Former NBA star Manute Bol died on Saturday at 47, leaving behind one of the most fascinating legacies in professional sports history. Yahoo! Sports' columnist Adrian Wojnarowski eulogizes the 7-foot-7 humanitarian's efforts in his native Sudan and his memorable impact on basketball. ESPN's "Outside The Lines" also had a great interview with Bol in 2002.
Of course, we're more interested in his extremely short-lived hockey career.
The following is an essay I wrote about Bol for my book "Glow Pucks & 10-Cent Beer: The 101 Worst Ideas in Sports History." (Taylor Trade, 2006; and now available for a penny on Amazon. Weeeee!) Bol's minor league hockey moment with the Indianapolis Ice of the CHL ranked No. 92 on the list.
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Standing seven-feet, seven-inches tall and weighing about as much as one of Dennis Rodman's feathered boas, Manute Bol went from a native of Sudan to a record-setting NBA veteran of 11 seasons. He set the mark for blocked shots by a rookie, with 397 in 1984, and had over 2,000 in his career. Bol also holds the record for having the three-point shot that most resembled projectile vomit.
After his playing days were over, he gave up big-and-tall clothing endorsements and potential costarring roles in Billy Crystal movies to return to the Sudan, where a civil war was raging. Bol spent millions of dollars supporting the opposition movement against the Islamic government.
After the Sudanese government promised to sign several peace treaties in the mid-1990s, Bol agreed to take a job with the ruling body. Unfortunately, he discovered that the job was his only if he renounced Christianity and converted to Islam. He refused and was subsequently forbidden from leaving the country. He and his family eventually bribed their way to Egypt and then returned to the United States in 2002.
Bol made it his mission to use whatever celebrity he had in the States to raise funds for his organization, the Ring True Foundation, which supported young boys who lost their parents in the Sudanese war. His first opportunity came on the FOX network's Celebrity Boxing special, which featured Z-level stars pummeling each other. Bol won by decision over former Chicago Bear William "Refrigerator" Perry and donated the purse to the Sudanese refugees.
At least Bol threw a few punches as a boxer. For his next fund-raising stunt, the big guy gained even more publicity for his cause but ended up embarrassing a minor league team and its fans by never actually performing as an athlete.
The Central Hockey League's Indianapolis Ice - known for in-rink sumo matches and pink jerseys for Valentine's Day - signed Bol to a contract and announced that he would appear against the Amarillo Gorillas on November 16, 2002.
The team found a uniform for his lanky frame and had men's 16.5-sized skates shipped in.
The game would mark the first time in which Bol wielded a stick that didn't have a lion impaled at the end of it. (To be sure, Bol did kill a lion with a spear at 15 years old, something his agent actually used in contract negotiations.)
But Manute never exactly hit the ice for the Ice; rather, he sat on the bench until his chronic rheumatoid arthritis flared up and his feet swelled in the skates. At that time, he took them off and walked to the locker room in bright white socks via a black mat laid on the ice. By the end of the first period, he was out of uniform and signing autographs in the arena. Bol's tenure with the team ended after the game.
A season-high crowd of 5,859 came to Conseco Fieldhouse for the bait and switch, which added to Bol's charitable coffer. One year later, Bol came back to Indiana for another fund-raising event, this time suiting up as a jockey at Hoosier Park racetrack. He never actually got on a horse.
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