Manute Bol's Legacy

How the 47-year-old Sudanese basketball player will be remembered

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Manute Bol, who is best known for his NBA career and unusual height, but who dedicated years of his life and much of his earnings to humanitarian work in his native Sudan, died this weekend at the age of 47. The seven-foot, seven-inch Bol joined the Washington Bullets in 1985 and played until 1995, during which time he was known as one of the NBA's most formidable shot blockers. With his death from kidney failure and skin disease, contracted during relief work in Sudan, Bol's legacy is becoming one of humanitarianism and bravery. Here's what people are saying about his life and contributions.

  • His Incredible Humanitarian Work  The Kansas City Star's Sam Bellinger writes, "According to reports, he made nearly $6 million in his career, and, aside from a few American comforts, spent it all trying to save lives and educate children back home. He has given so much and received little in comparison. He was once lured back to his home country with the promise of a cabinet post, only to find out he would be required to convert to Islam. When he refused, he was stranded for nearly five years. His trust and good intentions have been abused so many times. Even while playing, he went into war zones to help the Lost Boys and other refugees. Sometimes, those visits were interrupted by bombings from warlords who viewed Bol as a threat. His family was wiped out by Darfurians, but when that country became victims, Bol was one of the first Sudanese to speak out in support."
  • Died Doing What He Loved The Associated Press reports, "After the NBA, Bol worked closely as an advisory board member of Sudan Sunrise, which promotes reconciliation in Sudan. Bol was hospitalized in mid-May during a stopover in Washington after returning to the United States from Sudan. [Sudan Sunrise Director Tom] Prichard said then that Bol was in Sudan to help build a school in conjunction with Sudan Sunrise but stayed longer than anticipated after the president of southern Sudan asked him to make election appearances and use his influence to counter corruption in the county. He said Bol had undergone three dialysis treatments and developed Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a condition that caused him to lose patches of skin. Prichard said the skin around Bol's mouth was so sore he went 11 days without eating and could barely talk."
  • Went Broke Helping Sudan Voice of America's James Butty writes, "Bol was almost destitute in 2001 and began appearing in promotional stunts, such as celebrity boxing matches, to raise funds for his homeland." Joe Madison, who worked with Bol on Sudan relief efforts, tells Voice of America, "He understood what a lot of athletes go through in this country, particularly when they seem to be extraordinary. Here was a man who people tried to commercialize. He refused to allow himself to be commercialized just for the sake of enriching his own lot. He did it just to save lives."
  • Fellow Players Loved Him The Washington Post's Matt Schudel writes, "Charles Barkley, who was Manute's teammate with the Philadelphia 76ers, had one of the kindest and most perceptive comments about an athlete I've ever read or heard: 'You know, a lot of people feel sorry for him, because he's so tall and awkward. But I'll tell you this -- if everyone in the world was a Manute Bol, it's a world I'd want to live in.'"
  • Hadji Jon Steven Williams tweets, "Most NBA cats go broke on cars, jewelry & groupies. Manute Bol went broke building hospitals." The tweet was reproduced in Express, the Washington Post's free daily newspaper.
  • May Have Coined 'My Bad' Geoffrey K. Pullum of the University of Pennsylvania's Language Log explains the theory that Bol's Dinka language may have led him to use the phrase "my bad," which Pullum suggests became popular on Bol's 1988 team, the Golden State Warriors, and then spread into the general discourse.
  • Manute Bol's SNL Skit Comedy site Funny or Die posts this old Saturday Night Live clip featuring Bol. "In honor of Manute Bol, a great person and humanitarian, who passed away today."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.