June 20, 2010

I don't watch many NBA games anymore; I eventually hit my tolerance level for the overpriced, spoiled child-men who make up the bulk of the players. But I was always impressed by Manute Bol, who saw the NBA only as the day job that allowed him to do such good things for his native country - and even managed to get more NBA players join in to help:

Manute Bol fascinated millions of sports fans as a 7-foot-7 shot blocker during 10 NBA seasons. But Bol’s joy came from spending the millions he made in pro basketball to help his native Sudan.

Bol died Saturday morning at the University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville, where he was being treated for severe kidney trouble and a painful skin condition, said Tom Prichard, the executive director of Sudan Sunrise in Lenexa.

Bol, who was living in Olathe, was 47.

“Manute put his wealth on the line, he put his health on the line, he was a leader in speaking out for his people and for reconciliation,” Prichard said Saturday. “Even to the end, he was choosing helping Sudan over looking out for himself.

“It’s pretty hard to find somebody who can top that.”

Bol was hospitalized in mid-May during a stopover in Washington after returning to the United States from Sudan, where he was helping build a school in conjunction with Sudan Sunrise. Bol had stayed in Sudan a week longer than anticipated after the president of southern Sudan asked him to make election appearances to help counter corruption.

Prichard told The Star that Bol knew he needed medical care but put it off because the president asked him to stay.

“There’s no question Manute gave his life for his country,” Prichard said, noting that Bol said in the hospital “I did it” in having the election turn out the right way.

“They wanted Manute’s influence, and he wanted to change things in his county.”

According to reports, Bol made nearly $6 million in his career and spent nearly all of it trying to save lives and educate children in Sudan. More than 2 million Christians in southern Sudan, including many of Bol’s family, were killed in the country’s second civil war that ended in 2005.

His family was wiped out by Darfurians, but when Darfur was under attack, Bol was one of the first Sudanese to speak out in support. He told his people that extremists were the enemy, not Muslims.

During his playing career, Bol went into war zones to help the Lost Boys and other refugees. Sometimes, those visits were interrupted by bombings from warlords who viewed Bol as a threat.

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