Get well soon Manute

Get well soon Manute July 14, 2004

Sad news from Connecticut:

Former NBA star Manute Bol, the 7-foot-7 sensation from the Sudan, was seriously injured in an auto accident.

Bol was riding in a cab Wednesday when it rolled over, killing the driver and throwing the former University of Bridgeport star from the car, authorities said.

Bol, 43, suffered a head injury and was taken by helicopter to Hartford Hospital, state police spokesman J. Paul Vance said.

"The doctor said, for his age, he's in extremely good shape and would probably be dead if he wasn't an athlete," longtime friend Andrew Kearns said.

Bol's condition was not released Thursday, but Kearns said Bol broke his neck. "It's going to be a long recovery, unfortunately," Kearns said.

I saw Manute play once, back when he was with the Sixers.

I had seen him before that, on television, and I was already acquainted with the fact that he was tall. Really tall. Manute Bol is 7 feet, 7 inches tall, and the wingspan of his long, thin arms makes him seem even taller. I had seen pictures of him standing beneath the basket and touching either corner of the bottom of the backboard. But seeing him live, out there on the court, towering over the giants of the NBA, was something else entirely. He would block shots and opposing players would look up at him in disbelief — there was no way someone standing way over there could have blocked a ball way over here.

Manute Bol never really figured out the game of basketball, but he seemed to enjoy it. And there was something delightful about watching him play. Philadelphia fans, not known for smiling, smiled every time he touched the ball.

In the game I saw, Manute had caught a pass 6 or 7 feet beyond the three point line at the top of the key. He bounced the ball once then lifted it over his head, looking for someone to pass to. The defense dropped back, smothering his teammates, and for a second or two he stood there, the ball held impossibly high over his head, with no one to pass to. Then he nonchalantly flicked his wrists — it looked more like a soccer throw in than a basketball shot and I swear the ball had no arc on it at all, it was travelling down to the basket — and sank a 3-pointer. The place went absolutely crazy.

You got the sense that Manute thought we were all a bit crazy: You want me to take this ball and put it in that basket? Why? And for this you will pay me more money than my entire village has ever seen?

This is a man who once killed a lion with a spear. He grew up in the Sudan, where his people, the Dinka, had for as long as he could remember struggled with war, oppression and the famine and hunger they produced.

Even before his retirement from the NBA in 1995, Manute Bol had become a spokesman for his people and an advocate for U.S. intervention in the Sudan. That's where most of his salary went and still goes.

Alan Sharavsky, the 76ers former marketing director, tells more of this story in The Philadelphia Inquirer:

It has been reported that Manute has donated more than $3.5 million to Sudanese causes. That's only part of the story. It doesn't account for the endless time and effort he has devoted, which I witnessed firsthand. …

As the Sixers' marketing director, one of my responsibilities was to manage community relations. To Manute, that meant the world community, including his neighborhood.

"Come on, Jewish Man," he pleaded during the Sudan famine of '92. "You to have to help me. Help my people."

"I can't just do this, Sudan Man." I said. "I have to ask the boss."

Say what you will about then-Sixers owner Harold Katz. I asked, and he gave without blinking, offering me carte blanche to use the team's resources. Airtime, promotional events, even a white stretch limo.

Sitting at the other end of the long cabin, his size 16 shoes in front of my face, Manute reviewed his speech as we rode into Washington. …

That night, Manute and the Sudan were featured on the national news, with promises from members of Congress to push for a hunger-relief bill. Our trip was a success. But there would be no rest for Manute.

Over the years, he would play more ball. Then "box" William "The Refrigerator" Perry. Then become the world's tallest and shortest-lived hockey player.

Knowing Manute, he's not seeking celebrity. And though he's a cut-up, he's no clown. Manute Bol is an unlikely humanitarian, cheerfully doing everything he can to help his people. Everything.

Get well soon, Manute. This crazy world still needs you.

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  • Streak

    amen. what a nice reminder of good in the age of Barry Bonds and Kobe.

  • Kevin

    Heh… well said, Streak. Ditto.

  • Mark

    Check out this Sudan blog Passion of the Present”