Manute Bol was one of the tallest players in NBA history and a political activist in Africa. He was born in Sudan in 1962 in the Dinka tribe. He lived in Sudan for most of his childhood and teenage years. He tended cattle for his family as a young boy and there is a popular story that he often used to relate during interviews about how he had once killed a lion with a spear back in Sudan. Bol was 7 ft 7 in tall, which was not unusual for where he came from. His tribes people are amongst the tallest populations of the world and his family members were all exceptionally tall. His father was 6 ft 8 in, his mother was 6 ft 10 in and his great grandfather was 7 ft 10 in tall.
Bol began to play basketball at the age of 15. He held a job in the Sudanese military, playing on their national team. During one his games, an American coach from Fairleigh Dickinson University noticed him and advised him to go to the United States to play for the NBA. Bol went to the United States to try his luck but as an underweight, lanky kid he did not have much luck. He tried to enroll at college but his unfamiliarity with Western culture and poor English skills did not get him admission. So he worked on his physique and began training hard and enrolled for additional English classes at the ELS Language Centers. In the 1985 NBA Draft, he was selected to play for the Washington Bullets. He first played with them from 1985 to 1988, during which time he set the NBA rookie record for most number of blocked shots. He later returned to the Washington Bullets in 1993-1994 to help train Gheorghe Mureșan, a 7 ft 7 in tall Romanian who was new to the game.
After leaving the Bullets, Bol played with the Golden State Warriors between 1988 to 1990, the Philadelphia 76ers between 1990 to 1993 and the Miami Heat between 1993-1994. He made brief returns to each of these teams until his retirement after a 10 year career in 1996. He wore size 16 and a half sneakers and was extremely agile. During the 1987 season, Bol, at that time the tallest player in the NBA, played alongside Muggsy Bogues, the shortest NBA player at the time, measuring 5 ft 3 in. Bol was never a high scorer despite the considerable advantage of his height. However, he was extremely skilled at blocking shots, and is ranked 14th on the NBA list of most shots blocked.
Off the court, Bol was known for being an avid social activist. He visited Sudanese refugee camps, established a foundation for their betterment and donated huge amounts to construct schools and promote education in Southern Sudan, where he hailed from. He even campaigned for one of the Presidential candidates in Sudan and was generally very concerned about the welfare of his people.
Bol was a well read and intelligent man, and although he knew very little English when he first came to America, he readily remedied that and became very well versed with the language. He had a pleasant personality and was well liked by his teammates. He died in June 2010 due to kidney failure and complications from a rare skin disorder. He was 47 years old at the time of his death and is survived by his wife and ten children.