At seven-foot-seven, Manute Bol was the tallest player in NBA history, as casual fans of the hardwood game know. The center for four teams (Washington Bullets, Golden State Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat), Bol also has the distinction of averaging more blocked shots than points during his 11-year career.
You can’t write about Bol, who passed away in 2010 at 47 due to complications from Stevens-Johnson syndrome, without mentioning the lion. Bol, who grew up in Sudan (now South Sudan), tended his family’s cattle in rural Turalei during his youth. A legend, which has been embellished in traditional folk tale fashion, holds Bol speared and killed a lion that was attacking the herd.
But who was this massively generous hero to his home country? Bol famously donated the majority of his NBA salary to nonprofits in Sudan. After his retirement from the NBA, Bol did everything from celebrity boxing to a farcical stint playing hockey to fundraise for his Ring True Foundation and other organizations.
There’s no doubt Bol, who has anything but a yokel from rural Africa, was an impressive human being beyond being something of a curiosity and novelty among sports fans.
That said, Jayson Williams, the former New Jersey Nets power forward, arguably better known for his 2002 manslaughter of a limousine driver when a shotgun he was playing with in his home went off and killed his driver, had some interesting things to say about Bol in a 2016 radio interview.
Williams played with the seven-foot center during the 1990-1992 seasons for the Philadelphia 76ers. He told Vice Sports that not only were attempts made to put some weight Bol, who only weighed 180 pounds when he entered the NBA, unsuccessful, they were creative…and perhaps reckless.
“They used to let Manute Bol drink the whole time, so he would drink Heinekens all day long to help put on weight…so Manute Bol never played sober in one basketball game.”
What? First of all, a bottle of Heineken has 150 calories. Not great if you’re dieting, but hardly the most calorie-dense food. Surely there were weight-gain supplements in the early 1990s? And then, of course, the drunkenness. While we can assume that Williams is engaging in some hyperbole, the suggestion that the powers-that-be at the 76ers though getting Bol loaded and sending him on court was a good management practice is utterly bonkers.
Reportedly, Bol was also quite proud of the size of his manhood and enjoyed displaying it prominently. Enjoy this mental picture.
“He used to put on all his clothes last, so what he would do, after he got out the shower, he would put on his socks and then that was it. And he would just walk around the locker room naked drinking Heinekens.”
Perhaps most surprising of all, Williams alleges Bol, who was reportedly 28 when he started with the 76ers in 1990, was much older than that.
“He used to say that he was 35 years old, but I used to be on the bench looking at all the circles and scars around his head,” explained Williams, “and I asked him one day, ‘Manute, what are those scars on your head?’’
“And he says, ‘Well, the white man lost my birth certificate in the jungle, so every five years I take a rock and I slice one across my head.’ I was like, ‘All right,’ and then I started looking at it the next game and I said, ‘Holy s—, Manute Bol is 55 years old.’”
In other words, if Williams is right, Bol wasn’t 47 when he did in 2010, he was more like 70. True? Who knows. But an interesting theory about one of the game’s most interesting players.