I woke up in a strange place

By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
See also: a novel about a monkey.

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July 25, 2001

This webpage receives between 120 and 150 hits a day from people looking for Manute Bol information, so I decided to dedicate an entire entry to the big guy. The introduction to a book entitled Manute Bol For Beginners might read something like this: Manute Bol was the tallest player in the history of the National Basketball Association, standing at 7 feet and 7 inches. He was a shot-blocking machine, mercilessly swatting the hoop dreams of lesser, shorter men. Born in Sudan, Manute Bol was drafted by the Washington Bullets in 1985. For ten powerful years, Manute cast a long shadow over the entire NBA. He did not score many points, nor did he pull down an especially large number of rebounds, but he was very tall in an exemplary fashion. Unfortunately, the svelte Manute was easy prey for the new generation of big fat basketball players like Shaquille O'Neal, who countered the big Bol of grace with thuggish pounding. Manute Bol sensed that his time was past, and in 1995, he retired from basketball.

The past, as they say, is prologue. What lay ahead for Manute? That's the question that at least 340 people ask this webpage every day, and until recently, I didn't have the answer. Finally, however, news has surfaced. In association with the Associated Press, this webpage proudly presents:

Manute Bol: the Legend Continues...

(Or: The Part of the Behind The Music Episode Where It All Goes To Shit, Just Before The Part Where They Release A New Album That They Feel Is Their Best Work In Years)

Manute Bol, the NBA record holder for blocked shots in a rookie season, has slipped out of Sudan and is trying to return to America. Bol had been trying for eight months to leave his native Sudan, the scene of an 18-year civil war, but authorities were unsure whether to would allow him to depart. On July 12, Bol and his family showed up at the airport in Khartoum and surprised security officers, who called their superiors for instructions. Two hours later, they allowed him to board a plane for Cairo, Bol said Tuesday from the Egyptian capital in a telephone interview with The Associated Press, his first since slipping out of Sudan. "My eyes got big,'' Bol said. "I couldn't believe it. People were talking that I couldn't get out.''

Now, I cannot stress enough that Manute Bol is a very big man. For example, here is a photo of Wilt Chamberlain. Manute Bol is much, much taller than Wilt Chamberlain. So when Manute Bol says that his eyes got big, we are talking about some fucking huge eyes. Probably two feet tall, each.

Friends in the Hartford area are working to get U.S. visas for Bol, his new wife and 18-month-old son and Bol's younger sister. Three daughters and a son from an earlier marriage live in New Jersey. "I feel bad about the way things have worked out for him,'' said Ed Bona, Bol's cousin and a former European pro basketball player who lives in West Hartford. Bol made millions in his 10 years in the NBA, diverting much of it to his extended family in Sudan and to rebels fighting the government. Since then he has fallen on hard times, forced to sell his two homes while a bank foreclosed on his home in the United States. For now, Bol is stuck in Cairo, dealing with the red tape involved in coming to America. He knows he'll have to return to Sudan if U.S. embassy officials don't issue visas for his family. "I'm depressed,'' Bol said. "I really miss my children and my friends in America.''

When a man of Manute Bol's size is sad, and he starts crying, short people often think that it is raining.

To make matters worse, the airline lost the suitcase with all Bol's clothes. Besides trying to get a visa, he's trying to find clothes big enough to fit him. Bol's journey from the United States and basketball stardom back to life in Sudan was nothing like he expected. During his rookie year with the Washington Bullets in 1985, he had 397 blocks. Bol bounced from Washington to Golden State, Philadelphia and Miami before retiring from the league in 1995. He averaged just 4.2 rebounds and 2.6 points per game during his career. He returned to Sudan hoping to help negotiate an end to the civil war and possibly obtain a government cabinet position.

This part of the article is unfortunately sketchy. I'd love to hear more about that. I'm envisioning Manute showing up in a "Rebels" jersey and trying to block the government's shots.

Arabic Muslims in the northern part of the country run the government. African Christian rebels in the south have been fighting the government since 1983. More than 2 million people have been killed. Bol is a member of the Dinka tribe and is sympathetic to the rebels, who he says he gave nearly $3.5 million over the years. Bol also found himself giving money to many in the Dinka tribe. Soon he was nearly broke. Writers for Sports Illustrated and The New York Times recently chronicled his plight. Bona's brother in London wired Bol the airplane tickets to Cairo. Bona said Bol picked up the tickets at a travel agency in Khartoum on the day of the flight and was able to get passports and visas to Cairo from the agency. He said Bol paid a "gratuity'' to keep the matter quiet. Bona and Andrew Kearns, a West Hartford lawyer who was Bol's roommate at the University of Bridgeport, also have been lobbying to get Bol to the United States and find him a job.

Oh, boy, I can relate. Can I ever! My friends try to find me jobs, too. Do you think Manute Bol and I should go into business together? Write your congressman!

Kearns said he plans to call U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who helped former University of Connecticut basketball player Ajou Deng leave Sudan in 1997.

Being known as The Man Who Saved Manute Bol would be a great way for that dickhead to redeem himself. He should do it.

Kearns said it was a bit of luck and the element of surprise that helped Bol get out of Sudan.
"He caught them off guard,'' Kearns said. "If they had known ahead of time, they would have canceled the flight or intercepted him. He was actually proud of himself and said, 'You don't know what I had to do to keep this quiet.'"

Manute! Manute! Wily! Wily! Seven feet, seven inches of wily!

Bol said he wasn't sure exactly what kind of visa he will need to get to the United States.
Carolina Walkin, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, said the easiest option would probably be for Bol to check whether his green card has expired. But Walkin said federal regulations do not make it easy for people in his situation. "There are a number of ways to come back to the U.S., but just saying 'I want to see my children' is not going to do it,' she said. 'It's not that people in the State Department and INS don't have a heart. Everything is laid out by law.''

Heartless bureaucrats, beltway insiders, damn politicians. See, that's part of why Manute Bol is so fucking cool. He's wily and yet he's bewildered. People don't realize that you can be both at the same time, but you can, and he is living proof. Another reason why Manute Bol is cool is that if they tried to make a biographical movie ("Manute!"), and they hired one of the four black actors working in Hollywood right now (preferably Don Cheadle), everyone else in the cast would have to be midgets, to make the size work out. I don't think I have to tell you how cool that would be.

Bol said his first goal is to see his four children in New Jersey. He also said he wants to stay in the United States. "My daughter is mad at me because I've been away for a long time," he said. "I've been away for five years. That's too long.''

Damn right.

See also:

  • A biography?
  • Trading cards!

  • I woke up in a strange place is the work of Marc Heiden, born in 1978, author of two books (Chicago, Hiroshima) and some plays, and an occasional photographer.

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    Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.