Manute Bol, who was one of the tallest players in NBA history and gained stature off the court for his efforts to save lives in his homeland of Sudan, has died. He was 47.
Bol died Saturday at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, a spokeswoman said. She could not comment on a cause of death.
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.
“Sudan and the world have lost a hero and an example for all of us,” Prichard said.
Bol was a 7-foot-6 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 post player.
But Bol lasted 10 seasons, playing for four teams: Washington, Golden State, Philadelphia and Miami. 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.
His most lasting legacy may 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, with a biography unmatched in the NBA. A member of the Dinka tribe and the descendant of chiefs, Bol once killed a lion with a spear while herding cows.
He used his NBA career to support his extended family and relief efforts in Sudan, where rebels including Dinkas have been fighting the government.
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.
Ed Stefanski, Philadelphia 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. Bol 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 said in 2004. “It wasn’t lost. It helped Sudan.”