“If everyone in the world was a Manute Bol, it’s a world I’d want to live in.” – Charles Barkley
This is Manute Bol, criminally underrated, unduly forgotten 7’7 (231cm) center from Sudan. Bol is equal first for the tallest player in NBA history. It’s hard to call Manute a star judging by his game film or stats, but he was extremely valuable role player, eminent humanitarian both in the US and his native Sudan and just great human being.
Manute was born near the settlement of Turalei in what is now South Sudan. His family belongs to the Dinka people, who rank among the tallest ethnic groups in the world. One can assemble a pretty darn tall basketball team out of Bol’s family alone: Manute’s father and sister were both 6’8 (203cm), his mother was even taller, 6’10 (208cm), and his grandfather, by Manute’s own words was 7’10 (239cm) which is hard to believe, let alone imagine.
Basketball wasn’t Manute’s first sport. He only started playing hoops when he was 15. Like it’s the case with many African kids, Bol’s first organized athletic activity was soccer, which explains an impressive footwork, reaction and coordination for a guy of his height and length. However, he had to quit soccer because he became too tall and got recruited to play basketball for local teams in the cities of Khartum and Wau. That’s where an American scout noticed him and convinced Manute to move to the United States and play professionally there. The 7’7 (231cm) 180 pound (82kg) center declared for the 1983 NBA Draft and got picked 97th overall (5th round) by the then San Diego Clippers. Unfortunately for Manute the Association ruled him ineligible and annulled the pick.
Fun fact: Surprisingly Manute Bol didn’t have the biggest basketball shoes. He wore a size 16.5 shoe, which when compared to Shaq’s size 22 seems relatively small for his height!
Moving to America
Although NBA was closed for him for a while, Bol’s special physique drew a ton of interest from coaches from all over the country. He received an invitation from Cleveland State University, but was deemed ineligible again, this time academically, because his written and spoken English wasn’t good enough. Manute worked hard to improve his English and graded up enough to enroll at the University of Bridgeport, where he played the 1984/85 season and became the main attraction on the basketball team, averaging 22 points, 13 rebounds and monstrous 7 blocks per game. After the end of the college year Manute Bol declared for the NBA draft again.
Several scouts considered Bol to be too raw and not ready for the physicality and speed of the basketball’s highest level, but Manute declared anyway: he felt this was his best chance to earn enough money to rescue his family out of war-torn Sudan. The team from Washington D.C., Bullets at that time (now Wizards), took Bol with the 7th pick in the second round of the 1985 NBA draft. The sticklike center went on to have a remarkable rookie season: Manute played in 80 games and totaled 397 blocked shots which is a record for a first year player and the second most for a season all-time behind Mark Eaton’s 456 a year earlier. Besides the Bullets Bol played for the Miami Heat and had repeated stints with the Philadelphia 76ers, Golden State Warriors and the Bullets again. Manute also had short appearances for the US based minor basketball leagues, played professionally in Italy and Qatar before retiring.
Fun fact: Muggsy Bogues who is pictured with Manute Bol in the cover photo was the shortest point guard in NBA history at 5ft3 (71cm shorter than Bol). Check out our list of the top 10 tallest point guards of all time.
Closer to the twilight of his NBA playing career teams became seeking Manute’s services as a valuable mentor for young bigs, like Shawn Bradley in Philadelphia and Gheorghe Muresan in Washington. Also while he was with the Warriors under Don Nelson, Bol became one of the first players ever who could protect the paint consistently and spread the floor with the 3point shot. Combination of skills like this would have very well brought Manute a salary north of 10 million per year, had he played today.
It’s true that his stats might look pedestrian at best. Over the course of his 13 seasons on the NBA Bol averaged 2.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks per game. But he was so valuable defensively, that he didn’t need to produce great offensive numbers to get playing time.
Let’s put his out of this world shot-blocking into perspective and compare a number of shots blocked per 100 team possessions for several prominent big men defenders: modern day’s stalwarts Rudy Gobert and DeAndre Jordan have career averages of 4.3 and 3.4 blocks per 100 possessions respectively. Historically great one man swat crews Dikembe Mutombo (2nd on all-time blocks list) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1st on all-time blocks list) had 4.7 and 4.3. The record holder for the most blocks in one season, Mark Eaton, posted 5.3 rejections every 100 possessions. Manute Bol? 8.6. Eight point freaking six!
After he retired from basketball, Manute Bol became even more involved into charitable and peace-making work to help raise awareness and stop the civil war in Sudan. By his own words, he spent almost all his earnings on humanitarian purposes, and made a number of appearances in fund-raising events to provide even more help for various foundations and refugee camps.
Manute truly gave all he had to his country and his people: money, time, efforts, even his own health: during his last mission to Sudan to overview the construction of schools by Sudan Sunrise organization, Bol, who had already been battling kidney problems, stayed too long without proper treatment and aggravated his kidney illness. To add to the kidney issues, Bol developed a severe case of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare and painful skin disorder, allegedly because of low quality medications he took while being in Sudan.
A gentle giant, Manute Ball died on June 19, 2010 in Charlottesville, Virginia. His legacy, both on and off the court, is truly hard to overestimate.
Manute Bol’s Son
His son, Bol Bol looks almost exactly like his father: tall, at 6’11 and a sophomore in high school, the guy is not done growing. Also rail-thin and most definitely not someone you’d want to see coming at you when you’re driving under the basket. But he’s also very skilled, with moves, dribbles and shooting arsenal people his size simply can’t have. The younger Bol is one of the top rated players in the class of 2018 for a good reason: he possesses the kind of freakish athleticism and versatility that college and NBA teams want to see in bigs now. Bol Bol still has 2 years of high school left, but he has already received scholarship offers from well-known college basketball programs like Kansas, Creighton and New Mexico.
What was your favourite Manute Bol moment? Let us know in the comments section below.