The New York Times runs a lovely tribute to the late Manute Bol today. The affable 7'6" Dinka tribesman, formidable NBA shot-blocker, and activist died at 47 of kidney complications related to a rare skin disease he developed after his basketball career.
Manute Bol, "fool for Christ" and for his Sudanese countrymen:
Bol, a Christian Sudanese immigrant, believed his life was a gift from God to be used in the service of others. As he put it to Sports Illustrated in 2004: "God guided me to America and gave me a good job. But he also gave me a heart so I would look back." ...
Bol reportedly gave most of his fortune, estimated at $6 million, to aid Sudanese refugees. As one twitter feed aptly put it: "Most NBA cats go broke on cars, jewelry & groupies. Manute Bol went broke building hospitals."
When his fortune dried up, Bol raised more money for charity by doing what most athletes would find humiliating: He turned himself into a humorous spectacle. Bol was hired, for example, as a horse jockey, hockey player and celebrity boxer. Some Americans simply found amusement in the absurdity of him on a horse or skates. And who could deny the comic potential of Bol boxing William "the Refrigerator" Perry, the 335-pound former defensive linemen of the Chicago Bears?
Bol agreed to be a clown. But he was not willing to be mocked for his own personal gain as so many reality-television stars are. Bol let himself be ridiculed on behalf of suffering strangers in the Sudan; he was a fool for Christ.
I didn't know most of that about Bol, whom most people liked instinctively. It's nice to learn just how justified that instinct was. Rest in peace, big guy.