One of the major news items over the past month has been the civil unrest in Africa; the president of Egypt was forced to resign amid protests and Libya is currently entrenched in chaotic revolution that will likely result in major changes. These significant events made me think of a particular sports humanitarian story of an individual worth remembering.
Manute Bol always stood out in a crowd. Being 7 feet, 7 inches tall has that effect. Bol, whose first name translates to "special blessing," was born in Sudan to a 6-foot-8 father and 6-foot-10 mother. Allegedly, his grandfather was 7-foot-10. I guess he was destined to be tall...
As a youngster, Bol's height allowed him to succeed in basketball, but, as you can assume, there weren't many talent scouts looking at northeastern Africa as a hotbed for basketball talent. Nevertheless, Bol ended up at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, where he continued to succeed before being drafted into the NBA by the Washington Bullets.
I won't bore you with highlights of his career (you can find his Wikipedia page here), but Bol was the tallest player in the history of the NBA and enjoyed a modestly successful career, honing himself as an incredible shot blocker (there are also rumours that he popularized the term "my bad").
While Bol never achieved superstardom on the basketball court, his efforts off the court were what made him a sports humanitarian legend. Bol lived a very humble life and donated much of the money he made from basketball to charitable efforts in his home country of Sudan, a nation ravaged by war. He spent considerable time at refugee camps and created the Ring True Foundation to raise funds for Sudanese refugees. He was also heavily involved in the Sudan Freedom Walk in 2006, aimed to eliminate the genocide that took place in the country and draw global awareness to human rights violations and slavery that continued to hurt the country. Instead of running from the impoverished and endangered people of Sudan, Bol embraced them.
Bol passed away last year as a result of kidney failure. The outpouring of support and remembrance around the world made more headlines than anything Bol ever accomplished on the basketball court. It was his humanitarian generosity that marked the true newsworthiness of his life. A few quotes from individuals at his memorial service are below.
"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."
"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."
"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"