George Bell is someone you can’t help looking up to. Standing at his full height of 7 feet 8 inches, Bell (’82) was named the “Tallest Man in the United States” by the Guinness Book of World Records in November 2007. (The title was later claimed by Ukrainian-born Igor Vovkovinskiy in 2010, though Bell remains the tallest American-born man.) A native of Virginia, Bell transferred to Biola in 1981 for his senior year, where he played as a center on the men’s basketball team. After graduating, he went onto play for several years with the Harlem Globetrotters and Harlem Wizards teams — and also made amemorable, globally televised starring role at the closing ceremonies for the 1984 Summer Olympics. Bell has worked with youth in juvenile detention centers since 1990, and he currently works as a sheriff’s deputy in Virginia. He recently shared some of his story with Biola Magazine.
I left Biola in ’82. I studied therapy and recreation so I took several courses, I guess you could say with the sister major of recreation, basically.
Our [basketball] record was great that year. We went all the way to the national finals. We lost that year to South Carolina I think it was, and we finished up at 33-1.
I had a great coach there, Dave Holmquist, and he really taught me a lot that year. Basically, he really helped my game.
I always had dreams of doing things in life and traveling the world.
Playing for [the Harlem Globetrotters and Wizards teams] gave me an opportunity to travel so much and see parts of the world I never dreamed of seeing. It was wonderful. And playing the sport itself was good. That was a dream of mine to play basketball. I wanted to play NBA but never got an opportunity to play. But at least I feel like I carried my dream about as far as I could.
If you look up the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and the closing ceremonies, you will see the special thing that was done — this alien appeared on top of the [Los Angeles Memorial] Coliseum. And that was me. I did that.
That was a very unique experience. I’ll never forget that. That was as close to Hollywood as I ever experienced in my life. They had to make a body cast and everything else. It took about half the summer to do it.
People try to make life so hard for most tall celebrities, like we are aliens. We are not. We’re just tall.
I’m glad that I have the mentality that I never look at my stature that God gave me as a problem. When people see me they don’t see this struggling, low self-esteem kind of a guy who’s mad at the world, who tries to stay away from people. That is not me. Everything you do, George Bell does it. And that’s how I can make my life as normal and as comfortable because I enjoy having fun. I enjoy being around people.
I began working with the youth in the juvenile detention areas in the state of North Carolina, and I found that was a pretty interesting field. Those kids were really seeking out for someone to love them and to help them and teach them. And as time went on, I did a lot of work with kids. I tried to do as much as I can. I’d go talk to them, visit with them.
Myself and the tallest man in the world got together for a few days last year. He was 8-foot-3, about 27 years old.
It was very unique to meet someone taller than me because I never have met someone who was taller than me. I’ve met guys who were close to my height, maybe an inch or two shorter, but never anyone taller than me. That was the first time in my lifetime, and it was a wonderful experience to see. That was the first time I could look up to a man, standing up. It was a wonderful experience.