When Manute Bol showed up in the US, no one really knew what to expect. A 7-7 Dinka tribesman, his people were governed by Sudan and subject to the political divides there.
He came to the US from a pastoral life and quickly won people over with his character and personality.
After an odd chain of events, he ended up at D-II Bridgeport for a season before applying for the NBA Draft a second time (he did it improperly the first time) because he wanted to get his sister out of Sudan. It wasn’t the last selfless thing he would do.
In the NBA he started at Washington (drafted by Danny Ferry’s dad, Bob, the longtime GM for the team then known as the Bullets) where he was on the team with Muggsy Bogues.
Despite a terribly thin frame and no muscles Bol proved to be a force in the NBA, particularly as a shotblocker and no one doubted his courage. He had killed a lion with a spear, after all (he sheepishly explained that, well, the lion was sleeping when he did it so it wasn’t really that big of a deal).
He was traded multiple times, but Washington, Philly and Golden State each brought him back again, perhaps an indication of the kind of man he was.
By the end, Bol went from being seen as a circus act to a man who won deep and enduring respect for his courage and character. Charles Barkley in particular has praised as one of the very best men he’s ever met. And certainly we can’t think of a player who sacrificed more for others or who was as selfless as Bol.
One last thing: it’s generally acknowledged that no one had any idea of his birthdate. He claimed he was born in 1962, but a lot of people, including for teammate Jayson Williams, were convinced he was much older. Williams thought, based on what Bol told him, that he was playing in the NBA at the age of 55.
Okay one more last thing: Bol had a direct influence on Duke Basketball, having met Luol Deng as a kid and acting as a basketball mentor. Deng played at Duke for one year before declaring for the NBA. Since retiring, he’s become an increasingly significant presence in commercial real estate.