In measuring a life, it’s not how long you live which counts, but it is what you did and how you did it.
Manute Bols (left) with teammate Muggsy (Tyrone Curtis) Bogues
Former NBA center Manute Bol died Saturday at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville at the age of 47. Standing at 7′ 7″, Bol was one of the tallest players in NBA history. The Sudan Dinka tribesman specialized in shot-blocking, breaking a record in his rookie season. For people who truly did not know him, they will remember him along with Muggsy” Bogues as team mates of the Washington Bullets (Now the Washington Wizards) professional basketball team.
However, those who really knew him will remember him as a humanitarian who sent millions of his own dollars to his homeland of Sudan.
Tom Prichard, executive director of the group Sudan Sunrise, told the Associated Press that Bol was being treated for severe kidney trouble and a painful skin condition known as Steven Johnson syndrome.
“Sudan and the world have lost a hero and an example for all of us,” said Tom Prichard, executive director of the group Sudan Sunrise. Prichard also told the Associated Press that Bol was being treated for severe kidney trouble and a painful skin condition known as Steven Johnson syndrome.
Bol was a 7-foot-7 curiosity when he was drafted in 1985 by the then-Washington Bullets. He was so thin that during his rookie season then-Dallas coach Dick Motta told the Washington Post that Bol would “break like a grasshopper … an arm here, a leg over there” once he ran into a typical NBA opponent.
But Bol lasted 10 seasons of kidney blows, playing for four teams. His enormous wingspan made blocking shots his specialty, and he set a record with 397 blocks his first season.
“He made a career out of something that people saw in the beginning as a circus act,” Chris Mullin, a close friend and former teammate, told the New York Daily News in 2004.
Bol’s most lasting legacy will be his efforts to use his celebrity to improve conditions in war-torn Sudan.
“God guided me to America and gave me a good job,” he told Sports Illustrated in 2004. “But he also gave me a heart so I would look back.”
He was born Oct. 16, 1962, in Gogrial, Sudan, and had a biography unmatched by the backgrounds of any of his fellow NBA players. A member of the Dinka tribe and the descendant of chiefs, Bol once killed a lion with a spear while herding cows.
Don Feeley, who coached at Fairleigh Dickinson University, encountered Bol in 1982 at a coaching clinic in Sudan. The then-San Diego Clippers drafted Bol in 1983 before he had even played in college. Bol eventually enrolled at the University of Bridgeport, a Division II school in Connecticut. He played one season and then signed with a summer pro league in Rhode Island before being drafted by Washington.
As a rookie in Washington, Bol got a chance to play regularly when starting center Jeff Ruland was hurt. He started 60 games that season, which would be a career high.
Bol spent three seasons in Washington before being traded to the Golden State Warriors. After two seasons there, he was dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers, where he played for three seasons. Bol spent the 1993-94 season with Miami, Washington and Philadelphia. He played five games for Golden State in the 1994-95 season.
He used his NBA career to support his extended family and relief efforts in Sudan.
“I don’t like war,” he told the New York Times in 2001. “I used to, but not anymore.”
But Bol’s finances collapsed after he left the NBA, in part from the millions he spent on Sudan and in part from investments that went bad.
“He always did a lot for his people,” Warriors coach Don Nelson told the Montreal Gazette in 2002. “He gave his own money to support his people who were starving.”
Trying to raise money for Sudan, Bol took part in stunts such as fighting former Chicago Bears lineman William “Refrigerator” Perry in a televised boxing match.
Ed Stefanski, 76ers president and general manager, said in a statement Saturday that Bol “was continually giving of himself through his generosity and humanitarian efforts in order to make the world around him a much better place.”
Bol, who was seriously injured in a car accident in 2004, was hospitalized in May after returning to the United States from Sudan. He was helping build a school with Sudan Sunrise, a humanitarian group based in Kansas, but stayed longer than expected after the president of southern Sudan asked him to make election appearances, Prichard told the Associated Press.
“I never thought about the money I lost,” Bol told the New York Daily News in 2004. “It wasn’t lost. It helped Sudan.”
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Wayman Tisdale Making His Move For The Sacramento Kings Photo Courtesy of Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
Posted May 15 2009 5:35PM
(AP) — Wherever Wayman Tisdale went, whatever he was doing, chances were he was smiling.
Tisdale was a three-time All-American at Oklahoma in the mid-1980s before playing a dozen years in the NBA and later becoming an accomplished jazz musician.
But those who knew Tisdale, who died Friday at a hospital in his hometown of Tulsa, Okla., recalled not only his professional gifts but a perpetually sunny outlook, even in the face of a two-year battle with cancer that took his life at 44.
“I don’t know of any athlete at Oklahoma or any place else who was more loved by the fans who knew him than Wayman Tisdale,” said Billy Tubbs, who coached Tisdale with the Sooners. “He was obviously, a great, great player, but Wayman as a person overshadowed that. He just lit up a room and was so positive.”
Jeff Capel, the current Oklahoma coach, noted Tisdale’s “incredible gift of making the people who came in contact with him feel incredibly special.”
After three years at Oklahoma, Tisdale played in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns. The 6-foot-9 forward, with a soft left-handed touch on the court, averaged 15.3 points for his career. He was on the U.S. team that won the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics.
Gov. Brad Henry attended Oklahoma at the same time Tisdale did and later appointed him to the state’s Tourism Commission.
“Oklahoma has lost one of its most beloved sons,” Henry said. “Wayman Tisdale was a hero both on and off the basketball court. … Even in the most challenging of times, he had a smile for people, and he had the rare ability to make everyone around him smile. He was one of the most inspirational people I have ever known.”
State senators paused and prayed Friday morning after learning of his death.
Tisdale learned he had a cancerous cyst below his right knee after breaking his leg in a fall at his home in Los Angeles on Feb. 8, 2007. He said then he was fortunate to have discovered the cancer early.
“Nothing can change me,” Tisdale told The Associated Press last June. “You go through things. You don’t change because things come in your life. You get better because things come in your life.”
His leg was amputated last August and a prosthetic leg that he wore was crimson, one of Oklahoma’s colors. He attended an Oklahoma City Thunder game April 7 and later that month was honored at the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa. During the ceremony, he spoke about his cancer, saying “In my mind, I’ve beaten it.”
He recently told Tulsa television station KTUL he had acute esophagitis, which prevented him from eating for about five weeks and led to significant weight loss. Among the causes of that condition are infections, medications, radiation therapy and systemic disease.
Last month, Tisdale was chosen for induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
He was the first freshman to be a first-team All-American since freshmen were allowed to play again in the 1971-72 season. He was also one of 10 three-time All-Americans. Patrick Ewing and Tisdale were the last to accomplish the feat, from 1983-85.
“On the court, he was an offensive machine that could score with the best of them,” said Dallas Mavericks president Donnie Nelson, an assistant on Tisdale’s Suns teams. “Off the court, he was grounded in faith and family.”
Tisdale played on an Olympic team that sailed to the gold medal in Los Angeles. The squad was coached by Bob Knight and featured the likes of Ewing, Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and Chris Mullin.
“Wayman was kind of a catalyst for people accepting roles,” said C.M. Newton, the manager of the ’84 team and now chairman of the NIT selection committee. “Michael was the leader of the team but Wayman was special in that way.”
Perkins and Tisdale shared a love of music and became friends during the Olympics. Perkins later was the best man at Tisdale’s wedding.
“That’s a real friend who’s got your back and would do just about anything for you,” Perkins said. “That smile just gets you.”
As a musician, Tisdale recorded eight albums. A bass guitarist who often wrote his own material, his most recent album, “Rebound,” was inspired by his fight with cancer and included guest appearances by several artists, including saxophonist Dave Koz and country star and fellow Oklahoma native Toby Keith.
His “Way Up!” release debuted in July 2006 and spent four weeks as the No. 1 contemporary jazz album. His hits included “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” “Can’t Hide Love” and “Don’t Take Your Love Away.”
“He was truly an inspiration to me, paving the way for an athlete like myself to pursue a passion for writing and performing music,” said Bernie Williams, the former New York Yankees star turned jazz musician. “I had the honor and privilege of having Wayman perform on the title track of my new album, and was looking forward to collaborating with him again.”
Tisdale averaged 25.6 points and 10.1 rebounds during his three seasons with the Sooners, earning Big Eight Conference player of the year each season.
He still holds Oklahoma’s career records for points and rebounds. Tisdale also owns the school’s single-game scoring mark — 61 points against Texas-San Antonio as a sophomore — and career marks for points per game, field goals and free throws made and attempts.
In 1997, Tisdale became the first Oklahoma player in any sport to have his jersey number retired. Two years ago, then-freshman Blake Griffin asked Tisdale for permission to wear No. 23, which Tisdale granted. Griffin went on to become the consensus national player of the year this past season as a sophomore.
“I spoke with him pretty frequently this past season and he helped me in ways he probably doesn’t even know,” Griffin said.
Tisdale is survived by his wife, Regina, and four children.
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