NORFOLK, Va. - To all those people who blurt out "Wow, you're tall!" as they stare up at George Bell: He knows. And now, the world will know, too. The lanky, 7-foot-8 Norfolk sheriff's deputy is being recognized Thursday by Guinness World Records as the Tallest Man in the United States.
That makes him 2 inches taller than the NBA's current tallest player, Yao Ming, but too short to be the world's tallest living man. He stands below, according to Guinness, Ukraine's 8-foot-5.5 Leonid Stadnyk and China's Bao Xi Shun, who is 7 feet 8.95 inches.
To answer the inevitable questions:
Bell wears size-19 shoes, pants with a 43-inch inseam and shirts with 45-inch sleeves.
He did play basketball, in college and with the Harlem Wizards and Harlem Globetrotters show teams.
And as for how he feels about being so tall?
"I have no choice but to like it," Bell, 50, said in an interview with The Associated Press as he paced the sidelines of a Pee Wee football game at a city park, where he was providing security.
"I'm used to a small man's world," he added in a deep voice that suits his stature. "I've been dealing with a small man's world since I was a kid."
Bell was to be revealed as America's tallest man on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Thursday, when 200,000 people worldwide were expected to celebrate Guinness World Records Day by attempting to set records of their own.
Guinness began searching for America's tallest man in August. Bell's ex-wife registered him online, and Guinness spokesman Stuart Claxton said Bell's doctor documented his height.
The Guinness record book now lists only the tallest man in the world, but Bell will be noted — along with the tallest men in several other countries — in the edition to be published next year.
Bell hit 5-foot-4 at age 9. In middle school, he topped 6 feet. By the end of high school, he was 7-foot-6. He played basketball until, at 30, he lost interest in the sport and switched to law enforcement.
His height doesn't intimidate jail inmates — it helps him develop a rapport.
"They've never seen anyone this tall before, so they're amazed," Bell said. "They want to talk."
Bell focuses on the perks of being tall. For example, he usually gets free upgrades to first class on flights when the ticket-counter attendants realize he's going to need a lot of leg room.
He credits his late great-aunt, Etonia Johnson, with his positive attitude: "She always told me, 'Don't feel ashamed of yourself. Stand tall. God made you. Be happy and show your pride.' "