Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Towering Humanitarian

I couldn’t let the passing of Sudan-born NBA player Manute Bol go unmentioned. At seven feet, seven inches, Bol tied for the record of the league’s tallest-ever player; but Bol’s weight never made it much past the 200lb mark, giving him an outstretched, even otherworldly appearance. I saw Bol play in person once; he used his big hands and skinny arms like giant flyswatters to block shots and could basically dunk the ball without leaving the floor. Phil Jasner of the Philadelphia Daily News gives a good account of Bol’s 10-year NBA career, including Bol’s wickedly good sense of humor.

But far more important were Bol’s actions off the court, where Bol worked tirelessly for social causes in his native Sudan; including reconciliation among warring factions - even after a large portion of his extended family was wiped out in the unrest in Sudan’s Darfur region. The Montreal Gazette ran this account of Bol’s humanitarian work shortly before his death; it’s well worth your time to read it. According to the paper, Bol gave away almost all of the $6 million he earned during his NBA career. To support his philanthropy after his playing career ended, Bol took on a series of stunts usually reserved for D-list celebs: he was on Fox’s “Celebrity Boxing” and agreed to play in a minor league hockey game (ultimately they could not find skates large enough for his feet), all in an effort to keep the donations rolling in for his work in Sudan.

The article does ask why the NBA’s own charity “NBA Cares” never made a donation to Bol’s causes, or for that matter why none of today’s ultra-wealthy superstars haven’t either. At the time of his death, Bol was trying to raise $18,000 to finish three classrooms in southern Sudan – that’s probably about what LeBron James will earn during the first minute of the mega-contract he’ll soon sign. Just something to think about…

Farewell Manute.
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