Manute Bol played for two colleges and four NBA teams over his 624-game career. A center, he was known as a specialist player; he was considered among the best shot-blockers in the history of the sport.
Ok, so there’s some dispute over who was in fact the tallest player in NBA history. Gheorghe Mureșan was also 7ft 7 inches, and perhaps stood a hair above Manute, but I’m going to ignore this dispute in my testimonial to the great man.
Manute Bol is the only player in history to finish his NBA career with more blocked shots than points scored. He is second in all-time blocked shots per game, averageing a blocked shot every 5.6 minutes of playing time.
Born in Sudan, Manute came from one of the tallest populations in the world:
My mother was 6 ft 10 in (2.08 m), my father 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m), and my sister is 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m)”, “And my great-grandfather was even taller—7 ft 10 in (2.39 m).
When Manute first entered the United States he weighed 180 pounds and could initially lift only 45 pounds (20 kg) on 10-rep bench press and 55 pounds (25 kg) on 10-rep squat. He quickly thrust himself into the NBA draft, a decision he made against the advice of scouts. He felt it was the only way he could earn enough money to get his sister out of war-torn Sudan, which was in a state of political unrest at the time.
This would become the hallmark of a gentle giant who went onto establish the Ring True Foundation in order to continue fund-raising for Sudanese refugees. He gave most of his earnings (an estimated $3.5 million) to their cause. It was actions such as these that made him such a popular figure amongst fans, players and the population of South Sudan.
Bol continued to return to Africa and assist with the relief effort and one story elucidates people’s appreciation of his selflessness:
During one trip he was detained by the Sudanese government and refused an exit visa unless he came back with more money; an example of the tumultuous environment he volunteered to dive into. A large group, assisted by Senator Joseph Lieberman, raised the funds to provide Bol with plane tickets to Cairo, Egypt, and after 6 months of negotiations with U.S. consulate officials regarding refugee status, Bol and his family were finally able to leave Egypt and return to the United States.
Off the court, he established a reputation as a practical joker; Charles Barkley, a frequent victim of his pranks, attested to Bol’s sense of humour:
If everyone in the world was a Manute Bol, it’s a world I’d want to live in. He’s smart. He reads The New York Times. He knows what’s going on in a lot of subjects. He’s not one of these just-basketball guys.
On June 19, 2010, Bol died from acute kidney failure and complications from Stevens–Johnson syndrome, undoubtedly something he picked up during a visit to South Sudan.
There is so much I could write about this phenomenal human being, I haven’t even mentioned his association with the phrase “my bad” – an expression he smiled behind to excuse his bad English during the early days.
As Barkley attests, if more of us could approach life like Bol the world would be a much better place. Bol was survived by 14 children and a lasting legacy that affirms his status as one of the sport’s greatest personalities.