The Pop Culture Road Trip

Our road trip today takes us to Boston, about 1983. I was in college (Emerson) and my cousin Frank, who lived with his family just outside the city, asked me to take a drive down to Bridgeport, Connecticut. 

So I did.
When we got there I met the new basketball player Frank would soon be representing. My cousin, a lawyer, had started helping out “hardship” basketball players who wanted to get to the NBA. He’d have them live at his house with his family, they’d work in his restaurant to learn new responsibilities, etc. He’d look after them like a father they never had.
Oh, and the new player? 7 foot 7, 180-pound Manute Bol from the Sudan.

I have a book coming out in a few weeks and one of the stories in it is about getting to know Manute. In the months following meeting him, I’d visit my cousins and hang out with Manute. I helped him with English, would tell him things about this new strange country he was discovering, and we’d even shoot baskets in the driveway with Frank’s wonderful kids. 

Soon, Manute took the NBA by storm. There had never been anything really like this shot-blocking machine with the mystical countenance.  

I’d go see
him play when I lived in New York, when the Warriors or 76ers were playing the
Knicks, and he’d always come over and say hi to me and ask how I was. No matter
how notable he became, he never seemed to forget those nights up in Massachusetts,
where he was like one of the kids to Frank and Terry (Frank’s wife). 

So it was incredibly sad to read this over the weekend:  “Sudanese-born National Basketball Association player Manute Bol, who passed away over the weekend, is being remembered as a kind giant who did a lot to help his country people.” (It is thought that he died of kidney disease.)

After his playing days were through, Manute went back to his homeland to help people. A report in the Washington Post newspaper stated that Bol remained devoted to his homeland and its customs, and recounted when Bol proposed to his Dinka wife and gave her family 80 cows as a gift. (Manute also once donated an estimated $3.5 million to a Dinka-led rebel group.)

A decent, kindhearted man til the end, he was just 47 when died. He never forgot where he came from and he always did whatever he could do to help others. (He was also a gentleman, never responding to the jeers, insults and taunts that greeted him in opposing arenas.)

Rest in peace, Manute. The world will miss you. 

 Manute Bol

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