Friday, August 5, 2011

Manute Bol: True Association Stories

Manute and Mugsy
 I once slapped Manute Bol a five.  It was a high 5 for me, I remember having to jump up to reach his outstretched hand.  It was a low 5 for Manute.  He just hung his gangly limb down for me to slap.

I was 12 years old coming from the bowels of Oakland Coliseum (now know as rOracle Arena) with my fellow Loma Verde Jammers teammates.  We were going to match up against the Our Lady of Loretto Wildcats for an intense game of halftime entertainment for the rabid Golden State Warriors fans. The Warriors were coming off the floor headed to the locker room to strategize with coach Don Nelson.  They were battling the Portland Trail Blazers that night and Manute ended up with 10 blocks.  Obviously he made a difference in this contest!

The Warriors that season  featured Chris Mullin, Terry Teagle, Mitch Richmond, Rod Higgins and Winston Garland.  The Dubs that year went 43-39, beat the Jazz in Round 1 of the playoffs, and lost in the Conference Semi's to the Suns.  It was a great season by Warriors standards.  Heck, the Warriors even had the young Steve Alford and John Starks on the bench.

After slapping 5's we made our way to the court.  The floor looked huge even though it was the same size as Hill Gym in Novato.  It probably had something to do with the 15,025 seats that surrounded the court.  Most were obviously empty as fans were getting more beer, hitting the head, or waiting in line for processed meat snacks.  But I still remember the crowd noise when we made a shot, stole the ball, or bounced a dribble off of our foot out of bounds.  The biggest roar came when there was an 8 kid pile up at mid court as we hustled for the loose ball.

I remember bricking a wide-open jumper that would have given us the first points of the "game".  We lost 4-2 with the low scoring being attributed to the absolute shock of 6th graders playing on the Coliseum floor during halftime of an actual NBA game.  Thankfully, the Jammers never once lost a game to the Wildcats in games that counted winning the Novato Championship 3 years in a row.  This is still a hilarious antidote to share with former Jammers and Wildcats when we run into each other.  After the exhibition, one of my teammates saw Jerry Rice a few rows back and shook his hand.  The experience was incredible.  It is burned in my memory.

Bol and Spud Webb were on the same semi-pro team after college
The Bay Area at the time was fascinated by Manute.  Here was a 7'7" Sudanese man, skinny as heck, with a funny accent who would shoot occasional 3's and block tons of shots (4.3 blocks in 22 minutes/night that season).  After getting dunked on by Michael Jordan, he supposedly invented the phrase "My bad."  I remember Don Nelson talking about how he couldn't play more than 25 minutes a night because of his size.  He would just get too tired and his frame couldn't take more than that.

Manute played two seasons in Golden State before being traded to Philly for 1st a Round Draft Pick that the Warriors used to get Chris Gatling.  Bol returned to the Warriors at the end of his NBA career in 1995 to play just 5 games before retiring.

Don Nelson loved Manute.  We loved Manute.  Heck, even Charles Barkley loved Manute:

In Philadelphia, Bol fast became friends with Charles Barkley. "You know, a lot of people feel sorry for him, because he's so tall and awkward," Barkley said of Bol in a 1990 SI feature. "But I'll tell you this -- if everyone in the world was a Manute Bol, it's a world I'd want to live in. He's smart. He reads The New York Times. He knows what's going on in a lot of subjects. He's not one of these just-basketball guys. Basketball's just one percent of it. You know what he was talking about the other day? Milk. He was saying that he grew up on milk straight from the cow. Squeezed it himself. Milk. He says, 'Charlie, what's this lo-fat milk, this two percent milk, all of this other milk? Cows don't give lo-fat milk, two percent milk. We shouldn't drink it.' I don't know. Maybe he's got something."

Bol was active after his retirement.  He continued to play pro basketball in lesser leagues.  He was on Fox's Celebrity Boxing in 2002 defeated William "The Refrigerator" Perry by unanimous decision.  That same year he also signed a one day contract with Indianapolis Ice in the Central Hockey League.  Because he couldn't skate, Bol never made an appearance in the game.  Bol became the tallest jockey ever in by racing in the Indiana Horse Racing Commission.

As this TrueHoop piece points out, Manute loved to drink Heineken and stay out late.  Manute was seen as a side show to a lot of people.  But Bol was dedicated to the Sudanese liberation and his humanitarian efforts engulfed the last years of his life.  I would advise reading the TrueHoop piece, checking out an excerpt of the e-book over at Sports Illustrated, and possibly even purchasing the e-book at The Atavist.

These memories from my teen years are brought up learning about Bol.  And all Nextians should know the full story of Manute.

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