I knew Olivier Rioux was 7-foot-6 of course.
I had read about him and watched viral clips of him playing on the basketball court with much smaller teammates. I had spoken to his father many times about how their youngest son continued to surprise everyone with his non-stop growth. I asked what it was like to have a family member in the Guinness Book of World Records and what it was like managing a 17-year old’s schedule around a surge in media attention.
I guess I just didn’t realize what it would be like to stand beside someone 7-foot-6? I was in awe.
I’m 5-foot-4 by contrast. My whole life has been seen from this perspective. Life is kind of designed for people between five and six feet really. Cars, beds, doors, windows street signs, even the height of tree branches along a sidewalk. Something I hadn’t even considered until we walked through the heart of Montreal with Olivier and I watched him duck constantly because branches kept hitting his head.
7-foot-6 is rare. Only six other players in the NBA have reached this height and Olivier Rioux is officially the “Tallest Teenager in the World”, according to Guinness, and still appears to be growing. Doctors thought he might hit 6-foot-5 but they were off, by a lot. He comes by it naturally; his entire family is tall. His father is 6-foot-8 his mother is 6-foot-1 his and his older brother is 6-foot-9.
Olivier is also healthy. He has had minor injuries along his growth chart but he’s playing high intensity basketball year-round, so with athletics come injuries. He smiles a lot, and when I met him, this immediately warmed us to his gentle disposition.
Over the course of four months, I would see Olivier four times in four cities. I wanted to have a real perspective of what it was like navigating life at this height. What struck me was his patience, his kindness towards strangers, and his comfort in his own skin.
Olivier plays basketball for Team Canada, Team Quebec, and is a student athlete at IMG Academy in Florida. He is a spectacle on the court even amongst other very tall players. Ignoring the gawking attention and focusing on his game was evident when I watched him play at the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games.
A few things stuck out. Olivier often needs to sit on two chairs when he’s side court between rotations in game or practice. He’s simply that big. His shoes are massive, size 20, even standing in a line of ballers, this stands out. And, when Olivier high five’s his teammates, he needs to lower his hand. Olivier never has anyone to “high” five. I think that would be hard.
Hanging out with Olivier at his home was refreshing. A typical teenager, he came downstairs after sleeping in, he wanted to make us a banana oatmeal omelette he had perfected after watching a cooking clip on TikTok. As he walked around his kitchen it was easy to see the benefits of his extreme height. All of those high cupboards most of us either don’t use or need a chair to reach, he used frequently and with ease.
He hung out casually with his older brother, showed us his sketches and graphic designs, he loves art.
We told him about how we really wanted to introduce him to another tall NBA player and a few months later we did that. In Chicago, connecting Olivier with Canadian basketball icon Bill Wennington was special. Wennington won three NBA Championships with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990’s with the dynasty that included Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman.
Olivier had never been to Chicago, he hadn’t been to an NBA game and he definitely hadn’t met another 7-foot-tall legend. For two days Bill Wennington and Olivier had a chance to compare their unique footprint in sport and in life. In the stadium hundreds approached Olivier for pictures and asked how tall he was and if he was in the NBA. He took it all in stride, a big one.
And while strangers approached Olivier and Bill on the court before and after the game, Olivier just wanted to get a picture with the Bulls Mascot –- they were about the same height.
The future is wide open for this 17-year-old. His eyes are set on NCAA hoops and at IMG Academy in Florida he has an incredible opportunity to learn and train with the best. On campus, everyone knows Olivier and his school friends and teammates don’t ask him for pictures or how tall he is, he’s fits in without a spectacle. You can feel the exhale from him there.
I didn’t take a single picture with Olivier until the end of filming and when Kirk our director of photography and I said our goodbyes and after the fist pumps and best wishes, he said let’s get a picture with the Florida palm trees. I said ok, just one, and made sure we were all sitting down, I wanted this one to be about us, and not the height