Sunday, June 20, 2010

Giant

Definition: Manute "Special Blessing"

Manute Bol was one of my favorite basketball players. Not because he was that great; he really wasn't. But honestly, because he was just fun to watch. You could not take your eyes off him.

He stood 7 feet 7 inches and was the tallest player in NBA history. He also weighed only 225 pounds.

He was born in Sudan, a Dinka tribesman. His father was the tribal chief. It is said he once killed a lion with a spear while herding cows.

As a player, he was too skinny to be a force, but he could block shots like no other. He is the only person in history to average more blocks than points for his career. He also holds the record of most blocks per 48 minutes played. (8.6 the closest person to him averaged 5.8)

"He made a career out of something that people saw in the beginning as a circus act," Chris Mullin, a close friend and former teammate.

But what he did beyond basketball was far more important. And Bol was never too proud to help his homeland.

"God guided me to America and gave me a good job. But he also gave me a heart so I would look back."

His fellow Christians in southern Sudan suffered displacement and massacre not unlike what the people of Darfur have gone through the past several years.

When he would visit Sudan refugee camps, he was regarded as royalty.

In 2001 Bol was offered a post as minister of sport by the Sudanese government. Bol refused because one of the pre-conditions was converting from Christianity to Islam.

Bol established the Ring True Foundation in order to continue fundraising for Sudanese refugees. To get the phone number of his organization on television, he agreed to appear on Celebrity Boxing. He boxed William "The Refrigerator" Perry and won.

Manute never cared that his physical appearance was what people focused on.

"You have to live with what you're given," he said.

He believed his height was a gift from God, and he was going to use that gift to help Sudan.

Other ways to garner publicity were signing a one day contract with the Indianapolis Ice of the Central Hockey League. This helped raise money specifically for the children of Sudan. He also made an appearance as a horse jockey for the same reason.

Bol gave away his entire fortune to help Sudan.

In 2004, he was seriously injured when the taxi he was in flipped. He was in a coma for 3 weeks. Former teammates heard about this and helped pay his medical bills.

"People used to feel sorry for Manute Bol. But if everyone was just like him, it would be a world I would want to live in." -Charles Barkley

Bol died Saturday at age 47, from kidney failure and a skin disease contracted while in Sudan. He had recently returned from Sudan where he was helping build a school with Sudan Sunrise, a humanitarian group he founded, based in Kansas.

Only one time in his ten year NBA career was Bol reprimanded.

He was fined $25,000 for missing two exhibition games. The reason: Bol was in Washington D.C. for peace talks between rebel leaders from Sudan.