Thursday, June 27, 2002 Updated: July 10, 12:04 PM ET
Outside the Lines: Manute Bol
Here's the transcript from Show 110 of weekly Outside The Lines - Manute Bol
SUN., MAY 5, 2002
Host: Bob Ley Reporter: Jeremy Schaap
BOB LEY, ESPN- May 5th, 2002. The NBA is now dependent on international talent. This week scouts jammed a try out with clubs eager to see the latest huge talent from overseas. Seven foot six inch, Yao Ming. Seventeen years ago the wonder was over a 7-foot-7 Dinka tribesman from the Sudan in Africa, Manute Bol.
LEIGH MONTVILLE, BOL'S BIOGRAPHER- Manute came from a loincloth. And he'd never even heard of basketball. And six years later he's playing in the NBA.
LEY- He played well and long in the NBA. And then returned home determined to make a difference with his country in turmoil.
MANUTE BOL, FORMER NBA PLAYER- They're my people and I feel for them.
LEY- To that end, he spent millions of his own money. Today, he is back in the US barely getting by an exile from his homeland and his people.
CHARLES BARKLEY, FORMER TEAMMATE OF BOL- But see the situation there today and it breaks my heart.
LEY- Today on Outside The Lines, from the height of fame to a long journey and a principled struggle, the story of Manute Bol.
LEY- At the very time this week that the assembled minds and pocket books of the NBA have gathered to gawk and plan around Yao Ming, half a country away, in suburban Connecticut, Manute Bol was trying to establish some continuity in his life. A job, some income, perhaps a way to support his family.
As a player, Manute Bol was not a novelty act. Not over 11 seasons setting blocked shot records. Rejecting over 2000 shots in his NBA career. He is arguably the most famous person to ever emerge from Sudan. But that celebrity and the wealth that went with it was consumed by the modern day African curse of political and religious warfare. Leaving the story of Manute Bol, one of pride and principle, and right now not much more.
It is a story told by our Jeremy Schaap.
MONTVILLE- He's the tallest guy you've ever seen. He's the thinnest guy you've ever seen. You know, and you start with that and you go, 'wow.'
JEREMY SCHAAP, ESPN- At 41, Manute Bol is still drawing wows. What's it like being all the way up there?
BOL- It's something God gives to you. You know, you didn't go and buy it in a super market. It's something that God just gives to you. So, you've got to be happy with it, you know, and I am.
SCHAAP- Bol is still 7-foot-7 but gone are the millions he earned in the NBA. After five harrowing years in Africa, Bol's back in the U.S. and living off the charity of friends in West Hartford, Connecticut.
AUTOGRAPH SEEKER- Well good luck.
BOL- Thank you, man.
AUTOGRAPH SEEKER- Thank you.
SCHAAP- He aches from arthritis. And yet Bol's been down so long it looks like up even to him.
BOL- People walk up to me and they say, you know, thank God you're over here. And we're happy you're back here. You know, and what you did for your people was very nice.
SCHAAP- Bol in effect, bled for his people financially and literally. He could have stayed in the U.S. and lived comfortably. Instead, he went home to a civil war. He gave millions to help his people fight one of the world's most oppressive regimes.
SCHAAP- You don't regret having gone back to the Sudan?
BOL- No. I thought this is my giving back, I think I did some good things too. I think that I saved some people, you know, by doing that.
SCHAAP- Bol was both generous and extravagant. He bought homes in the U.S., the Sudan and Egypt. He invested in a restaurant that failed and in a war seemingly without end. One of his closest friends was Charles Barkley. Do you feel bad for Manute Bol?
BARKLEY- I feel horrible for Manute Bol. Horrible, not bad, horrible. Because here's a guy who made himself a good basketball player. He wasn't a great basketball player. He made himself a good functioning NBA player, had a really good solid career. And to see the situation as it is today, it breaks my heart.
SCHAAP- When he entered the NBA in 1985, Bol was the tallest player in league history. Initially he was a freak. A curiosity. But he quickly become a legend of sorts.
PLAY-BY-PLAY ANNOUNCER- They love it here in Chicago. They love it everywhere.
SCHAAP- Shot blocking folk hero.
PUBLIC ADDRESS ANNOUNCER- At center, No. 10, 7-foot-6 Manute Bol.
SCHAAP- Bol developed a three point shot that was as ugly as it was unlikely.
PLAY-BY-PLAY ANNOUNCER- Watch the spin of this ball. It's a Hoyt Wilhelm knuckle ball. No spin at all.
SCHAAP- He altered shots and inspired all.
PLAY-BY-PLAY ANNOUNCER- Bol a second block, his third block, pump fake. His fourth block. His fifth block. Roberts on the floor. Unbelievable sequence by Manute Bol.
BARKLEY - He was very good at his best. I think he probably never got the credit he deserved. I mean any time you played against Manute, any time, and I played against him more than I played with him, he's going to block your shot.
PLAY-BY-PLAY ANNOUNCER- And Manute comes from nowhere to block it. Mickey's going to try it again. And he blocks him again. Albert King gets it rejected. Unbelievable defense.
SCHAAP- As a rookie Bol blocked 397 shots, still the second highest single season total ever in the NBA. And despite his physique, he never backed down from a fight.
PLAY-BY-PLAY ANNOUNCER- Here they go again. Right in front of us. Right in front of us, they're really getting into it. Look at. They're wailing at each other. And Manute more than holding his own
MONTVILLE- He did something that kind of still defies imagination. Coming from the jungle really. I mean Manute came from the loincloth. In like six years -- he had never even heard of basketball and six years later he's playing in the NBA.
SCHAAP- This is where Manute Bol came from. The southern Sudan in northeast Africa. He grew up here in the 1970s during a brief respite in the civil war that has consumed the Sudan for most of the last 50 years. His tribe, the Dinka's, is the largest in the region. He's descended from a long line of chiefs.
MONTVILLE- He was kind of from a royalty. A lot of people said that when he came here he had a sense of entitlement, almost like, I'm from the Kennedy's or something, you know.
BARKLEY - That was the thing that stood out to me, how he carried himself. He was always concerned about his physical appearance. And that struck me as a person like he wanted to just be looked upon, dignified. And I was impressed with that.
SCHAAP- Barkley and Bol were the NBA's oddest couple. The round mound of rebound from Alabama and the beanpole from the bush.
BOL- Charles was always saying he never took anything serious, like you know. He don't believe that people walk around and they're in those bushes with the animals. Manute, how can you live there? No way man, I cannot live there with those animals around and everything, you know, he takes everything as a joke.
BARKLEY - At practice, all morning, I used to make fun of him. He made fun of me and Rick Mahorn's butt all of the time. I'll tell you, he was the funniest guy that I ever had the pleasure of playing with. He was always joking around. Never serious. And it was great.
SCHAAP- Sometimes the joke was on Manute.
BARKLEY- They're right there.
BOL- That was Rick Mahorn.
SCHAAP- But Bol would have his revenge.
SCHAAP- As his NBA career was winding down Bol became the most visible and one of the most vocal critics of the Sudanese government which was again waging war against it's darker skinned, non Muslim citizens in the south. Bol's people.
PROTESTOR- Freedom for all Sudanese.
PROTESTORS (together)- Freedom for all Sudanese.
JEMERA RONE, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH- I saw Manute Bol at Capital Hill at a hearing in 1993, I think, or 1994. And he was a very striking and formidable presence as you can imagine. And I think the mere fact of his celebrity attracted a lot of attention to the cause of the southern Sudanese.
SCHAAP- Jemera Rone is among the world's foremost experts on the conflict in the Sudan which is thought to have claimed two million lives as a result of either fighting or famine since 1983. Rone says that Bol's fellow Dinka's have been hit especially hard.
RONE- The government absolutely failed its duty to help the people in this desperate need.
SCHAAP- Bol says he spent $3-and-a-half million supporting the southern rebels, most of who's leaders like him, were Christians. As the son and grandson of chiefs, he says he felt a deep obligation to his tribe. Basketball took Bol from the Sudan but he still bore the markings of a Dinka.
BOL- They're my people. And I feel for them.
SCHAAP- After 11 seasons, Bol retired from the NBA in 1996. Forsaking the comforts of the U.S., he moved to Uganda in central Africa. From there, he could closely monitor that war that was still raging in the Sudan. Then a year later, the Sudanese government signed a peace treaty with several of the rebel factions. Bol moved to the capital Khartoum to work with the people he had fought against for so many years.
BOL- I thought they were serious for the peace but they were not, you know. Because when I went there all things they talked on TV ... is the peace. And now in a minute, they change and say no we gotta fight to the death.
SCHAAP- Bol says officials promised him a position in the government. But when he refused to renounce his Christian beliefs and convert to Islam they reneged.
BOL- I couldn't qualify for a job because they wanted me to be a Muslim to get that job. And I refused to do that.
SCHAAP- Bol says the government was afraid that if he left the Sudan, he'd resume his anti government activities. He was refused permission to emigrate. Bol says he feared he'd be killed.
BOL- When I get sick, I don't go to the doctor. I stay home until I get better. So that was the way that I was living in the Sudan.
SCHAAP- You have arthritis, rheumatism.
SCHAAP- But you wouldn't go to the doctor.
SCHAAP- Why not?
BOL- Because I don't want to go and be killed.
SCHAAP- You didn't want to be killed?
SCHAAP- The doctors would kill you?
BOL- They'd kill you. These doctors are fundamentalist people. When you get sick you go there and you are somebody who is against them and you think -- they think that you are doing something for southern Sudan and you are southern Sudanese, you're gone. They'll shoot you with a medicine you don't know. And then you come in. Or maybe they drop something in the tea. When I go to their house, I don't drink tea. I don't drink soda. Because that's the only way I survive. Because a lot of our people, they was killed like that.
SCHAAP- In addition to the millions who died in the Sudanese civil war, thousands have been enslaved.
BOL- They go to the village. You know, take the children away, girls and boys. And then they took the girls when they get old and they get married to them. And they boys, they're working for food only. Is that not slavery?
SCHAAP- You bought a relative out of slavery.
BOL- Yeah. He's in Egypt now.
SCHAAP- After four years, Bol finally bribed his way out of the Sudan last summer. He boarded a flight to Cairo with is wife and infant son and simply flew away. But once in Egypt, he discovered, that it would take several months to arrange to return to the U.S. When his VISA expired, he was jailed for a week. Things hardly improved when he was released.
BOL- You know, I got beat up two times in Egypt. I never got beat up in America. I never got beat up in Sudan. But I got beat up because they're giving them the wrong idea.
SCHAAP- Why were you beaten up?
BOL- They think that we are against the Arabs.
SCHAAP- They think that who -- they knew that you were a Christian?
BOL- No, they know all of the black people, they are -- the black Sudanese, they are anti Arabs, that's what they think -- they are against Islamics.
SCHAAP- Bol was still in Egypt awaiting his VISA to return to the U.S. when the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11th. In the early '90s, he'd warned Congress that the Sudan was a fertile staging ground for terrorism. Before he moved his headquarters to Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden lived openly in the Sudan from 1990 to '96.
BOL- We lobbied for three months. We met 58 Congressmen and Senators. We was explaining this to them. When that situation happened in September, it took me three days, you know, I didn't eat for three days. I just sitting there watching TV all day and all night. You know, sometime I want to find out what has happened, you know.
LEY- What happened next further delayed Bol's return to the United States. His journey was far from complete. That is ahead as we continue this morning. Including what the Sudanese exile is willing to do to raise money, he says will go to his people. The extreme lengths to which Manute Bol will use that celebrity. What he'll put himself through.
SCHAAP- Following September 11th, the threat of terrorism made it difficult for a refugee from a Muslim country to enter the U.S. But after months of delay in Egypt, Bol's VISA finally came through in March. He and his family were allowed to leave for America.
Did you ever to think to yourself, when you were essentially a prisoner in your own country sitting there in Khartoum, I never should have left the U.S.
BOL- A lot. I thought about it a lot. But I know that you know, I pray every day, you know. Even sometimes, I mean I got skinny too, you know. I mean now I'm OK now. I look better. ...
SCHAAP- You're still skinny.
BOL- Yeah, no, but I'm looking better now, you know. I weigh the same thing I used to weigh when I was in the NBA. I lost like five pounds anyway, but a lot when I was in Sudan. You know, food can be there but I cannot eat because I'm thinking what happened? My people are getting beat up in front of me; I cannot say nothing.
SCHAAP- Now Bol can say whatever he wants, which is exactly what he plans to do.
BOL- You go to the village and they wipe people out. They don't even care. This is an old woman. This is a blind person. They wipe everybody out in the village.
RONE- I think Manute Bol can continue to help the people of southern Sudan by using his fame and his presence to draw attention to their plight. And to educate others about the real devastating conditions under which southern Sudanese live now.
MONTVILLE- He's another guy out in the world now. He's 7-foot-7 and people will notice. And he's got a calling card that will open some doors. And it will be interesting to see what happens for him.
SCHAAP- What's happening for Bol now is certain to appall some sensibilities. He's agreed to square off against former NFL defensive tackle William 'Refrigerator' Perry in the made for television celebrity boxing match later this month. They're fighting on a card that also features a bout between two tabloid titans, Joey Buttafuoco and John Wayne Bobbitt. Bol says the ends justify the means. That he'll donate his entire $30,000 purse to a Sudanese relief fund.
You've done so many noble things. And now you're lumping yourself in with characters like Tanya Harding and Paula Jones and Joey Buttafuoco. This doesn't make a mockery of your cause?
BOL- Oh, I think that we already thought about it before, you know. That I don't want to be like Joey Buttafuoco. That money is not going to my pocket. If it was going to my pocket, I would say yeah, you know, it's bad to do that, you know.
SCHAAP- Bol won't divulge his strategy for the fight. Are you going to jab?
BOL- I cannot tell you because I don't want him going watching and during fight move away from me. He tried to avoid all of the fight, I mean all of the punches.
SCHAAP- Who's quicker these days, you or Refrigerator?
BOL- I think I'm quicker. I'm like Muhammad Ali, you know.
BARKLEY- I look at Manute Bol as a hero because, for him to give that money to help the less fortunate, if he's not a hero, nobody is.
SCHAAP- In the Dinka dialect, Manute Bol means "blessing from God." Even from afar, Bol hopes he can be a blessing to his people.
BOL- I'm the one that got to live a good life and then forgot I mean what is behind me, you know. I don't think so. What the American's used to say before, you know. Forget what your country do for you, what can you do for your country? And now I try to do that, you know. To try and do something for my country. To liberate my people.
LEY- A noble sentiment from someone who evidently has lead a rather harsh life, especially in recent years. Joining me now, Jeremy Schaap.
Jeremy, here's Manute Bol who played 11 years. Made millions. Says he's given most, if not all of it away, how bad is it for him now as he lives in Connecticut?
SCHAAP- Well he doesn't have much more than he had when he was back in the Sudan, actually Bob. He is living off the charity of friends. He's hoping, however, that he will receive special dispensation to start receiving his NBA pension early. Normally, it would take several more years before he could collect any of that. He's hoping there will be an exception made.
He's also hoping to sell his life story as a screenplay to the highest bidder. It's a fascinating story. He may have a movie in the works.
LEY- One of this closest friends from basketball when he was playing in the NBA was Chris Mullin, who's rumored to be about to take over basketball operations now with the Golden State Warriors, what could that mean for Manute?
SCHAAP- Well I had a chance to ask him about that. And he is hoping that if Chris does get this job, that there might be something for Manute. A scouting position in all likelihood. There are so many Dinka's in particular who are playing basketball around the world. In the U.S., Manute has several relatives, in fact, who are playing at either the high school or the college level.
Manute says he knows the game. He certainly knows the Africans who were prominent in the game and could be good players. He could serve really as a conduit between these players and the Warriors or whichever NBA team has an interest in signing them.
LEY- As you illustrated in your reporting, he traveled overseas to help the Sudanese. Now, here he is back in the states. What can he do here in the States?
SCHAAP- Well there is a lot of work to be done here in the United States. He had a fund, a charitable organization, the Ring True Foundation which he solicits for that raises funds to help Sudanese refugees in particular in the United States. There are so many of them. The so-called lost boys of the Sudan who have lost their families. They've lost their parents. And Manute in a sense has served as a surrogate to so many of them. And he does so not only with his advice and counsel but through the funds that he tries to raise through this foundation.
LEY- You know what occurs to me, we've heard Jim Brown from his prison cell criticizing prominent African American athletes. He has mentioned names such as Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan for not giving back that great phrase to the community, not acting on principle. And it seems if you take Manute Bol's story at face value, and certainly there's a lot of substantiation to it, here's a guy, who for years, his principles seemingly guided all of his actions.
SCHAAP- Well he's given back until there was nothing left to give, Bob. You know, he's given up his time. He moved to Africa when he could have stayed here. He refused to convert to Islam when the government wanted him to. He's made so many principal stands. He may have been misguided at times. He may have been misled. He may have been na´ve. But we're clearly talking about someone here who I think is to be admired for standing on principals so often and so forcefully.
LEY- Jeremy thanks.
SCHAAP- Thanks, Bob.
LEY- As we continue. We'll take a look at the new NCAA rule which gives high school basketball players the ability to test the waters in the NBA draft. We'll take a look at our e-mail in box. Your reactions with more players coming out in the last several days.
Last Sunday, our story "In The Crossfire" examined the life of American pro basketball players in Israel, some of whom had close calls with terrorist bombings. We spoke live last week from Jerusalem with Ariel McDonald who is remaining in Israel to play. With Tyson Wheeler who has returned with his family in the U.S.
And our e-mail this week, including this observation from Morris Planes, New Jersey: "I'm glad that both basketball players set the record straight about Israel. Often, we're bombarded by the horrible, negative and destructive images form the contested zone. We forget that most of Israel is isolated from the horrible violence. People cannot live in fear every second, every day. I'm glad to hear both players say they are both considering returning."
We also examined the new NCAA rule allowing high school players to be drafted by NBA teams, yet, still play in college, assuming they've not hired an agent. Players have until the beginning of freshman college classes to make up their mind. And some college coaches are not taking well to this rule.
MARK GOTTFRIED, 2002 SEC COACH OF THE YEAR- Because I think in the last six or seven or eight years, we've had a couple of kids per year that might be good enough to be NBA players, and they went on to that. A Kevin Garnett or a Kobe Bryant, those kind of guys. But now, I think you've put that decision in the hands of a top 50 kid or top 100 kid. And you have kids now that have no business thinking about the NBA, who are beginning a process at age 16, age 17 and I don't think there's any question, it hurts the young person.
ANDY GEIGER, MEMBER OF THE NCAA MANAGEMENT COUNCIL- We simply are giving the youngster who opts to go into the draft and then realizes that he or she made a mistake and wants to come back into the college pool that opportunity. They don't -- heretofore they did not have that option.
LEY- Reaction from Las Vegas, "All I can say to the college basketball coaches is welcome to the club. College baseball coaches spend two full years putting together recruiting classes. They're never sure of who's going to be there until the first day of classes in the fall. The pro baseball draft gives young men false hope of making the majors when in fact only two percent of those drafted ever play in the bigs."
Check out that program, any Sunday morning program online. The key word is OTL Weekly at ESPN.com. And our e-mail address OTLweekly@ESPN.com.