Humanitarian activist and 10-year National Basketball Association veteran Manute Bol died June 20 at the age of 47.
Bol, a Sudan native well-known for his slight 7-foot-6-inch frame, died in Charlottesville, Va. from complications of kidney disease and Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a rare skin disease he contracted from medication he received in Africa, according to officials at the humanitarian group he was active with in Sudan.
“Sudan and the world have lost a hero and an example for all of us,” Tom Prichard, executive director of the non-profit humanitarian group Sudan Sunrise, told the Associated Press. “Manute, we’ll miss you. Our prayers and best wishes go out to all his family, and all who mourn his loss.”
In a 10-year NBA career with the Washington Bullets (now known as the Wizards), the Philadelphia 76ers, the Golden State Warriors and the Miami Heat, Bol lead the league in shot-blocking twice, in 1985-86 for Washington and 1988-89 for Golden State.
However, Bol’s off the court activities as an advocate for peace in his homeland will dominate his legacy.
During his career, Bol was often part of demonstrations outside the Embassy of the Republic of the Sudan n Washington, D.C. to bring attention to cultural and ethnic violence in Sudan. He was a member of the Dinka tribe, a Christian tribe in the southern portion of the country and regularly gave money to the people of his homeland so that they would be able to fight the ruling Muslim elite in the north.
Bol gave so much back to his people that he was forced to participate in many promotional stunts, including a charity boxing match in 2002 against ex-National Football League player William “The Refrigerator” Perry, a nearly 400-pound former Chicago Bears defensive lineman. He lost in the third round.
Bol, however, never chafed publicly at such mismatches, saying he just wanted to improve the lives of the people of Sudan.
“I don’t work for money,” he told The Washington Post in 2006. “I work to save people. I can always make more money, but you can’t bring back those that are gone.”
Bol traveled to the Sudan in May to help build a school with Sudan Sunrise, whose announced goal is the reconciliation of Southern Sudanese Christians, Muslims in Darfur and unification of Sudan, according to the organization’s Web site.
The Associated Press reports that Prichard indicated he believed Bol contracted Stevens-Johnson Syndrome as a reaction to kidney medication he received in Africa. Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is a disease that causes the skin’s cells to die and is usually precipitated by an allergic reaction to certain medications. While many remember Bol only as a basketball oddity, those whom Bol affected saw a completely different side to the gentle giant. One of his announced goals was the construction of 41 schools in Sudan.
“Manute captured the imagination of the fans during his tenure with the Bullets and will be remembered as one of the most popular players from that era of the team’s history,” Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said in a statement. “But despite his accomplishments on the court, his lasting legacy will be the tireless work and causes he promoted in his native Sudan and the cities in which he played. He was a true humanitarian and an ambassador for the sport of basketball.”
Bol is survived by10 children, four in the U.S. where he lived with his second wife in Olathe, Kans. and six in Sudan.