zion’s acceleration as he straightens his legs. Thus, going from his squat position to right before he leaves the floor.
We then reuse Zion’s calculated initial velocity from Step #1 when he leaves the floor. This value now becomes Zion’s final velocity before he leaves the floor.
So, . Also, because initially Zion is not in motion.
Now, I reuse the same kinematic equation we used before.
Step #3: Calculate the force Zion exerts on the ground in his jump
Zion weighs 285 pounds or 129.274 kilograms.
We know the net force equation is .
Using the information I have, I can now calculate the force Zion exerts in his jump. Here I’ll use Newton’s Third Law of motion.
This law states that for every action, we’ll have an equal and opposite reaction.
With Zion, the force applied to the ground must equal the sum of the net upward force he generates. Plus, his downward bodyweight pulling him down.
Using some math and plugging in our values, we now can calculate Zion’s generated force.
Visualizing the force generated by Zion Williamson’s vertical jump
Zion exerts a force of 5,134.25 newtons against the ground when jumping his highest. To appreciate this number, we need to better visualize the newton unit.
A newton measures how much force you apply to something.
Here are two examples to help you visualize this force:
- 1000 newtons of force is the same as a 102 kilogram or 225-pound person standing on top of you.
- Find a 510-kilogram or 1,125-pound weight and lift it. That’ll need a force of 5,000 newtons.
So clearly, Zion generates an unworldly amount of force in his jump.
Even more, Zion will continue to physically grow and better learn his body. So, our calculated 5,162.0 Newton value may increase.
Can Zion Williamson generate even greater force when jumping?
Zion already creates more force in his jump than I think we’ve ever seen in an NBA player. And all as a teenager too.
I know opposing players don’t want to see him any bigger and stronger. He already plays bully ball with grown men.
As a professional now, Zion will fine-tune his body in the following ways:
- Weight training
- Jumping technique
This will allow Zion to better leverage his natural talents. In the end, it comes down to basic physics.
So, I can see Zion Williamson’s vertical jump increasing. I’ll go over 2 possible scenarios in how he can pull this off.
Scenario #1: squatting lower before jumping
If Zion can crouch a little lower, he can possibly create even more force in his jump. Think of a spring.
The more you compress a spring, the higher it’ll bounce. The same applies to humans to a certain extent.
Limits exist with the human body of course. You can’t compress a body down too much due to physical-biological limitations.
But, let’s go back and look at Zion’s squatting screenshot from Step #2. I can see Zion being able to squat lower. Not too much though.
This lower squat position with his ability to contract his leg muscles fast may do the trick.
Of course, the involvement of his arms and core is critical in his jump too. But that’s for a different discussion.
Scenario #2: losing body fat
If Zion loses body fat and becomes a chiseled 260 pounds. He can then possibly jump even higher.
Imagine Zion getting his 260-pound frame near 50 inches off the ground.
Remember, Michael Jordan had a 45.76-inch vertical jump back in his college days. Later in his career, his vertical jump reached a mind-boggling 48-inches. This according to his trainer Tim Grover.
Keep in mind, Tim was selling his Michael Jordan book at the time of this claim. So maybe, he exaggerated a little.
Regardless, with Zion, I can see him jumping higher. By losing his baby fat, he’ll have less mass to lift off from the ground.
Can Zion Williamson’s body handle the force he generates?
The big question around Zion’s career is if his body can handle the force he generates. Plus, he plays every game at 100 miles per hour.
Yes, Zion generates a lot of force when he jumps as we calculated. But, he also generates a lot of force as he slashes through the lane, and when he lands after jumping.
Even more, when he lands on one foot after jumping near 4 feet in the air.
So, Zion’s insane superhuman abilities don’t come without risk. His body is the same flesh like you and me.
Some of the things that concern me include:
- His entire weight from 60 plus inches high landing hard on the ground. Imagine Zion curling his body up after a dunk as he swings on the rim. Then he releases and hits the ground hard.
- Landing awkwardly with all his mass on one foot after a dunk.
- Slashing the lane and quickly changing directions at his weight. This type of movement places a lot of strain on the knees, especially the ACL.
This all becomes a bigger concern too if his athleticism continues to improve. I hope his body holds up for his sake and all NBA fans.
Zion’s body withstanding his unworldly power
Some bodies genetically can’t handle the excess strain. Not every player can have a long injury-free career like Lebron James. Lebron is on his 17th season with little to no injuries on his record.
In short, for Zion to have a long and healthy career he needs to do the following:
- Eat healthy to keep his body weight down and reduce internal inflammation.
- Constantly exercise to stay in shape. He needs to do cardio to maintain his athleticism and keep his body weight down.
- Improve his jumping technique.
- Reduce unnecessary high-impact actions on the court. For example, he doesn’t need to dunk with all his strength with every dunk opportunity.
All in all, he needs to keep his body weight in check. The higher his body weight climbs, the greater force he’ll place on his joints and tendons.
The human body didn’t evolve for constant explosive jumping and slashing.
The evolution of the modern athlete
With sports science leading the way, athletes have become bigger, faster, and stronger. NBA players today physically look different than players from 50 years ago.
Also, people, in general, have physically advanced. Better genes, improved healthcare, and advanced weight training and nutrition have revolutionized athletics.
The graph below shows the progression of height in the NBA. Keep in mind in recent years, NBA teams now play more small ball.
As a result, the height data is slightly on average lower today. Teams today prefer better shooting and more skilled players. Usually, these aren’t the 7-footers who were the cornerstone of older teams.
Even more, basketball today is a global sport. The pool of athletes NBA teams can choose from is much deeper than years before.
Not to mention, parents today start grooming future athletes when they’re toddlers. I’ve never seen the competition for athletics be this high before.
Further, we need to consider the following non-conventional factors in the future too:
- Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED)
- Gene editing
- Bionic humans
Performance Enhancing Drugs
PEDs play a large part in every sport today. We can pull the blanket over our eyes, but they still exist.
Think of steroids, growth hormone, blood doping, and the list goes on.
The questions that I think of include:
- Will PEDs ever become legal in pro sports?
- What happens when certain PEDs become completely untraceable in the human body? In other words, blood and urine testing won’t detect them.
- Where will we draw the line in classifying PEDs? Will an over-the-counter pain med like Tylenol become classified as a PED?
Once we can edit genes, I think athletics will forever change. What would competition even mean at that point?
We could create the perfect athlete in the lab. Perfect height, weight, strength, speed, and so on.
At that point, the mind may only remain as the last competitive advantage. Think of an average person versus a fierce competitor like Michael Jordan.
Merging machines with humans. Like gene editing, machines will bypass human evolution.
With all types of engineering advancing, athletics will improve too. Athletes will one day have the ability to instantly level themselves up.
Not even gene editing could then keep up. Think of someone like Zion, but without the scare of injuries.
Load management wouldn’t even concern players any longer. Players could play hard every night.
Zion Williamson taking the NBA by storm
Playing in the NBA comes with a lot of money and fame. So naturally, almost everyone in the world would love to play in the NBA.
This creates fierce cut-throat competition to make the league.
That said, every person who can play in the NBA, already plays in the NBA today. It doesn’t matter which corner of the globe you live in. If you can play, the NBA will find you and give you a contract.
With this in mind, the NBA roster list in 2018-19 included only 494 total players.
Now, even with only the best of the best playing in the NBA, Zion still sticks out like a sore thumb. Physically, Zion just looks different even as a teenager.
Kind of like how Shaq, Lebron, and Michael Jordan stood out. Each of these players had a unique set of physical gifts that set them apart.
Zion is a once-in-a-generation athlete whose love for the game is contagious. I not only watch his games for instant highlights but also to see how far the human body can go.
As an NBA fan, I hope to see Zion Williamson’s vertical jump increase as he stays healthy for many years to come.
Can you see Zion Williamson’s vertical jump increasing? Do you foresee any injuries for Zion with the way he plays?
Featured Image Photo Credit: Keenan (image cropped)
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.