REMEMBERING BOL: BEFORE THE NBAJune 29, 2010 By Jacob Gordon, USBL
The 7-foot 7-inch Sudanese native died recently from complications of Stevens-Johnson syndrome at age 47. However, Manute Bol’s journey from professional basketball player to devoted humanitarian included a notable stop in the USBL during the spring of 1985. Alongside players Spud Webb and John “Hot Rod” Williams, Bol’s skills, size and charisma would help brand Bol’s legacy and “The League of Opportunity” in professional basketball history.
Upon being scouted, Bol’s first challenge to play professional basketball was simply traveling and adjusting to a new country. One of the people most responsible for helping Manute with this task was Kevin Mackey, then the coach at Cleveland State. Mackey got to know Manute quite well following his arrival into the U. S. and helped Bol transition between cultures. “Had he had an opportunity to grow up in the United States, he would have been a great all-around player,” said Mackey, now a scout for the Indiana Pacers.
Eventually, Manute would be accepted into the University of Bridgeport, a division II college in Connecticut where he would play basketball during the 1984-85 season. Bol’s height made him a natural shot blocker as he worked to improve his raw skills and conditioning. In 31 games for the Purple Knights Bol accumulated 697 points and 219 blocks.
Mackey, who would later capture three consecutive USBL Championships as the Head Coach of the Atlantic City Seagulls, reflected on the young man he met years ago, “He was a unique, special person. When you met him you never forgot him.” In time, Bol’s towering frame would only be a fraction of why people never forgot him.
Bol’s iconic stature with the United States Basketball League came when he and teammate Spud Webb, one of the shortest professional basketball players, gained national attention. The combination of the tallest and shortest pro basketball players at the time on the same team dominated headlines, but their fun-loving nature, basketball talents and dream of playing at the next level made the duo much more than a publicity stunt.
Bol appeared in 25 games for the Rhode Island Gulls in USBL’s inaugural 1985 season. The Gulls’ defensive stalwart tallied 13 triple-doubles that year, including a 29 point, 28 rebound, 13 block performance against the New Jersey Jammers on June 20, 1985. Bol’s 28 rebounds that day still stand as the single-game record in USBL history, having only been matched twice since by Anthony Mason in 1991 and Roy Tarpley in 1992. Bol also holds the USBL single-game record for most shot blocks in a single game with 18 and rebounds in a single season with 365.
“Manute was a great man; a gentlemen who gave back to others, “ said USBL Commissioner, Daniel Meisenheimer, III. “He was one of the first stars of the USBL and we are very honored to have had him play in our league.”
Manute’s dramatic debut in the start-up USBL would earn him a place on the All-USBL First Team and All-USBL Defensive Team in route to a future career in the NBA. Shortly after the Gulls’ season had ended, Bol joined the Washington Bullets. Over the next ten years, Bol would become one of the best shot-blockers in NBA history. He would then spend the rest of his life as a devoted humanitarian in his homeland of Africa. To this day, Bol remains one of the most recognizable players to have “graduated” from the USBL to the NBA.