At 7'7'', former NBA basketball player Manute Bol was most often recognized for his size and undeniable presence on the court. But more important than what he did on the court, is what the Sudanese born Bol did away from the game. Beneath his larger than life exterior, lies a dedication to his people and an unwavering support for a cause that nearly cost him his life. BEYOND THE GLORY returns with Bol's inspiring story of success, tragedy and triumph, highlighting a player whose career was of secondary importance to what his career could do for others. BTG: MANUTE BOL airs on Sun., April 17 at 6:00 PM local.
Following in the footsteps of his 7'10" grandfather, Bol always believed he was destined for great things, despite his impoverished surroundings. Standing 7'7" at the age of 17, Bol saw a career in basketball as a way to make the money his family desperately needed. At his cousin's urging, Bol left his village for the city of Khartoum, where he was recruited to play on a police department's basketball team. As he looked at pictures of American superstars such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, Bol dreamed of playing alongside them and making enough money to support his family. Early success in the police league solidified Bol's desire to pursue a professional basketball career.
Bol's journey bounced him around until he landed at the University of Bridgeport (CT) in 1983. His impact was immediate. In his first season, Bol was named conference player of the year, averaging 23 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 blocked shots per game. Teammates and fans embraced him, not only for his talent, but for his magnetic personality as well. Despite his popularity, Bol became distracted by homesickness. As his success in the states grew, so did his concern for his family, whose situation at home was continually growing worse.
In 1985 the Washington Bullets selected Bol as the 31st pick in the NBA draft. In his first NBA appearance, he tallied his first triple-double and put to rest the whispers of those who doubted his lean frame could play in the post with the NBA's big men. Recording 397 blocked shots in his rookie season, the second most in NBA history, Bol was regarded as one of the most dynamic players in basketball.
After successful seasons with Golden State (1988-89) and Philadelphia (1990), Bol's focus began to shift away from basketball to the growing war in Sudan. He sent money to the Sudanese rebel army and sought to raise awareness in the U.S. about the situation in Sudan. Taking his cause all the way to Capitol Hill, Bol met with 58 senators over four months in 1991. After traveling to refugee camps in southern Sudan and seeing the poverty firsthand, Bol pledged more than $3 million of his own money to help the Sudanese people. This donation coupled with bad investments in the U.S., left him nearly bankrupt. Plagued by injury and arthritis, Bol left the NBA in 1996 and returned to Sudan, determined to try to help his people from inside the country.
The continuing conflict in Sudan between the Arabs and Christians grew increasingly violent and Bol had seen enough death and hopelessness. In March of 2002, after three years of trying to immigrate back to the U.S., Bol and his sister were granted refugee status and returned to the U.S, with hopes of a fresh start and a life without violence.
Having spent or donated virtually all of his NBA earnings, Bol made his living through public speaking engagements and appeared on shows such as FOX's Celebrity Boxing, giving all of his proceeds to Sudanese relief efforts. His desire to give persisted, even though he struggled to support his family. Little did he know all that he had given would later come back to him, at a time when most needed it.
On June 30, 2004 Bol was critically injured after being thrown from a cab in Connecticut. He suffered a broken neck and multiple head injuries. A three-month long hospital stay left Bol nearly bankrupt and his injuries left him without means to pay his enormous medical bills. Friends and former teammates quickly came to his aid, bringing his life full circle. Bol's positive attitude and various fundraising efforts helped him through the recovery process and solidified his belief that life is a gift that cannot be taken for granted.
Those interviewed other than Bol include former coaches Frank Catapano, Don Feeley and Bruce Webster, former teammates Chuck Douglas, Rod Higgins, Chris Mullin, John Mullin, John O'Reilly and Mitch Richmond, cousin Ed Bona, and longtime friend Andrew Kearns.
Quotes from BTG: Manute Bol
Bruce Webster: "He can dunk without jumping. There is nobody else in the world that could ever do that."
Don Feeley (former coach, on walking onto the court to meet Bol and seeing Bol fixing a net): "The guy is fixing the net? I look down and there's no stepladder. He's just up there. I said, 'Well, who is that?' And they said, 'That's Manute." And I said, 'Well this is a different game from now on.'"
Feeley (on Bol's height being incorrect on his passport): "The passport evidently said 'Five-foot-five.' And I said to him, 'Well come how it said five-foot-five?' And he said, 'Well they measured me when I was sitting down.'
John O'Reilly: "Every place that we went turned to being our fans because they just fell in love with his ability to play and really his personality, the way he went about things."
Chris Mullin: "If you get to know him and you get past that initial exterior, he's just a proud person, a giving person, and loyal. And he's a great friend."
Mullin: "I think he's earned the right for people to support him and help him because of the way he's conducted himself and what he's done for other people."
Andrew Kearns: "The entire time in the rehabilitation hospital, I never saw Manute down. I never saw him pouting, I never saw him feeling sorry for himself. He was always glad you were there and he was always thankful to be alive."