Anyone who grew up as a Washington Bullets fan in the 1980s has very few fond memories. The team was a disgrace, and to a large degree, can still be considered a disgrace. But there was one player in particular who stood out, and that was Sudanese shot-blocking specialist Manute Bol. I’m fairly certain he’s the only player in the NBA to have killed a lion with a spear.
Manute was different not just because he was so tall, but because he was so awkward. People goofed on him. So he had to learn to talk trash back. He made a fool of himself on many occasions. He once lost teeth the first time he dunked. He fought Refrigerator Perry in celebrity boxing. As a publicity stunt, he joined an ice hockey team and was also a horse jockey. He was sometimes in the news for odd reasons, such as fighting with his wife, or being stuck at an airport. Even when I met him, the conversation was awkward, and I felt as if I had to speak to him as if he were a child.
Despite all that, he was a remarkable humanitarian who helped the people of Sudan, and spent his fortune on it. My family had a life-sized poster of him in our garage, and when we were kids we measured ourselves on it.
Just like with Gary Coleman, Manute wasn’t in good shape when I met him in early 2009. We had to help him out of his chair for the photo. When I asked him Gunaxin’s Six Questions, he managed to make us laugh when he said that “Rambo” was his favorite movie.
The world lost a great person today. Rest in peace, Manute.
See also: Hangin’ With Manute Bol