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A Great Hero Triumphs After His Death

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After the recent events in Tucson, there's been a lot of discussion about heroes. What exactly is a hero?

By one definition: a man or woman distinguished by exceptional courage and nobility and strength.  Apparently for instance, Judge John M. Roll sacrificed his life to save someone else's. Many other people at the Safeway showed remarkable strength of character in the most trying circumstances.  Certainly the people they saved would say they were heroes.

A different definition is someone who makes a conscious decision to do something demanding and difficult and potentially dangerous, but who never backs away. The apparently immiment secession of South Sudan brings to mind another type of hero. That hero was named Manute Bol.

When he came to this country, Bol was a curiosity and a bit of a side show. A 7-7 stick figure, he was celebrated initially for killing a lion with a spear. Characteristically, he downplayed this, saying that the lion was asleep and it was no big deal.

For years, people saw him as an oddity, someone Don Nelson would have shoot three pointers, someone willing to box William "The Refrigerator" Perry or to play hockey or, once, be a jockey.

When it was reported that he was bankrupt, many people found it easy to believe it was just another basketball player who blew through his money. Nothing could have been further from the truth.  Everything was for a reason.

Bol spent his fortune and ultimately sacrificed his life to help his people. He was willing to exploit American fascination with his size and background to do more to help back home.  Among those who benefited: former blue devil Luol Deng and his family. Actually, Bol introduced him to the sport which has made his family wealthy.  Like his mentor, Deng has also done a great deal to aid folks back home.  Not nearly as much as Bol, however -- not that many people could. Very few would be willing to make the sacrifices that he made because Bol was a different sort of man.

The man suffered immensely. He could have easily stayed in America and died wealthy, a well-cared for man.

But for someone like Bol, that was unimaginable. There was always more substance to the man than most people imagined.  He died this past summer at 47, his health destroyed, almost able to see what he had helped to bring about for his people but unable to be part of it.

When they talk about the legends of the NBA, Bol's name will never come up.  But among his countrymen and among the Dinka people, none will ever stand taller.

The man deserves to be at least considered for the Nobel Peace Prize.

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