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How Manute Bol Used His Sports Fame for a Greater Good

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This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Manute Bol played ten years in the National Basketball Association. But he will be remembered as much for his shot-blocking in the NBA as for his charity work in Sudan. He died June nineteenth from kidney failure and a rare and painful skin disorder.

He became sick while working in his homeland. He was forty-seven years old. A funeral took place last week at Washington's National Cathedral.

Manute Bol was born in southern Sudan. He stood two hundred thirty-one centimeters -- tall even for a Dinka, some of Africa's tallest people.

His father, a tribal chief, did not think basketball was "good work for a Dinka." But the teenager chose it over herding his family's cattle.

He did not have much luck, though, the first time he went up to dunk the ball. As he once told the Washington Post: "When I came down I hurt my teeth in the net."

In the NBA, Manute Bol averaged less than three points a game on offense. But on defense, he became one of the most feared shot-blockers in the league. Former player Rory Sparrow says he was not afraid of anyone -- not even Michael Jordan.

RORY SPARROW: "He just laughed and said, 'What Michael Jordan? Why should I be afraid of Michael Jordan? I kill lion. He come in, I block his shot.' And sure enough, he blocked his shot. Michael made a couple of dunks. But hey, Manute stood his ground."

He finished his career as the fourteenth best shot-blocker in NBA history. He enjoyed his fame. But he never forgot his people. Years of civil war left southern Sudan in ruins. He estimated that he lost two hundred fifty members of his extended family.

He helped raise money for refugees. Reports say he donated nearly all of the estimated six million dollars he made playing basketball.

Before his death, he was working with the Sudan Sunrise group to help bring the country together. His goal was to build forty-one schools.

He took his Christian faith seriously. "God guided me to America and gave me a good job. But he also gave me a heart, so I would look back," he said in Sports Illustrated magazine in two thousand four.

That year, Manute Bol broke his neck in a car accident. He was thrown from a taxi. After recovering, he moved to the state of Kansas, and met United States Senator Sam Brownback.

SAM BROWNBACK: "I can’t think of a person that I know of in the world that used their celebrity status for a greater good than what Manute Bol did. He used it for his people, he gave his life for his people."

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Michael DeFabo. I'm Bob Doughty.


Update from Reuters: Basketball star Manute Bol was buried in his family's home town in south Sudan on Sunday and hundreds of mourners paid tribute to the man whose talent took him from the grazing lands of Africa to NBA fame.