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A true giant of a man

Manute Bol speaks at a rally for the Sudan Freedom Walk, a 300-mile march from New York to Washington.

Associated Press (2006)

Manute Bol speaks at a rally for the Sudan Freedom Walk, a 300-mile march from New York to Washington.

Manute Bol was a giant.

Not just because he stood a skeletal 7 feet, 7 inches tall, with skin burnt by African sun and eyes that glowed behind the shadow of his brow. Not just because he swatted away layups about as well as anyone in NBA history, ranking second all-time with 3.34 blocks per game.

Bol was really a giant because he stood for what he thought was right.

The giant died Saturday. He was 47.

"Manute gave his life for his country in all kinds of aspects," said Bol's friend, Tom Prichard, executive director of Sudan Sunrise, a humanitarian organization aimed at unity in Sudan, Bol's native country. "To bring peace. To stop injustice."

Bol — who played 10 seasons with the Bullets (now Wizards), Warriors, 76ers and Heat, averaging more blocks than points (2.6) — succumbed to a rare, painful skin disease called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. It is believed he contracted it from kidney medication he received in Africa.

"I'm sure going to miss him," said Chris Mullin, Bol's teammate with the Warriors. "I remember a lot of laughing. He had a great sense of humor. And he was a lot deeper than people knew."

Even as he rested on his deathbed, Bol was planning appearances to raise funds. He was a busy advocate for peace and the end of oppression in Sudan. His latest, and final, contribution was his pledge to build 41 schools.

Spotted playing basketball by an American college coach in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, Bol was drafted by the San Diego Clippers in 1983. He didn't play his first game until 1985-86 for the Bullets. He led the NBA that year in total blocks (397) and blocks per game (5.0).

Bol earned $5.9 million in the NBA. He used just about all of it to help back home.

His native country has been ravaged by civil war since at least 1983. Northern Sudan, controlled by the government, is primarily Aram/Muslim. Bol was a product of southern Sudan, where people are primarily Christians, like Bol, or animists. Famine, murder and slavery have been used against non-Muslims for decades there.

The conflict exists today in Darfur. Bol, a native of the Dinka tribe, had some 250 family members "killed at the hands of Muslims" through the years, according to Prichard. But Bol, insisting extremists were the problem, championed the cause of unifying the warring factions.

According to reports, he exhausted his money supporting 20 family members while trapped in Sudan. The government accused him of being a spy after the United States bombed Sudanese targets, in response to the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Bol wasn't allowed to leave until he paid a bribe, which required a yard sale of his possessions.

He made it back to America, but in 2004 he was in a taxi accident that nearly killed him and sent him into debt. Up to his death, his focus was scraping up $18,000 for the completion of a school in southern Sudan.

Bol's teammates revered him. "You know, a lot of people feel sorry for him, because he's so tall and awkward," said Charles Barkley, a former 76ers teammate. "But I'll tell you this, if everyone in the world was a Manute Bol, it's a world I'd want to live in."

A true giant of a man 06/20/10 [Last modified: Monday, June 21, 2010 7:08pm]
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