Manute Bol (/ /; October 16, 1962 – June 19, 2010) was a Sudanese-born American basketball player and political activist. Listed at 7 ft 7 in (2.31 m) tall, he was one of the two tallest players in the history of the National Basketball Association, along with Gheorghe Mureșan. He was officially measured and listed at 7 feet 6 3⁄4 inches (2.305 m) tall in 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 for two colleges and four NBA teams over his career. A center, he was known as a specialist player; he was considered among the best shot-blockers in the history of the sport, but other aspects of his game were considered fairly weak. Over the course of his career, Bol blocked more shots than he scored points, making him the only NBA player ever to do so. He is second all-time in NBA history in terms of average blocked shots per game, and ranks 15th on the career blocks list.
Early life and family background
Manute Bol was born to Madut and Okwok Bol in Turalei (or Gogrial) and raised near Gogrial. He came from a family of extraordinarily tall men and women: "My mother was 6 ft 10 in (2.08 m), my father 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m), and my sister is 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m)", he said. "And my great-grandfather was even taller—7 ft 10 in (2.39 m)." His ethnic group, the Dinka, and the Nilotic people of which they are a part, are among the taller populations of the world. Bol's hometown, Turalei, is the origin of other exceptionally tall individuals, including 7 ft 4 in (2.24 m) basketball player Ring Ayuel. Ayuel is a refugee from the civil war which broke out soon after Bol emigrated to the US and which eventually led to the destruction of most of Turalei.
He tended his family's cattle in boyhood. According to a tale he was often asked to repeat in interviews, he once killed a lion with a spear after it attacked his cows. The lion was asleep, though he was often encouraged to embellish the story. He started playing basketball only at about age 15.
Complementing his great height, Bol possessed exceptionally long limbs (inseam 49 inches (120 cm)), large hands and feet (size 16 1/2). His arm span, at 8 feet 6 inches (2.59 m), is (as of 2013) the longest in NBA history, and his reach was 10 feet 5 inches (3.18 m). He was extremely slender, limiting his offensive capability. When he arrived in the United States, he weighed 180 pounds (82 kg) and had gained just under 20 pounds (9.1 kg) by the time he entered the NBA. The Washington Bullets sent Bol to strength training with University of Maryland coach Frank Costello, where he could initially lift only 45 pounds (20 kg) on 10-rep bench press and 55 pounds (25 kg) on 10-rep squat (his BMI was 15.3 and he initially had a 31" (80 cm) waist).
Bol started playing soccer (association football) in 1972 but abandoned the game because he was too tall. During his later teens, he started playing basketball, playing in Sudan for several years with teams in Wau and Khartoum, where he experienced prejudice from the northern Sudanese majority. While still living in Sudan, Bol apparently held an $80-a-month (1983 U.S. $) job in the Sudanese military and played on the national team. Coach Don Feeley from Fairleigh Dickinson University saw Bol play basketball in Khartoum and convinced him to go to the United States. Bol was drafted by the San Diego Clippers in the 5th round of the 1983 NBA draft (97th overall), but the league ruled that Bol had not been eligible for the draft and declared the pick invalid. He was then invited to Cleveland by Cleveland State University head basketball coach Kevin Mackey, but he didn't speak or write English very well at the time. He improved his English skills after months of classes at ELS Language Centers on the Case Western Reserve University campus, but not enough to qualify for enrollment at Cleveland State, and he never played a game there. Five years later, Cleveland State was placed on two years' probation for providing improper financial assistance to Bol and two other African players. He enrolled at the University of Bridgeport, a Division II basketball school, and played college basketball for the Purple Knights there in the 1984–1985 season. He averaged 22.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 7.1 blocks per game. The team, which previously drew 500–600 spectators, routinely sold out the 1,800 seat gym. This was followed by a short stint with the Rhode Island Gulls of the USBL.
Going into the 1985 NBA draft, scouts felt that Bol needed another year or two of college, but Bol opted for the draft because he felt that it was the only way to earn enough money to get his sister out of Sudan, which was in a state of political unrest at the time. In 1985, Bol was drafted as the seventh pick in the second round by the Washington Bullets (31st overall). He played in the NBA for ten years, from 1985 to 1995, spending parts of four seasons with the Bullets, parts of three with the Golden State Warriors, parts of four with the Philadelphia 76ers and part of one season with the Miami Heat. In 1987, the 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.
Bol's first tenure with the Bullets lasted three seasons, from 1985 to 1988. In his rookie season (1985–1986), he appeared in 80 games and recorded a career-high 5.0 blocks per game. His total of 397 blocks set the NBA rookie record, and remains the second-highest single-season total in league history behind Mark Eaton's 456 in 1984–85.
Golden State Warriors
Bol's first tenure with the Golden State Warriors lasted for two seasons, from 1988 to 1990. It was in his first season with Golden State that he first attempted three-point shots with regularity. In that season, he shot a career-high 91 three-pointers and made 20 of them. During this time he may have helped to popularize the expression "my bad", although a 2005 suggestion that he coined the phrase has been discounted.
Bol's first tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers lasted for three seasons, from 1990 to 1993. Although he played in a career-high 82 games in his first season as a 76er, his production began to decline afterward (in both games played and per-game statistics). After playing in all 82 games in 1990–1991, he played in 71 games the next season, and in 58 (a career low at the time) games the following season. But in his last season in Philadelphia he had a memorable night playing against former teammate Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns, hitting 6 of 12 three-pointers, all in the second half in a losing effort. Fans were known to yell out "shoot" as soon as Bol received the ball when he was far from the basket.
Bol played in eight games in the 1993–1994 season with the Miami Heat, the only team that did not use him as a starter. He scored only one two-point field goal with the team and blocked 6 shots in 61 total minutes.
Washington Bullets (2nd stint)
Bol's second stint with the Bullets lasted only two games in 1993–1994. After this, he helped develop fellow 7 ft 7 teammate Gheorghe Mureșan.
Philadelphia 76ers (2nd stint)
Bol's second stint with the 76ers lasted for four games, near the end of the 1993–1994 season, helping to mentor 7 ft 6 in (2.29 m) teammate Shawn Bradley. In only 49 minutes, he played more aggressively than he did earlier in the season with Miami and Washington. He scored 6 points, grabbed 6 rebounds and blocked 9 shots.
Golden State Warriors (2nd stint)
In the 1994–95 NBA season, Bol returned to the Warriors. He made the season opening roster and played in what would be his five final NBA games. On a memorable night in the middle of November, Bol finally made his home debut, coming off of the bench to play 29 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Bol attempted three three-pointers in the fourth quarter, scoring all of them. The crowd, in disbelief, cheered louder and louder with each shot. Seven nights later in Charlotte, in a game that was nationally televised by TNT, he was in the starting lineup again. By this time, two weeks into the season, his career seemed rejuvenated under Warrior head coach Don Nelson; he was again a defensive force, making threes and contributing as a starter to create matchup problems. After playing only ten minutes against the Hornets on November 22, 1994, he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Before he left the game, he recorded one block and two points and attempted a three-pointer in ten minutes of play.
Bol was released by the Milwaukee Bucks in October 1995 without ever taking the court.
With his great height and very long limbs, Bol was one of the league's most imposing defensive presences. Along with setting the rookie shot blocking record in 1985–86, over the course of his career Bol tied for the NBA record for the most blocked shots in one half (eleven) and in one quarter (eight, twice). On January 31, 1992, in a game against the Orlando Magic, he blocked four consecutive shots within a single possession. Throughout his career, he blocked a shot an average of every 5.6 minutes of playing time.
However, Bol's other basketball skills were very limited, and his rail-thin physique made it difficult for him to establish position against the league's bulkier centers and power forwards. The sight of the tall, gangly Bol spotting up for a three-pointer during blow-outs became a fan favorite. Off the court, he established a reputation as a practical joker; Charles Barkley, a frequent victim of his pranks, attested to Bol's sense of humor. Bol also developed a close friendship with Warriors teammate Chris Mullin and named one of his sons after him.
Over the course of his career, Bol averaged 2.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 0.3 assists and 3.3 blocks per game while only playing an average of 18.7 minutes per game. Bol finished his career with totals of 1,599 points, 2,647 rebounds, and 2,086 blocks, having appeared in 624 games over 10 seasons. As of 2010, Manute Bol remains:
- First in career blocks per 48 minutes (8.6), almost 50% beyond second-place Mark Eaton (5.8).
- Second in career blocks-per-game average (3.34).
- Fifteenth in total blocked shots (2,086).
- The only player in NBA history to block more shots than points scored, blocking 2,086 shots and scoring 1,599 points.
After the end of his NBA career, Bol played 22 games for the Florida Beach Dogs of the Continental Basketball Association during the 1995–1996 season. The Beach Dogs' games against the Sioux Falls Skyforce in that season were broadcast by ESPN, as the Skyforce also featured a former NBA player, Darryl Dawkins. In 1996, the Portland (Maine) Mountain Cats of the United States Basketball League announced that he would be playing with the team, and included him in the team program, but he never appeared in uniform. He then played professionally in Italy in 1997 and had a stint Qatar in 1998 before rheumatism forced him to retire permanently.
NBA career statistics
|GP||Games played||GS||Games started||MPG||Minutes per game|
|FG%||Field goal percentage||3P%||3-point field goal percentage||FT%||Free throw percentage|
|RPG||Rebounds per game||APG||Assists per game||SPG||Steals per game|
|BPG||Blocks per game||PPG||Points per game||Bold||Career high|
Bol was very active in charitable causes throughout his career. In fact, he said he spent much of the money he made during a 10-year NBA career supporting various causes related to the war-ravaged nation of his birth, Sudan. He frequently visited Sudanese refugee camps, where he was treated like royalty. In 2001 Bol was offered a post as minister of sport by the Sudanese government. Bol, who was a Christian, refused because one of the conditions was converting to Islam. Later Bol was hindered from leaving the country by the Sudanese government, who accused him of supporting the Dinka-led Christian rebels, the Sudan People's Liberation Army. The Sudanese government refused to grant him an exit visa unless he came back with more money. Assistance by supporters in the United States, including Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, raised money to provide Bol with plane tickets to Cairo, Egypt. After 6 months of negotiations with U.S. consulate officials regarding refugee status, Bol and his family were finally able to leave Egypt and return to the United States.
Bol established the Ring True Foundation in order to continue fund-raising for Sudanese refugees. He gave most of his earnings (an estimated $3.5 million) to their cause. In 2002, Fox TV agreed to broadcast the telephone number of his Ring True Foundation in exchange for Bol's agreement to appear on their Celebrity Boxing show. After the referee goaded, "If you guys don't box, you won't get paid", he scored a third-round victory over former football player William "The Refrigerator" Perry.
In the fall of 2002, Bol signed a one-day contract with the Indianapolis Ice of the Central Hockey League. Even though he could not skate, the publicity generated by his single game appearance helped raise money to assist children in Sudan. Bol once suited up as a horse jockey for similar reasons.
Bol was involved in the April 2006 Sudan Freedom Walk, a three-week march from the United Nations building in New York to the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.. The event was organized by Simon Deng, a former Sudanese swimming champion (currently a lifeguard at Coney Island) who was a longtime friend of Bol. Deng, who was a slave for three years from the age of nine, is from another tribe in Southern Sudan. His Sudan Freedom Walk is especially aimed at finding a solution to the genocide in Darfur (western Sudan), but it also seeks to raise awareness of the modern day slavery and human rights abuses throughout Sudan. Bol spoke in New York at the start of the Walk, and in Philadelphia at a rally organized by former hunger striker Nathan Kleinman.
Bol was also an advocate for reconciliation efforts and worked to improve education in South Sudan. A Nicholas Kristoff article in The New York Times highlighted this belief and Bol's work for reconciliation and education with an organization called Sudan Sunrise. Bol first began working with Sudan Sunrise to raise awareness on issues of reconciliation in 2005. This included speaking at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. and subsequently partnering with Sudan Sunrise to build schools across South Sudan that, in the spirit of reconciliation, would enroll students regardless of tribe or religion.
During his time in Egypt, Bol ran a basketball school in Cairo. One of his pupils was a fellow Sudanese refugee; Miami Heat player Luol Deng, the son of a former Sudanese cabinet minister. Deng later moved to the United States to further his basketball career, continuing a close relationship with Bol.
Life after basketball
Despite initially knowing little English and an absence of awareness regarding Western culture, Bol adjusted and was widely regarded as a well-rounded personality who was curious and well-read. He developed a strong friendship with Charles Barkley, who remarked, "If everyone in the world was a Manute Bol, it's a world I'd want to live in. He's smart. He reads The New York Times. He knows what's going on in a lot of subjects. He's not one of these just-basketball guys". He spoke Dinka and Arabic before mastering English.
After a political dispute in Sudan, Bol was admitted to the United States as a religious refugee in 2002 and settled in West Hartford, Connecticut. In July 2004, he was seriously injured in a car accident in Colchester when he was ejected from a taxi that hit a guardrail and overturned, resulting in a broken neck. The driver was under the influence, with a suspended license. Because his fortunes were mostly donated to Sudan, he was financially ruined because he had no life or health insurance When he recovered from his injuries, he moved to Olathe, Kansas.
He was also the "Brand Ambassador" for Ethiopian Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines Journeys.
One of Bol's sons, Madut (born December 19, 1989), played college basketball at Southern University and graduated from college in 2013.
He was survived by his 10 children, six with his first wife, Atong, and four with his second wife, Ajok. After his death, tributes to Bol's basketball career and charitable works came from around the United States and the world.
His former teams, and the NBA, issued statements in recognition of his impact on the sport of basketball and on his native Sudan.
A salute to Bol took place on the floor of the United States Senate just a few days after his death.
Funeral service and tribute
The memorial service for Manute Bol was held on Tuesday, June 29, 2010, at 10:00 a.m. at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Bol's body lay in an eight-foot-long, specially built casket.
Bol was given tributes by United States Senator Sam Brownback from Kansas, Former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, Sudan's Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Akec Khoc Acieu, Bol's uncle Bol Bol Chol, and Vice President of the National Basketball Players Association Rory Sparrow.
Sparrow remembered Bol as "a giant off the court" who should be remembered for humanitarian work and his basketball career.
Senator Brownback recalled that "He literally gave his life for his people. He went over [to Sudan], he was sick. He stayed longer than he should have. He probably contracted this ailment that took his life while in Sudan, and he didn't have to do that. He was an NBA basketball player. He could have stayed here and had an easy life. I've never seen anybody use his celebrity status more nor give his life more completely to a group of people than Manute Bol did. It makes me look at efforts that I do as not enough."
Dr. Akec K.A. Khoc, Ambassador of Sudan to the U.S said that "Manute had a very great heart for his country and people. He did everything to support anybody in need of shoes, blankets, health service, food, and people who were struggling. He went to see them and to encourage them to continue their struggle for their rights, for their freedoms. Manute embodied everything we can think of in Sudan. Reconciling warring groups between the north and south, in Darfur he was working for reconciliation between Darfur and the south and between Darfur and the rest of Sudan. So Manute was a voice for hope."
Sudan Sunrise founder, Tom Prichard, says Bol's work to reconcile former enemies lives on. "Manute's legacy and vision of education and reconciliation, his determination to grow grassroots reconciliation—whether that reconciliation is expressed in a country that divides or holds together, wherever the boundary lines are drawn. Manute stood for grassroots reconciliation."
Prichard went on to say "There's no question Manute gave his life for his country."
Manute Bol's family patriarch, Bol Bol Chol, said, "This man is not an ordinary man. I believe this man is a messenger like other messengers who were sent into this world—to do something in this world. He has accomplished most of his mission, and so God took him and left the rest of the work to be done by others."
A number of members of Bol's immediate family, including his sons, were at the service.
Manute Bol is buried in South Sudan.