Manute Bol — the Dinka tribesman who became one of the best shot blockers in NBA history — died today at 47. The news brought back memories of the day I saw him in Westport.
It was 1985; Bol was playing basketball for the University of Bridgeport. One winter afternoon, he walked down Main Street.
At 7-6 tall, with the spindliest legs imaginable — and striking ebony skin — he certainly stood out. As he loped down the sidewalk, everyone stopped and stared.
He must have known people were talking and pointing. It must have happened all the time. (Though not back home in Sudan: His mother, father and sister were all between 6-8 and 6-10; his great-grandfather was 7-10.)
Yet he carried himself with grace. He did not slump; he did not glare. He did not try to be anything other than what he was: Manute Bol.
I am not a basketball fan. So I was unaware that — after his 10-year pro career — he became a political activist. He returned to Sudan, working for peace and overseeing school construction near his birthplace.
Sudan is a long way from Westport. But — based on my brief glimpse of this remarkable man here — I am sure he was as dignified in that poverty-stricken, war-torn land he loved, as he was walking down a very alien Main Street here.