By Joel A. Freeman (mentor/chaplain, NBA Washington Bullets/Wizards,
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.
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
Allow me to share a
glimpse in the rear view mirror: I
was mentor/chaplain for the
NBA Washington Bullets/Wizards
for 20 seasons (retired in 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
--soon to be a book, "Finding the Open Man: The
Surprising Benefits of Unselfishness."
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
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
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
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
Manute and the brick press in Sudan Used
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
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.
moments like this every day. Manute was very proud
and independent. After the first year he began to
handle most of his own affairs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Barkley and Rick
Mahorn play a trick on Manute
published salary statistics, during his decade-long
tenure as an NBA player, Manute earned almost $6
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
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
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.”
-- 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
for brief stints with each of those teams before retiring in
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
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.
He will be remembered as a great man who helped tens of
thousands of people and a great basketball player.
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
-- 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
__________________________________________________ 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...
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
-- 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
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
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
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.
Film About Manute Bol from
(Informe Robinson: "La historia de Manute Bol," 30
minutes -- Interviews in English)
I was chaplain for the NBA Washington Bullets/Wizards for 19
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
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.