Remembering Manute Bol

Manute Bol: An appreciation for a Special Blessing
by Wim Laven

Remember Manute Bol? He was the tallest person to ever play in NBA,
for 10 seasons. He could touch the rim without jumping—so tall (it is
written) that the average man stands eye level to his belly button.
The only player in the history of the NBA to record more blocked shots
than points, and the second highest blocks per game average.

On June 19, 2010 Manute—translated “special blessing”—passed away. He
died from doing what he loved, not basketball, but, aiding his
country. He lived what could be described as a humble life, and gave
all he could—literally—to help the people of Sudan. When he was fined
for missing preseason games he was hurt; he missed the “exhibition
games” because he was he was in Washington D.C. for peace talks. One
would think bringing peace to a wartorn region more important than a
game, but then again Lakers’ fans used winning as an excuse to set
cars on fire, and break windows.

I once wrote to a friend: “I sit here in Sri Lanka a country on the
verge of war, and the truth is I cannot give up the life I am used to.
I do not feel alive at all anymore, I feel afraid and hopeless. To be
true I feel completely lost. I spend so many nights crying because I
can’t help. I listened for hours tonight about the failures to make a
difference.” My friend responded (in part): “[sacrifice] is brutal
and everyone knows that. Going there voluntarily rather than
submitting to the theft of one’s conscience is a powerful statement
that, by itself, only achieves inspiration of the masses, who actually
have the nonviolent power to force change.” I’m aware of what it means
and takes to make sacrifice; I’m also aware that my small story pales
in comparison.

What Manute Bol did was not easy. Nor were the outcomes particularly
just. One of the tragedies is that he was a true blessing to humanity;
he spent most of his small fortune aiding people in need, but was
valued mostly for his contributions on the court. Manute’s life is a
challenge to each of us to consider our values—questions of fidelity
and morality have to be more important than five championship rings or
one’s greatness on the court or course. The more important tragedy is
that his charity threatened his safety, and ultimately caused the
illness that led to his death. He contracted a fatal skin disease in
Sudan. But, giving as much as he could was the only choice in his

“It was 1991. This was the first time I had seen Sudan on TV and I saw
it, the Sudan government were killing my people. I say no. This cannot
be right. I have to do something, you know? I decided to be a fighter.
I feel I made a lot of money. I should give it back to my people.”
Wim Laven is a teacher holding a graduate degree in Conflict Resolution.