Thursday Thoughts: Manute Bol: A Giant Among Men

At 7 feet, 7 inches tall, the late Manute Bol was too big a man to be a professional basketball player. Though he stood well above the tallest players, Bol was more like a giant who lived his life fighting for those who were less fortunate than him. Bol (Oct. 16, 1962 – June 19, 2010), a Sudanese-born basketball player and activist, was the son of a Dinka tribal chief who named him Manute, which means "special blessing." Bol came from a family of extraordinarily tall men and women: "My mother was 6 feet 10, my father 6 feet 8 and my sister 6 feet 8," he said. "And my great-grandfather was even taller – 7 feet 10."

During Bol's years on the professional basketball court, he had the sport's most imposing defensive presence, which gave him a singular purpose: blocking shots. To this day, he holds the top record for career blocks per 48 minutes (8.6).

But for those of us who remember his days as a Golden State Warrior, we recall the most unlikely three-point shooter in NBA history. "He was so competitive," his coach, Don Nelson said. "He thought he could score, but of course he couldn't. To get him to do what I needed, I told him when there was five seconds left on the shot clock, and if we didn't have a good shot, we would get the ball to him. And he actually made some."

His role on the court became a metaphor for his life's work. Just as he played defense for the opportunity to make those crazy three-point shots, he played basketball just so he could earn money for Sudan. Bol gave an estimated $3.5 million during this 10-year NBA career to help support Sudan.

He established the Ring True Foundation to raise funds for refugees and often took part in unusual or unexpected events just for the publicity. He once boxed with former football player William "The Refrigerator" Perry (and won in the third round) just to get the phone number of his foundation on Fox TV. In 2002, he made a single-game appearance with the Indianapolis Ice of the Central Hockey League, and he also once suited up as a horse jockey.

He would suffer any indignity if it raised money for the Sudanese.

"He lived in fairly severe pain for his last five years; still, he was driven to leave a meaningful legacy for the next generation of young Sudanese in the South," said former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, who often traveled with Bol.

He touched statesmen and athletes alike. "Once you were his friend, you were always his friend. That's just how he was," Rick Mahorn, a teammate on the Philadelphia 76ers said. "Every moment with him was just fun, but he was a soldier, proud of who he was, trying to help everybody around him."

This "giant among men" will long be remembered – not for the NBA records he leaves behind, but for the people he helped along the way.