Most Valuable Helper
Certainly not one of the best shooters, for he averaged only 2.6 points a game. But Manute Bol, at more than 7 feet 6 inches tall, was a moral giant who was unsurpassed in leveraging his fame on behalf of the neediest people on earth.
Bol died on Saturday from a noxious mix of ailments, exacerbated by his insistence on working in
It’s a lofty dream, particularly because he is no longer around to speak at fund-raisers. It’s almost as inconceivable as the dream he had when he was an African cattle-herder aspiring to play in the N.B.A. — and this too can be a slam-dunk, posthumously, if his fans help out.
If each admirer chipped in the cost of a ticket to just one game, if each of his former teams agreed to match donations, if a few current and former N.B.A. stars agreed to stand in for Bol at fund-raisers, why then schools would sprout all across Sudan.
The first of Bol’s 41 schools is now approaching completion in his childhood village, said Tom Prichard, executive director of
Bol grew up herding cattle. Twice he ran away in hopes of attending school, but he never got much formal education. He moved to the
As Bol began playing before large crowds in
One summer, Bol button-holed more than 45 members of Congress, trying to get them to pay attention to the slaughter. He donated most of his basketball wealth to help the people of southern
Some 250 people in his extended family were killed in the war, Bol estimated, many of them by Sudanese soldiers from
Bol envisioned co-ed, multifaith schools in which Christians in southern
Robert McFarlane, a former national security adviser to former President Ronald Reagan, traveled late last year with Bol to Turalei and gushes about what a “giant heart of gold” Bol had. Mr. McFarlane told me: “The people of Turalei almost worshiped Manute for his commitment to make schools available for their kids.”
Critics sometimes derided Bol’s kooky publicity stunts, like participating in a celebrity boxing match or putting on ice skates to become the world’s “tallest hockey player.” Bol shrugged off the scorn because he seemed to care less about his dignity than he did about raising money for schools.
Bol made his American home in Olathe, Kan., and a local paper, The Kansas City Star, made a larger point a few weeks before he died:
“Bol symbolizes an unfortunate side of our sports obsession and how we measure the worth of those who play,” The Star noted. “The best athletes get the love, most times regardless of what they do away from sport. Bol, doing the work of a saint, is largely ignored.”
A new civil war may be brewing today in
Bol will never be able to cut the ribbon at the schools he dreamed of. But we can pick up where he left off. In a world with so much athletic narcissism, let’s celebrate a Most Valuable Humanitarian by building schools through his charity, www.SudanSunrise.org.
Donations can be sent to the
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs