Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Brave Man Who Stood Up For His People Dies

A Brave Man Who Stood Up For His People Dies
Manute Bol dies at 47

(Courtesy Tom Prichard.)

When I last talked to Tom Prichard, the friend of Manute Bol who had collaborated with the former NBA center on several humanitarian projects in Sudan, he told me how optimistic Bol was about his health. The former Bullets center had been hospitalized in the D.C. area after several months in his native Sudan, where he was both working to build a school and helping facilitate local elections before falling ill.

"His comment to me in the hospital was, if I had stayed one more day in the Sudan, I wouldn't have made it," Prichard told me. "He really thought he was going to be able to pull this off."

But with his body suffering from numerous ailments, Bol died on Saturday at University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville. He was 47.

"I will remember him as a man who literally gave his life for his country," Prichard told me Saturday afternoon. "He felt he had to stay behind in Sudan through this election. When he got to the States, he's comment was kind of like, 'I did it.' He helped have a positive influence on this election, and that was more important to him than his health."

There are dozens of fantastic Manute Bol stories, some serious and some silly. For some of the classics, see The Post's perfectly told obituary. (See also this photo gallery.) One of the standard tales, of course, was the time he killed a lion. I'll let Bill Gildea tell it, via his A1 profile in The Post:

Bol can be as hard to find as he was the time he killed a lion. First of all, the lion was asleep. "Otherwise," Bol said, "I would be killed."

He went on: "A lion killed one of the cows. Then I saw this lion -- I don't know if it was the same lion who killed the cow, but he was under a tree. I threw this spear -- we carry about 10 of them. I wasn't close to the lion, but I hit him. He jumped up and hit the limbs of the tree and he looked all around like he was looking for whoever shot him. Then he fell down and died. I was behind a tree."

During his first year in D.C. he was often treated as a freak, sent to do publicity shoots with the likes of Hulk Hogan, set up for interviews with People. He was ejected from a game that season after a fight with Chicago's Jawann Oldham, set an NBA rookie record for blocked shots, talked frequently of his love for McDonald's and seemed shaken by some of the attention, complaining once about all the autographs people asked him for when he was trying to eat.

Early in that 1985 rookie season, The Post reported that he was already one of the game's biggest attractions, and might soon surpass the interest "in such players as Michael Jordan, Ralph Sampson and Patrick Ewing."

Whenever he walks onto a court, an anticipatory buzz is generated; when he stands up and peels off his warmup pants before entering the game, the noise level increases. The first time he touches the ball on offense, even if he's 30 feet from the basket, the crowd is imploring him to, "Shoot, shoot."

But this fascination with Bol has started to take a toll. Last Thursday night in New York, before the Bullets played the San Antonio Spurs, the center sat in a small cubicle in Madison Square Garden and talked about the scene before the team's previous game, against the Dallas Mavericks in Ruston, La.

"There were 20 (media) guys and they all wanted to talk, but it had to be one at a time," he said. "I was in the locker room alone and wanted to warm up. I needed the work. But it was always 'one more question, one more question.' "

Bol said the same thing happened after the game against the Spurs. "I can talk with anybody at any time but I wonder why they want to talk so much with me. It's always 'one more minute' and the bus is leaving me behind. I'm a rookie, I can't be doing that. I may have to leave them in the locker room talking to themselves."

In the same story, though, The Post wrote that Bol's irritation never lasted long.

"I'm just trying to work hard all the time -- in practice, in games, in lifting weights," he said with a smile, The Post reported then. "Sometimes, players take it easy. I don't want to do that. I want to play hard and learn my job, how to play this game. I don't mind (the attention) now. I think the others I'm with get more tired of it than I do. People can think what they want, I feel good about me."

By Dan Steinberg | June 19, 2010; 4:28 PM ET
Categories: Wizards

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