Remembering Manute Bol: difficult task of following legend


bol1The 7’7 Manute Bol was drafted in the 2nd round (7th pick, 31st overall) in the 1985 NBA Draft by the Washington Bullets.

Bol was a Sudanese-born basketball player and activist. At 7 ft 7 in (2.31 m) tall, Bol was one of the tallest players ever to appear in the National Basketball Association, along with Gheorghe Muresan.

Bol was officially measured at 7 feet, 6 3/4 inches tall by the Guinness Book of World Records.

He is believed to have been born on October 16, 1962 in either Turalei or Gogrial, Sudan (now South Sudan). He was the son of a Dinka tribal elder, who gave him the name “Manute”, which means “special blessing.”

Bol played basketball for many teams over his career. He played for two colleges and four NBA teams (Washington Bullets, Golden State Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat).

In 1987, the Washington Bullets drafted the 5 ft 3 in (1.60 m) point guard Muggsy Bogues, pairing the tallest and shortest players in the league on the court for one season.

A center, Bol was known as a specialist player; his shot blocking ability was considered among the best in the history of the sport, but other aspects of his game were considered fairly weak. In his career, he had more blocked shots than points scored.

Bol appeared in 624 NBA games (133 started), holding career averages of 2.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg and 3.3 bpg in 18.7 minutes of action.

MEMORIES

The brothers hold different memories of their father. The elder has a somewhat tarnished view that’s constantly morphing over time. The younger has a far more fond recollection of Dad.

But the mirror doesn’t lie. It never does. The brothers live hundreds of miles apart. They’re at different stages of their lives, one just ending his basketball odyssey, the other just beginning, yet the mirror’s reflection shows the same face.

Madut and Bol Bol are the spitting image of their father, Manute – one of the most ungainly three-point strokes known to man (he once made six treys in a 1993 game at Phoenix while with the Sixers).

Manute played 10 years in the NBA for four teams, including two stints in Philadelphia, and his humanitarian work in his native Sudan is world-renowned.

bol9
Manute was just 47 when he died June 19, 2010, in Charlottesville, Va., of acute kidney failure complicated by a skin disease known as Stevens-Johnson syndrome.

He is survived by 10 children – six with his first wife, Atong, four with his second wife, Ajok – including his two basketball-playing sons. Madut Bol, Manute’s eldest son, is a 6-9, 200-pound senior center at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La. Bol Bol, 13, is from Olathe, Kan. At 6-4 1/2, he’s considered one of the best in the country in his age group.

Much of Manute Bol’s time and much of the money he made in the NBA, was devoted toward the embattled North African nation shredded by civil strife between warring Christians and Muslims. Sudan once harbored Osama bin Laden and was declared a “state sponsor of terrorism” by the U.S. in the late-1990s.

Manute lost his two homes in the Sudan and his house in the United States to foreclosure. His passion for his people was so deep that he appeared on a celebrity reality show to challenge William “Refrigerator” Perry in a boxing match and at minor-league hockey games to raise money for his cause.

Manute, whose gangly erector-set limbs established an NBA-rookie record 397 blocked shots during the 1985-86 season with the Washington Bullets before retiring in 1995, leaves a legacy in what seems like the very capable and very willing hands of his sons, Madut and Bol.

They have a lot to live up to, not just on the court, but off it. They remember their father in different ways, though they share a prime responsibility – to continue his work in the Sudan and fortify the legacy of a national hero.

bol4THE DAY HE NEVER CAME BACK

Madut can remember the morning well. He was about 6 and his father was standing there with his usual small collection of bags before he was about to leave for another trip. The words then were piercing. “I’ll be back,” Manute told his son.

He never came back. Each day, Madut would ask his mother, Atong, “Where’s dad?” Of Manute’s four children with Atong, Madut took his father’s long absences the hardest.

“I remember that morning like it was yesterday,” said Madut, who is averaging a little more than three points per game coming off the bench for Southern U. and is scheduled to graduate this summer with a degree in criminal justice.

“We found him a few years later in Africa and called him on Father’s Day,” Madut continued. “I was expecting him to come back. When he did come back, I didn’t want to speak to him and I didn’t want to see him. All of my other siblings, they went right back to him, like nothing ever happened. I didn’t.”

Madut’s stepfather actually introduced him to organized basketball. Like his biological father, he began growing exponentially. One summer, Madut was 6-1; a few months later he was 6-4. His family moved to Hackensack, N.J., where Madut blossomed into a scholarship player at prestigious St. Anthony in Jersey City for legendary coach Bobby Hurley Sr.

He seemed to connect well with strangers, although as a youngster he maintained a connection with his father only through his surname.

“I’ve always loved basketball because I’ve been around it since the time I was born,” Madut said. “I never really began playing organized basketball until I got into high school, but there was always pressure with it. People took one look at me and with my last name, they could tell immediately who I am and who my dad was. They always let me know I had some big shoes to fill. The hard part was my father never saw me play – ever. That was tough, but at the same time, since he wasn’t there when I was younger, I knew he wouldn’t be there in high school.”

Madut and his family struggled financially, wondering where Manute’s money was going, why he wasn’t there to help. It caused friction between him and his oldest son. Plus, Manute never seemed to be around during Madut’s formative years.

At the time, Madut thought the NBA life was taking his father away. He didn’t realize the sacrifice Manute was making.

bol7“We had an up-and-down relationship. I was upset because he was never around; we lost touch for a couple of years,” Madut said. “I visited him when he used to live in Connecticut and I forgave him – and from there, it was still up-and-down. It was small things. He wanted to be more a part of my life. I used to wonder where he was earlier in my life, why he wasn’t there then.”

In July 2004, Manute almost died in Connecticut during a cab ride. The taxi slammed into a guardrail, killing the driver. Manute suffered a broken neck. But Madut’s feelings really changed when Manute’s health began to deteriorate in 2010. He lived his last days at the University of Virginia Medical Center.

“I have brothers and sisters and they actually went to live with him – living with my mom and going back to my dad,” Madut said. “There were times my siblings were on the phone with him when he really wanted to speak to me, even when he was in the hospital. At first, I didn’t want to go, but when they told me it was serious I decided to go. We didn’t have enough money to travel and we decided to go at the last second.”

It was too late. Just as he was walking out of the house, Madut received the call that his father had died. He made it for the funeral.

“Bol has a lot of upside, with his dad being 7-7, but his skill set is pretty exceptional right now, with a good shooting touch. He’s a good basketball player, not just because he’s Manute Bol’s son,” said Adam Shoulders, who runs CrossRoads Elite Camps, where Bol played last October in Indianapolis.

“His strengths right now are more based on his skill set than his athleticism. He’s more fluid than explosive, and far, far more advanced than his father was at the same age. The other thing I like is Bol is his worst critic. He wasn’t happy when he didn’t do something right. There is a passion for basketball. He has that good spirit, like his dad had.”

Bol is expected to reach 7-feet. Right now, the seventh-grader has dangling arms and legs and wears a size-14 shoe. Bol used to wear LeBron James’ No. 6. That’s changed. Everything is No. 10, his father’s number.

One of Manute’s old Washington Bullets jerseys is in his mother’s closet, and Manute’s framed Bridgeport jersey hangs prominently in the family’s living room. But there is an emptiness there, a void that basketball once filled. The house in Olathe once had constant visitors. Since Manute’s death, hardly anyone comes around.

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