A hundred years ago, Shaq might have found his calling on the midway, performing as a human oddity. A few hundred years before that, perhaps he’d have made a Potsdam Grenadier, a member of the regiment of tall men collected by Frederick Wilhelm of Prussia in the eighteenth century:

Sublime enough, hugely perfect to the royal eye, such a mass of shining giants, in their long-drawn regularities and mathematical maneuverings — like some streak of Promethean lightning, realized here at last, in the vulgar dusk of things! Truly they are men supreme in discipline, in beauty of equipment; and the shortest man of them rises, I think, towards seven feet, some are nearly nine feet high. Men from all countries; a hundred and odd come annually, as we saw, from Russia… The rest have been collected, crimped, purchased out of every European country, at enormous expense, not to speak of other trouble to his majesty.

Frederick Wilhelm went to great trouble indeed to collect his giant soliders; when recruits and the offerings of tall men from rival potentates weren’t enough, he relied upon a network of agents that kidnapped lanky farmers and priests from throughout Europe. The Potsdam Grenadiers were sketched from memory by the king, used as an honor guard and to impress diplomats, and paraded like toy soldiers (dressed in pointed hats that made them look even taller), but they were never used in actual combat. Morale was low among the Potsdam Grenadiers, and keeping them was proving so expensive that Frederick Wilhelm had contemplated recruiting giant women and breeding a giant race. When Frederick the Great, Frederick Wilhelm’s son, assumed the throne, he simply disbanded the squad and sent them home. Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers G.M., has signed Gary Payton and Karl Malone to play for the Lakers next year; Kings and Mavs fans can only hope that history repeats itself.

When children think of a very large person, they think of Shaq. Shaquille O’Neale stands 7’ 1" tall. Thanks to a nagging toe injury that hampered his training, last season he weighed more than 360 pounds. If a reported weight of 382 pounds before the NBA playoffs was correct, Shaq was the heaviest athlete in professional sports last year (in American major sports, at least; Musashimaru could spot Shaq an Olympic gymnast). And life has been good to Shaq, making him not just wealthy and famous but a film star and recording artist, a man whose exhuberant tastes and daffy immaturities are seized on as somehow meaningful. It’s a better fate than he might have had; a half century ago, Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man, died at the age of 22, slightly under nine feet tall and weighing over 400 pounds. Given that Shaq’s majors crimes seem mostly aesthetic and attitudinal (the latter hardly surprising given that tall people are winners in life), one hopes he’d have met a happier fate.

A hundred years ago, Shaq might have found his calling on the midway, performing as a human oddity. A few hundred years before that, perhaps he’d have made a Potsdam Grenadier, a member of the regiment of tall men collected by Frederick Wilhelm of Prussia in the eighteenth century:

Sublime enough, hugely perfect to the royal eye, such a mass of shining giants, in their long-drawn regularities and mathematical maneuverings — like some streak of Promethean lightning, realized here at last, in the vulgar dusk of things! Truly they are men supreme in discipline, in beauty of equipment; and the shortest man of them rises, I think, towards seven feet, some are nearly nine feet high. Men from all countries; a hundred and odd come annually, as we saw, from Russia… The rest have been collected, crimped, purchased out of every European country, at enormous expense, not to speak of other trouble to his majesty.

Frederick Wilhelm went to great trouble indeed to collect his giant soliders; when recruits and the offerings of tall men from rival potentates weren’t enough, he relied upon a network of agents that kidnapped lanky farmers and priests from throughout Europe. The Potsdam Grenadiers were sketched from memory by the king, used as an honor guard and to impress diplomats, and paraded like toy soldiers (dressed in pointed hats that made them look even taller), but they were never used in actual combat. Morale was low among the Potsdam Grenadiers, and keeping them was proving so expensive that Frederick Wilhelm had contemplated recruiting giant women and breeding a giant race. When Frederick the Great, Frederick Wilhelm’s son, assumed the throne, he simply disbanded the squad and sent them home. Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers G.M., has signed Gary Payton and Karl Malone to play for the Lakers next year; Kings and Mavs fans can only hope that history repeats itself.