I was deeply saddened to learn of the death this weekend of Manute Bol, the 7-foot-7 Dinka from Sudan who, among many other adventures on planet Earth, played 10 seasons in the NBA. 3 of those seasons were for My Golden State Warriors, and it was then and future Warriors coach Don Nelson who had the genius idea of keeping Manute from clogging the lane on the offensive end by encouraging him to shoot 3-pointers. Once in a while one of them would go in, and I remember watching one particular game where he hit a bunch of them. The crowd went wild, of course.
Basketball fans loved Manute. In fact, as far as I can tell, everybody loved him. By all accounts he was a warm, funny, and big-hearted man who just happened to have an 8-foot-6 wingspan. It was this last fact that made him the only player in NBA history with more blocked shots than points…well, that along with the arrogance and foolhardiness of opposing players, whose stubborn determination to attack the basket often allowed Manute to get three or four blocks on the same play. As he put it, “Don’t you have cable? Didn’t the other guys tell you? Nobody dunks on Manute B-O-L!”
There are lots of great Manute stories…how he killed a lion with a spear…how his landlord once complained to Nelson because he was cooking in the fireplace rather than the kitchen of his Oakland apartment…how he may have coined the phrase “my bad.” But he also suffered a lot in this world. After retiring from basketball he more or less gave all his money away and ended up a destitute political refugee. He got involved in cheap stunts like being a jockey for a day and fighting William “The Refrigerator” Perry on Celebrity Boxing. Later he was involved in a serious car accident that nearly killed him, and contracted a rare and exotic skin disease that finally did.
Manute’s name in his native language meant “Special Blessing,” and it was apt. Manute Bol was a special dude and the world is the poorer for his departure from it. I’ll give the last word to his friend and former teammate, a man not much given to sentimentalism, Charles Barkley: “If everyone in the world was a Manute Bol, it’s a world I’d want to live in.”