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Manute Bol: From herdsboy in Sudan to the tallest player in NBA history

Manute Bol, Sudanese basketball player and political activist used his tremendous height - variously identified as 2.31 m (7 ft 7 in) or 2.29 m (7 ft 6 in) - to great effect as one of the NBA’s best defensive players throughout his 10-year (1985–95) NBA career with the Washington Bullets, the Golden State Warriors, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Miami Heat. In his playing days, the spindly-looking Bol rarely weighed much more than 91 kg (about 200 lb), but his quick reflexes and incredible 2.6-m (8-ft 6-in) arm span made him a formidable shot blocker: in 624 games he made 2,086 blocks, for an average of 3.34 per game, the second best in NBA history. Bol, a Dinka from southern Sudan, tended his family's cattle and at age 15 began playing basketball. He arrived in the U.S. in 1982 with no formal education or knowledge of the English language.

Within three years, however, he had studied English at the Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, played a year of college ball at the University of Bridgeport, Conn., and been drafted by the Bullets. After retiring in 1995, Bol campaigned for peace in war-torn Sudan, where he maintained a part-time home and funded the construction of new schools. He died of complications from a rare skin disease and kidney failure.

Over the course of his career, Bol averaged 2.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 0.3 assists, and 3.3 blocks per game, while only playing an average of 18.7 minutes per game. Bol finished his career with totals of 1,599 points, 2,647 rebounds, and 2,086 blocks, having appeared in 624 games over 10 seasons. As of 2010, Manute Bol remains:

  • First in career blocks per 48 minutes (8.6), almost 50% beyond second-place Mark Eaton (5.8),
  • Second in career blocks-per-game average (3.34),
  • Fifteenth in total blocked shots (2,086),
  • The only player in NBA history to block more shots than points scored, blocking 2,086 shots and scoring 1,599 points.
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