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Manute Bol: Big Man, Big Heart

AP Photo / Washington Bullets

Manute Bol: Big Man, Big Heart

When a former NBA star goes bankrupt, the culprits are usually limited to bad divorces, poor investments, legal troubles and/or years of bankrolling a posse of hangers-on. But then most pro basketball players probably never killed a lion with a spear.

Born into a family of Sudanese cattle farmers, Manute Bol didn't start playing basketball until he was sixteen years old. A U.S. college coach spotted him and convinced him to come to America, and the rest is history.

At 7'7'', Bol became the tallest man to ever play in the NBA and attendance soared when he played on the road. He endeared himself to fans (whom he called his "friends") and was often juxtaposed in posters next to fellow Washington Bullet Muggsy Bogues, the NBA's shortest player at 5'3". More than a curiosity, during his ten year career Bol was one of the best shot blockers in the league and even developed into a decent 3-point shooter. He remains the only player in the NBA to have more blocked shots than points scored.

"I had a good time with the American people," Bol told Sports Illustrated after retiring from basketball. "I hope they remember me as a good guy who played hard. I wasn't Michael Jordan, but I was somebody called Manute Bol."

In the wake of his death on June 19, 2010, many obituaries rightly focused on Bol's humanitarian work. He donated much of his earnings (and eventually went bankrupt) trying to better the less fortunate of his homeland. He supported rebel political groups looking to end oppression in Sudan, and founded the Ring True Foundation to help Sudanese refugees. He participated in the three-week Sudan Freedom Walk from New York City to Washington D.C. and was not above publicity stunts if they helped raise money for the causes he held dear. He signed a one-day contract with a minor league hockey team, appeared at a horse racing track dressed as a jockey, and fought against William "The Refrigerator" Perry in a celebrity boxing match. Additionally, he donated nearly his entire fortune to organizations working in Darfur.

"I never thought about the money I lost," Bol once told the New York Daily News. "It wasn't lost. It helped Sudan."

Of Manute Bol, former teammate Charles Barkley said, “If everyone in the world was a Manute Bol, it’s a world I’d want to live in.”