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a “Special Blessing”

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By Joel A. Freeman (mentor/chaplain, NBA Washington Bullets/Wizards, 1979-'98)
Special to the Assist News Service

 

Severn, Maryland -- As a gentle giant, NBA legend Manute Bol fought for it in his own way. He would have loved it! The Republic of South Sudan is now the 193rd member nation of the United Nations (as of July 9, 2011). The poorest nation in the world, filled with hope and determination.

 

  Let's take a step back. Manute Bol gave to those who had absolutely no way of repaying him for his time, energy and generosity. Fighting for a group of people tortured, slaughtered and misled by the government of Sudan. What a legacy of kindness, perseverance and courage Manute has left to the world and to the citizens of this new country -- South Sudan!

 

  If you follow professional basketball at all, by now you have heard that the 7'7" Manute Bol (47) died from a host of health conditions in a Virginia hospital on June 19, 2010. It was the combination of kidney failure, Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and internal bleeding that finally caused his heart to stop beating – all related to deferring much-needed health care in order to stay in Sudan to help through the April elections.

 

  A quick online search reveals that within a few days after his death over 1,200 stories about Manute were published.

 

   The number of articles, news stories and blogs reveals the outpouring of love and international attention focused on this tall man's legacy -- not only as an NBA player, but also on the all-consuming drive he had to help his people back home in Sudan.

 

  Allow me to share a glimpse in the rear view mirror: I was mentor/chaplain for the NBA Washington Bullets/Wizards for 19 years (1979-1998). How I became chaplain during the heyday of Kevin Porter, Elvin Hayes, Kevin Grevey, Bernard King, Wes Unseld, Jeff Ruland, Rick Mahorn, John Lucas, Chris Webber, Mitch Kupchak, and Manute Bol is another story.
 

  Manute was drafted in the second round by the Washington Bullets in 1985. Nothing I had heard or read about him could have prepared me for what I saw -- a tall, spindly man as thin as a praying mantis.


Manute & Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
Used by permission, NBA Photos


  My first thought was: How is he going to survive the required running up and down the court, coupled with sharp elbows and all of the pounding that goes on under the basket? I knew that no NBA opponent was going to give him a break.

 

  The team management put Manute on a strict regimen weight-lifting, pizza and anything else that would put some meat on his bones. He added 17 pounds before his debut in October 1985.
 


Used by permission, NBA Photos

  Manute’s likeability factor and ticket-selling, shot-blocking statistics (2,086 blocks in 624 games over 10 seasons) speak for themselves. His physical presence, coupled with his famous trash-talking, warrior-like ferocity on the court forced other players to change their game. Somehow he defied all of the odds against him.
 

  Chuck Douglas (Assistant GM, Player Personnel Director, and Director of Scouting; 20 years for Bullets/Wizards) was fresh out of college and was assigned to deal with all media intrigued with Manute and also to take care of anything Manute needed to have done. He was on call 24/7. Chuck’s first year, the Bullets invented a title for him: Public Relations and Coaching Assistant.


  It was cross-cultural miscommunication at its finest. Throw in a couple of video cameras and it would have been the gold standard for all other reality TV shows!
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Imagine the comedy. Manute had no license. No car. No apartment. No furniture. Nothing taught in any of the fine classes at the University of Maryland could prepare Chuck for this experience. And Chuck was so young that he didn’t have a clue about balancing a check book, what kind of curtains were needed to go with the furniture, and all sorts of other taken-for-granted mundane aspects of life in America. A cross-cultural accident waiting to happen on a daily basis.
 


Manute and the brick press in Sudan
Used by Permission

  Manute didn’t have many clothes that fit him, so that first year he wore his Bullets practice gear most of the time. His contract called for the Bullets to pay him $137,500 that first season, so they helped out with a lot of the extra expenses.

  When Manute came to the NBA he could barely speak English and was having a tough time trying to explain his needs and also trying to comprehend the responses.

 

  One day Manute told Chuck that he had some small animals in his apartment that were eating his food and that he wanted to kill them. After trying to clarify the request, Chuck told him that he would take care of it. Chuck thought that the animals were mice or some other rodent, so he went out to pick up a few mouse traps, some other items and even a BB gun…just in case. When Manute saw the arsenal of solutions for his problem he said, “You Americans are stupid.” The animals eating Manute’s food – the ones he was trying to kill – were flies. All Chuck had to do was to buy some insect repellent and a fly swatter.

 

 There were moments like this every day. Manute was very proud and independent. After the first year he began to handle most of his own affairs.

  David Letterman, Johnny Carson, GQ magazine, and other media outlets wanted to interview Manute. One moment Chuck was dealing with the heady world of primetime media and the next moment Chuck and Manute were playing roles in another episode of the Twilight Zone.

  Chuck’s car was a hand-me-down 1962 Ford Falcon. They rigged the car so that Manute could sit in the back seat and Chuck would drive him anywhere he needed to go.

 

  Manute had a lot of fine qualities, but patience wasn’t one of them. When Chuck was taking too long at the drycleaners or a convenience store, Manute would beep the car horn until Chuck came out with whatever he was tasked to do. After all, it was easy for Manute reach the horn from the back seat.


Manute Bol, Mikhail Gorbachev and Robert McFarlane at the Reconciliation Forum held in Washington, DC in 2009. 'Bud' McFarlane made a generous contribution of $50,000 towards Manute's School Project and accompanied Manute to Turalei to visit the construction site
Used by Permission


  Bob Ferry (Bullet’s GM) was in the car the first time Manute practiced his driving skills at the old Capital Center parking lot in Landover. Chuck had said, “I’m not risking my life!” So it fell to Bob. The parking lot was huge, but there were parking lot lights strategically placed all over the lot and Manute had a few close calls. Bob got out of the car quite shaken and drained.

 


Manute swimming

 

  Manute loved to embellish the adventurous story about killing a lion with a spear in the Sudanese bush. The lion had eaten some of his cows and he knew what he had to do. Only a few people really knew that he waited until the lion was asleep before thrusting it through with his spear. “I’m not a crazy American. Who would want to kill a lion while it was awake?” he said. Awake. Asleep. This still adds up to quite a feat.

 

  Manute endeared himself to the players, the management and the fans. Manute was very confident in his size, had an excellent work ethic, loved his Sudanese heritage, and was enthusiastic about life.

 

  He enjoyed being around people who were honest and truthful. A man without guile.

  He loved to play jokes on his teammates and was the brunt of many practical jokes. He could give it and he could take it. Sometimes he would chase teammates like Jeff Ruland and Jeff Malone out of the locker room, throwing his sneakers at them. We probably will never know what deviously funny things they were doing that elicited such an explosive response.

Charles Barkley and Rick
Mahorn play a trick on Manute

 

  According to published salary statistics, during his decade-long tenure as an NBA player, Manute earned almost $6 million.

 

  That's a lot of money by any standards. It has been said that he donated much of his NBA earnings to his native Sudan.
 


Manute against the Blazers
Used by permission, NBA Photos

  In later years after the glow of the basketball court lights had dimmed and the regular source of income had dried up, Manute was caught between his personal needs and the needs of his own people back in Sudan.

 

  It was easy to determine that he was focused on the latter, which drove him to the boxing ring, the hockey rink, the horse track and other things that could be compared to the old circus freak shows. He was willing to do anything to raise the awareness of the plight of his people and also to raise money for his cause. A selfless humanitarian bearing gifts – a winsome smile and a hearty laugh. Motivated and even driven by a cause bigger than himself.

 

  Manute’s father, a Dinka tribal chief, picked a name for him at birth that literally means “special blessing.” A prophetic declaration of sorts, depicting the impact Manute would have on millions of people.

 

  My mind goes back to a pre-game chapel meeting in 1987 when Manute had a personal encounter with Jesus of the Bible. I remember the look on his face when it all made sense to him and he became aware of his place in God’s story. A moment in time that would impact and shape how he lived out his life in the years that followed.

 

  Yes, Manute had his faults, but he is now in the stands and we are on the court. He is part of the "heavenly cloud of witnesses" (Heb. 12:1) cheering us on to finish well. Still engaging in a bit of trash-talking, no doubt.

 

  The way Manute lived his life – pouring out to those who are in need and who have absolutely no way of repaying him for his generosity – is wisdom for those of us who are yet alive…struggling with our own issues.

 

  And it also gives us a glimpse into Manute's profound understanding of what Jesus had done for him some 2,000 years ago. The ultimate “special blessing.”

 

 

  www.SudanSunrise.org -- a movement of Americans and Sudanese Christians and Muslims working to achieve reconciliation, unity and the end of oppression in Sudan. Through this organization, Manute Bol was raising funds to build schools in Sudan. May his legacy continue…

 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Manute played for four teams during his ten-year career:
Washington Bullets ('85-'88)     Golden State Warriors ('88-'90)
Philadelphia 76ers ('90-'93)         Miami Heat ('93-'94)
From 1993-1995 he came back to the Bullets, 76ers & Warriors
for brief stints with each of those teams before retiring in 1995...

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

    Joel A. Freeman, Ph.D.     410.991.9718
   –
www.JoelSpeaksRealGood.com  
   -- 
www.BlackHistoryCollection.com  
   --
www.ReturnToGlory.org


  Professional speaker and corporate trainer. Serial entrepreneur. Prolific writer. Motivational consultant/mentor to pro athletes and CEOs. Off-key singer and extremely bad dancer. Veteran chaplain of the NBA Washington Bullets/Wizards (’79-’98). Co-author of the book and award-winning film, Return To Glory: The Powerful Stirring of the Black Man (view film trailer below)


Joel A. Freeman

 

***********************************************

NBA Video about Manute's
Vision for Schools in Sudan

by David Aldridge


Brief mention about NBA experience at Quantico, VA (Defense Security Service) -- 1:41

 

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COMMENTS: (EMAIL COMMENTS: info@freemaninstitute.com )

 

   -- Wonderful! As a long-time basketball player and fan, I especially enjoyed your moving and personal reflections! Fabulous story; just sorry he died too early.

 

   -- "Great tribute Joel.  I really enjoyed reading it and that's exactly how I remember Manute.  What an impact he had on his peers and those who knew him.  Thanks for sharing, Jerrod

 

   -- I found your remembrances, thoughts and editorial of Manute  Bol to be honest, funny and heartwarming. Fascinating read. He will be remembered as a great man who helped tens of thousands of people and a great basketball player.

 

   -- joel, great article, i met nute through my friend greg grant who played with nute in philly. that dude was funny, and greg would tell me all these funny stories about nute, barkley, coach lyman, etc. stay in touch, god bless my brother...Thanks, Michael

 

   -- Awesome article Doc found pleasure in reading it. A life surrendered and dedicated for the well being of others. Manute was truly a Blessing! Powerful Piece.  Well written.

 

   -- This is truly a beautiful piece! Thanks for sharing it with me! Although Manute wasn't there, the time that my son and I spent with you at the Bullet's pre-game chapel meeting years ago seems like yesterday, and it played a HUGE role in my son's young life! My son had a chance to meet Manute over the phone many years later through another friend........a VERY sweet guy!

 

   -- Joel, thanks so much for sharing that with me, I was and still am laughing too hard at the fly story. I remember back in the CBA in West Palm Beach one year, he and another player got into a fight. The funniest thing I have every seen in my life. Take care, Joel. Manute will be missed. Thanks, Corey

 

   -- What an honor to participate at Manute's funeral.  Your article on him is great, a nice blend of humorous and moving comments.  That would be the article to read at the funeral, just as it is, if you got the opportunity.


MORE COMMENTS (and film about Manute) BELOW...

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Joel Freeman on Canadian TV

 

    


The Freeman Institute
Black History Collection


Order book/film resources




Own a full-size, 3D Rosetta Stone replica

__________________________________________________
M O R E   C O M M E N T S

   -- Thanks for the article. I am sorry for the loss of such a good-hearted man. Awesome information Joel. Thank you for sharing. Have a great and special day.

 

   -- Excellent article on Manute Bol. I never follow sports, but I was deeply impressed with him from your story.

   -- big Manute... Great man everyone says... RIP. This is a beautiful story, well written. Thank u for sharing.

   -- this is a very tragic loss for us all, and Manute's story is one that should be told all around the world...he was a very special blessing.

   -- Joel, great piece. I was a Manute fan and facebook friend. It's amazing how many lives he touched.

 

   -- You have truly honored Manute Bol! What a beautiful article. You gave a different inside view of him that we would otherwise not have gotten. I knew of him through the years and felt the great loss when he passed. Thanks Joel for your kindness and congratulations for a job much more than well done my friend!


   -- 
Thanks, Joel, for this excellent piece on Manute Bol - and thanks to Jay for passing it on to me.  I always wish I had gotten the actual-size poster they gave out while he was playing. I saw some photos of peoples' bedrooms after they had put them up, and they had to bend it up onto the ceiling. 

 

   -- Thanks, Joel, I enjoyed reading this as both Manute and I graduated from the University of Bridgeport, though he a few years later. 

 

   -- This is the first I have heard that Mr. Bol. had died. I have been in Central America. I pray for his family. This is a terrific and wonderful piece you have written on Manute Bol.  Thanks for the information.

 

  -- I read your lovely story and was moved. He was an amazing person and sounds like a great role model for others. I am sorry you lost your friend on earth and know he is still with you and you’ll see him again one day.

 

   -- My dear friend this is very impactful and God always has a reason for doing the "little-big things in our lives". Why do I say this, because one of the final attending doctor's was our son, Dr. Paris Butler. Yes, my son at UVA. Paris spoke of the kindness that you have written about in this man, Manute Bol.
 

   --  Thanks. I like the honesty and the grace demonstrated in the article. An uplifting story. Nice tribute to a special man.

 

   -- Manute had such a profound impact on many of us.  As a former student athlete at the University of Notre Dame (1986-1990, co-captain of the basketball team for two years), I can recall several players throughout both my high school and college playing days that I nicknamed "Manute".  Some had more skill, none were nearly as tall, and certainly none made it to the bright lights of the NBA.  However, I learned in later years that Manute's greatest legacy was in the humanitarian efforts he led on behalf of his native Sudan.  He was indeed a special blessing. I am sure you were honored to be involved in his memorial service.

 

   -- An honest and genuine tribute, and I am so glad it is written by someone who has the capacity, insight, and appreciation for so much this man went through. Some of the things you shared about his personality also took me back to my beloved Sudan... thank you for that. So, my thoughts are that it is very honoring and respectful and real. My favorite part, of course, was the cross cultural miscommunication. I bet there are, indeed, thousands of those. Very fun and real.

 

   -- This is very moving story. While saddened by his passing, Manute has left a wonderful legacy.

 

   -- Thanks again Joel. Your article tribute to Manute was awesome. May he rest in peace. We need more Manute Bol's and for some to have that type of heart for people here in the USA.

 

   -- Thank you for writing and sharing this article.  It is such a warm and revealing insight to a very “special blessing.”  From this it is easy to see that you knew Manute well and his family I am sure to have you a part of his home going to share an inspiring and down to earth story such as this.  We know the service will be much the richer for your participation.

 

   -- Ah, so THAT'S how he killed the lion!   At least he didn't SHOOT it while it was asleep.  (Personally, I would've used a hand grenade.) Terrific article, Joel, thanks for sending it.  I hope it gets a lot of play!

 

Click on photo above to learn about the unique, human-powered water drilling rig that is
literally transforming access to clean water in developing nations throughout the world.
This would be a great project for the Sudan.

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Film About Manute Bol from Spanish TV
(Informe Robinson: "La historia de Manute Bol," 30 minutes -- Interviews in English)

I was chaplain for the NBA Washington Bullets/Wizards for 19 years ('79-'98).
Manute started playing for the Bullets in 1985. I was honored to be included in
this wonderful tribute film about Manute Bol. It will be worth the next 30 minutes of
your time to you learn a bit more about this gentle giant...100,000 Blessings, Joel

Manute Bol ~ Part One: 10:58
Manute Bol ~ Part Two: 10:01

 
Manute Bol ~ Part Three: 10:31

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Dr. Freeman discussing a painting from his collection at a
US Department of Justice Black History Month event
(click on photo above for more info about painting)

  Documents and artifacts from The Freeman Institute Black History collection have been exhibited in a number of venues around North America, including the White House Communications (WHCA), US Department of Justice, Frostburg State University and also at the United Nation's (NYC) commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

 __________________________________________

Joel Freeman on Canadian TV

 

 
1st part of TV interview -- 10:25 min.


2nd part of TV interview --  10:09 min.

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Return To Glory film trailer


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