Manute Bol, who became a basketball sensation in the 1980s with the Washington Bullets and other professional teams, and who devoted his post-basketball life to improving the lot of his fellow natives of Sudan, died today the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville. He was 47.
His cousin George Bol said Mr. Bol had internal bleeding and other complications from Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare skin disease that he contracted from a medication he received in Africa.
Mr. Bol, one of the two tallest players in NBA history, was also one of its most exotic and endearing — and surely the only one to have killed a lion with a spear. His unusual journey to basketball stardom began in southern Sudan, where he was a cattle-herding member of the Dinka tribe and never touched a basketball until his late teens. After catching the eye of an American coach working in Sudan, Mr. Bol made his way to the United States without knowing a word of English.
When the Bullets drafted him in the second round in 1985, he was measured at 7 feet, 6¾ inches in his bare feet — usually rounded up to 7-feet-7 — and he weighed a mere 190 pounds. Mr. Bol had limited basketball skills, but with a fingertip-to-fingertip wingspan of 8 feet, 6 inches, he proved to be unusually adept at one aspect of the game: blocking opponents’ shots. Standing flat-footed, he could extend his hand above the rim of the basket 10 feet off the floor.